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Craig LaBan
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Arepas get a makeover under the El

Reina Pepiada arepa with chicken salad at TartArepería.
Reina Pepiada arepa with chicken salad at TartArepería.Read moreCRAIG LaBAN

It's hard to imagine that a classic Venezuelan street food has gotten a convincing conceptual makeover beneath Philadelphia's Market-Frankford El. But that seems to be exactly the case at the new TartArepería 18.64 in Fishtown, where chef-owner Manuel Gomez has reshaped the savory corn pastry's usual  hot-pocket sandwich shape into something that looks more like a shortcake cup. A variety of traditional toppings fill the well for more of a knife-and-fork-friendly experience -- though it also picks up well, true to its street-food origins.  But the reason these work is that the arepa fundamentals are sound. The savory cornmeal dough cup is crisp and hearty, though not too heavy or greasy. And the various toppings are also well-executed classics. A traditional combo called Pabellón Criollo brings silky shreds of tenderly stewed ropa vieja beef layered over creamy black beans beneath sweet coins of ripe plantains. Our favorite, though, was a cool chicken salad called Reina Pepiada, turned creamy green with an avocado dressing that evoked images of a Venezuelan picnic. Of course, as I have this thought, a subway rumbled just overhead at this former steak shop wedged below the El on Front Street, bringing me back. But with co-owners Edwind Gomez and Nestor Ayala eagerly welcoming guests with enthusiastic hospitality, and then handing us a warm cup of thick, dark, intense Venezuelan hot chocolate, I boarded my train upstairs back to Center City with a sweet taste, and a determination to return.

-- Craig LaBan

Reina Pepiada, $8.49, TartArepería 18.64, 1204 N. Front St., 215-982-1150,