EpaChamo Venezuelan Arepas Bar & Grill has opened in the former Mitch’s Bar & Grille space on Durham trendy Ninth Street.
According to Hector Gutierrez, who owns the restaurant with his brother Mike and sister Carmen, “epa chamo” translates roughly to “hi dude!” It’s a fitting name for a restaurant that serves up a fresh take on Venezuelan fare with a fun, friendly attitude.
Older brother Mike, a native of Venezuela, does the cooking. Arepas, stuffed cornmeal flatbreads offered here with a variety of filling combinations such as Arepa de Pabellon (shredded stewed beef, black beans, fried sweet plantains and house-made white cheese) and Reina Pepiada (shredded chicken salad, seasoned mayo, green peas and avocado) are the featured attraction. A culinary cousin to Mexican gorditas and Salvadoran pupusas, arepas are available fried or grilled.
The menu also offers an assortment of appetizers, burgers, sandwiches and desserts including natilla (vanilla custard) topped with plum compote and “tress leeches cake” (their whimsical spelling of the classic tres leches cake).
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Hector Gutierrez, who grew up in the States, describes his role as “facilitator” — meaning he’ll likely be the one to greet you. He’s also happy to answer questions and make recommendations. He’ll tell you he’s partial to the pernil (roast pork) sandwich, and explain that the Caraqueña burger (topped with smoked pork chop, cilantro slaw, garlic sauce and crispy potato sticks) is a favorite in Caracas.
Meanwhile, Carmen “CiCi” Gutierrez tends bar, turning out mojitos, piña coladas and other tropical classics as well her own creations. The Venezuela Libre, for one, a layered drink of rum, passion fruit rum, lime juice and strawberry whose colors mimic those of the Venezuelan flag.
EpaChamo Venezuelan Arepas Bar & Grill (730 Ninth St., Durham; facebook.com/epachamovenezuelanarepas) is open Monday-Thursday from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday-Sunday from 3 p.m. to midnight. The bar stays open until 2 a.m.