One of Venezuela’s most important dishes, the arepa, is coming to Uptown New Orleans in the form of a fast-casual, counter-service restaurant. Como Arepas, opening soon at 7712 Maple Street, is from Julio Machado, the Venezuelan-born chef known for cooking South American and Mexican food at local spots like Brasa Churrasqueria, Zocalo, Tacos del Cartel, and most recently, the now-closed Mucho Más.
Opening in the former home of Zo’ Jo’ Cafe, Como Arepas will be a mostly takeout operation with countertop seating for eight and two sidewalk tables for outdoor dining. Some arepas will come packed with traditional Venezuelan fillings, like arepa dominó (black beans and cheese), asado negro, and an avocado and chicken salad known in Venezuela as reina pepiada, which translates to “curvy queen” (it’s simply called the Queen on the Como Arepas menu). There are vegan and vegetarian options, too, and since arepas are made from pre-cooked corn flour — in this case, Harina PAN — they are gluten-free.
“I think what makes Venezuelan arepas different than say, Colombian arepas, is that ours have many, many more flavors [and] fillings,” Machado tells Eater. It’s no surprise, then, that Como Arepas promises to deliver on variety — the restaurant will serve close to 50 filling combinations. “In Venezuela, there’s an arepas stand on every other corner,” says Machado. “What I’m trying to bring to Uptown is my roots, the flavors of Venezuela, made with local ingredients, local products.”
There are fillings meant to be familiar to a New Orleans audience, like crawfish, boiled shrimp, and fried chicken, the last of which was the biggest seller at two recent pop-ups at Wrong Iron. “It’s not common in Venezuela but everyone here loves it,” says Machado. There’s sofrito red snapper, boiled quail eggs in pink sauce, and deviled ham spread fillings, as well as breakfast options. All arepas are served with two sauces: guasacaca (avocado, cilantro, peppers, onions) and aji picante (habanero, onions, garlic, apple cider vinegar). It will eventually serve beer and wine, Machado says, but to start there will be a handful of fresh juice options like limeade, tamarind juice, and chicha, a Venezuelan version of horchata.
Machado landed on the idea for Como Arepas, his first solo restaurant, following his departure as chef from Mucho Más, the short-lived Oak Street Mexican restaurant that closed in late July when employees walked out, alleging unpaid wages. Machado had left the restaurant nearly two months prior over disagreements with owner Shawn Toups, “a situation that became a significant emotional burden and proved challenging to manage,” Machado told Eater at the time.
Como Arepas, expected to open in October, will be open Sunday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday until 9 p.m.