A Venezuelan Arepa Expert’s Favorite NYC Hispanic & Latinx Spots
Mercedes Golip shares her favorite places to find carnitas, tequeños, and more.
“The most inspiring thing about being a chef is just gathering people and connecting them with food,” says Mercedes Golip, a Venezuelan-American chef, recipe developer, teacher, and cooking show host. “At the same time, I find that to be a very good channel to also share elements of my identity, like food and immigration and all those concepts intersecting. I think I find cooking and sharing all these foods a means to connect at a deeper level in terms of identity, telling my stories of how I got here.”
Splitting her time between her kitchen and studio in Astoria, and upstate in Bethel, New York, Golip cooks with traditional Venezuelan food as a foundation, but she likes to riff in unexpected ways with her pop-up restaurants and classes. For example, she takes the South American staple of arepas and uses vegetable juices and other ingredients to produce them in a variety of bright colors.
This isn’t just a gimmick, though. Golip is inspired by “how the Mexican community, and how the Central American community, and even the Colombians had preserved their ways on how they cook corn. I feel that we have lost that in Venezuela, and I just wanted to shine a light on some processes I feel that are in danger, or that could get lost if the younger generation doesn’t start reading and learning and actually practicing [them].”
photo credit: Mercedes Golip. Photo: Emily Schindler
As someone who lived half of her life in Venezuela, Golip’s mother and grandmother were her biggest teachers. “I actually got a lot of my cooking and flavors from my mother and grandmother,” she says. “They weren’t special cooks, but they cooked with the familiarity of people who knew their cultural dishes.”
After leaving Venezuela (along with many other citizens) during the crisis of 2006, Golip started cooking in Miami while working a day job in advertising. “I used to cook for my friends, and I used to make all these seasonal Christmas [dishes] which they bought from me,” she says. “It wasn’t my job, but I was just using it to make ends meet, and at the same time helping my friends celebrate holidays.” More Venezuelans, Columbians, and others began buying from her as well through word of mouth.
photo credit: Emily Schindler
During this time, she also cooked occasionally with food truck impresario Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog. After eight years in Miami, Golip moved to New York to start up her cooking classes and launch pop-ups while continuing with her job in advertising.
Her membership in an unusual Venezuealn diaspora is never far from her thoughts. “We were not a community that used to leave the country, but now we are ... It has created a lot of curiosity around our food because a lot of people are moving to other countries, and they are finding a lot of comfort in food.”
Golip’s drive to figure out new ways of cooking her national dishes has led her to explore lots of Venezuelan food in New York, as well as other Hispanic and Latinx cuisines. Here are a few of her current favorites.
Mercedes Golip’s Favorite NYC Hispanic & Latinx Spots
“When it comes to Venezuelan food, I usually cook at home, but this place always has my back,” says Golip. “They serve many dishes that are very familiar and comforting to me.” The Astoria restaurant makes arepas filled with fresh white cheese and sweet plantains, and Golop recommends a side of tequeños and passion fruit juice.
This Oaxacan cafe and restaurant in Williamsburg and has a solid corn masa program. “Their menu includes an array of corn dishes—tacos, tamales, tlayudas, sopes,” says Golip. They source their heirloom corn, coffee, and chocolate directly from local producers in Mexico, helping to promote these products and preserving endangered corn varieties. “I love the chilaquiles in salsa roja, the mushroom empanadas, and the sopes,” says Golip. “On Sundays, they also make carnitas Michoacán style—always a hit. The chocolate conchas are great with coffee, and every time I go, I try to buy some fresh masa to go.”
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“Food at Cosme is very creative and delightful,” Golip says. “It’s an important representation of Mexican food in a high-end context.” Her favorites here are the duck carnitas and corn husk meringue.
Váyalo Cocina is a Venezuelan food stall at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg. Run by two entrepreneurial Venezuelan women, they serve sweet negritas and tequeños plátanos, as well as Golip’s favorite: “I love to come and enjoy the sweet smell of [their] arepas.” she says.
“I like their modern take to Venezuelan cuisine,” says Golip about this Latin restaurant in Brooklyn. She’s a particular fan of their cocktails as well as their “Baby Shark”—a.k.a. monkfish in plantain with guayanés cheese, caramelized coconut milk, and ají dulce paste over rice. “I love the sweet and salty profile and all the layers present in that dish.”
Caracas Arepa Bar
Caracas Arepa Bar has two locations in New York City: an East Village spot, and this expanded version in Williamsburg with an attached rum bar. They also have a seasonal beach incarnation that Golip especially likes. “I love their location by the beach at The Rockaways. They have good Venezuelan snacks and live music on weekends,” she says. “Fun summer times.”