Let’s say, hypothetically, you could take a crash course in Colombian or Venezuelan food - ideally one that requires you to sample dishes for “class participation.” If that were actually a thing (and we sure wish it was), arepas would undeniably be lesson one.
These corn-based griddle cakes have been a staple in these neighboring countries since Pre-Columbian times. They come in a variety of preparations and while there’s a centuries-old debate as to which country makes the better arepa, frankly, it’s impossible to go wrong with either.
But that doesn’t mean the two styles are interchangeable since, as we stated, variation definitely exists - especially here in LA. Los Angeles has a fair amount of Colombian and Venezuelan restaurants scattered around the city, each one serving their respective country’s take on this iconic dish. Whether you’re looking for buttered and cheese-filled Colombian arepas or Venezuela’s meat-stuffed pockets, you can explore plenty of delicious variations at these 10 spots.
This family-owned Pasadena restaurant specializes in Venezuelan comfort foods like empanadas, tequeños, and, of course, soft arepas with over a dozen fillings to choose from. Here you can try Venezuela’s national dish, pabellón criollo, in the form of an arepa, which is a very tasty and far more portable alternative to the usual rice and beans plate. The freshly grilled dough gets stuffed with black beans, fried plantain, your choice of shredded chicken or beef, and a big handful of shredded white cheese that softly melts as it mingles with all the warm fillings. We also love the carne mechada arepa that comes with a big serving of shredded beef cooked in a savory tomato-based sauce that’s worth potentially ruining a white t-shirt for.
La Fonda Antioqueña is one of those places best saved for a lazy Saturday when your body craves something warm, filling, and preferably fried to power you through. The portions at this East Hollywood spot are very generous, to say the least, and their white corn arepas, which can be a side dish or part of an entree, come nicely soft and charred on both sides for some great color. We love them on their own with just butter and slices of soft cheese, but outright demand them with a heaping plate of bandeja paisa. This dish comes with a mound of white rice, pinto beans, one very large steak, a long slice of crispy pork crackling, fried plantains, avocado, a fried egg, and (wait for it) a soft arepa to help scoop everything up. It’s one of those impressive displays of food that leave us wondering where to even begin, but we always return to the chewy arepa to dip into the warm beans or runny egg yolks.
Santa Monica’s Café Bolivar specializes in subtly sweet, dense, and stuffed arepas that come with meat, cheese, and creamy avocado fillings. This place makes theirs fresh to order, with our favorite being the pulled pork - golden masa filled with tender pork shoulder that’s slow-cooked for nine hours in a tomato-based sauce, seasoned with Caribbean spices, and topped off with cilantro and pickled red onions. Arepas come in orders of two, so feel free to mix and match and enjoy them with your coffee. The Bolivar is great and consists of a double shot of espresso mixed with condensed milk for a decadent twist on our morning routine.
Available on Sundays at LA’s Smorgasburg, this pop-up makes some great Colombian arepas while also paying homage to its southern California roots. Because we love anything KBBQ-adjacent, their Ktown arepa has always been a favorite. This warm griddlecake comes filled with marinated sweet and spicy Korean pork, chopped onions, and cilantro, plus a side of their tangy green salsa. The Perico arepa is a more traditional combo and great for anyone looking to snag some breakfast at the busy market - it comes with soft scrambled eggs, shredded mozzarella cheese, avocado, onions, tomatoes, and that same green salsa that we dare not forget. What makes this no ordinary breakfast sandwich is the freshly grilled dough that takes everything up a notch, meanwhile creating a sturdy vehicle for all those fillings as you try to eat while navigating through the crowds.
Located in Kowtn’s historic Chapman Plaza, Escala serves a mix of Colombian-Korean fusion dishes, along with one very fun weekend brunch (live DJ set included). It’s also a great spot for a casual weeknight dinner with friends where you can drink some solid cocktails and gather around a table-length picada platter with Colombian chorizo, crispy chicharron, and Korean short ribs. We usually save some room for their loaded arepas as well, which are some of the busiest (but tastiest) corn cakes on this guide. In fact, we view these arepas as vehicles for whatever sits on top, creating a chewy base that realistically calls for a knife and fork. Give the pork version a try - it comes with slabs of braised pork belly and an onion and bell pepper salad that’s tossed in a creamy saffron aioli. The chicken arepa is also delicious and comes topped with tender shredded chicken, red onion and cabbage slaw, and a sweet but smokey red tomato mayo that ties the whole thing together.
Amara Chocolate & Coffee is a laid-back spot perfect for entertaining the kids, taking grandma out for a coffee, or having a quiet lunch with a coworker who equally needs to decompress. As the name suggests, this tranquil Pasadena coffee/chocolate shop makes an award-winning bittersweet hot chocolate, very good Spanish churros, and some Venezuelan-style arepas with plant-based options. The Vegana arepa is a Mediterranean twist on the dish with hummus, chickpeas, roasted eggplant, tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers tightly packed inside the dough. The Orinoco also deserves special recognition for its overnight-cooked pork that’s very tender and pulls apart the moment you sink your teeth into it. The meat pairs nicely with its fried plantains and creamy queso de mano - a soft white cheese that melts beautifully and is good enough to stand on its own, minus the meat or extra fixings.
This downtown restaurant is the place to go for a wide-ranging menu of Colombian classics, like bandeja paisa, sancocho de gallina, and arepas rellenas that can be anything from wonderfully simple to enormously big. Here you can choose between shredded beef, chicken, or crispy chicharron as fillings, but we strongly suggest going con todo to get a taste of each of the meat options, avocado, and some melted cheese because... why not? We also love the delicious arepa de choclo, a cheese-filled arepa made with sweet corn. When it comes to sweet corn, pairing it with dairy in any form has never done us wrong, and this arepa proves it with the salty cheese being exactly what the chewy dough calls for. It’s a sweet treat and a side dish all in one, but also what might fill you up before you tackle your fully-loaded bandeja paisa.
Cariaco serves Venezuelan lunchtime specials that are perfect for switching things up when you’re ready to chuck your 17th chopped salad of the month out the window. We’re big fans of their pabellón that comes with rice, beans, plantains, and your choice of meat, and also their fried finger foods like cheese-filled tequeños, chicken empanadas, and wonderful arepas. Out of the nearly dozen arepa options to choose from, our favorite is the creamy arepa reina con tajada. This griddle cake is filled with juicy shredded chicken that’s mixed into a salad with mayo and lots of cilantro. The spread is good enough to eat on its own as a dip, ideally in front of the TV with chips, but instead gets jammed into the chewy arepa with slices of avocado and plantain for some extra sweetness.
While the name might have you guessing whether this place is just a coffee shop or offers actual food, Coffee For Breakfast serves traditional Venezuelan breakfast and lunch options from Tuesday to Sunday until 4pm. The coffee here is good, but we prefer it alongside the Venezuelan breakfast that comes with two plain arepas, black beans, mozzarella cheese, eggs any way you want them, and your choice of either shredded beef or chicken. The soft arepas are great for sampling everything as you smear some black beans and meat onto them, cover them in butter, or dip them into a silky egg yolk. La de perico, or perico-style eggs, is another great breakfast option that comes as a three-egg scramble with plenty of onions and tomatoes, and a side of fresh arepas.
The Arepa Stand is open for business on weekends at a few places around the Westside, including Menotti’s Coffee Stop in Venice Beach and the Mar Vista Farmers Market. The menu includes Venezuelan arepas that stay true to the tradition of filling them with as many things as humanly possible. However, the actual ingredients used are influenced by LA’s greater Latinx community and include items like Mexican chorizo and chile de arbol salsa. The 405 is a must-try and comes with a thick scoop of black bean purée, tender braised beef brisket, fried plantains, cilantro, and plenty of cotija cheese for some extra saltiness. We also love the Notti’s to kick off our (rare) mornings at the beach, which consists of a thin layer of crema, more plantains, sliced avocado, a fried egg, and the main star: one very thick slice of queso de mano. The squeaky white cheese almost acts like a breakfast patty in the corn-based sandwich as the runny yolk coats everything from the avocado to the sweet plantains.