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Frida Kahlo Arepas, Jerk Chicken, Mexican Mac, and Other Inexpensive Chow

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Another installment in Eater critic Robert Sietsema’s Three Great Cheap series.

[Arepa Factory]
[Arepa Factory]
All Photos by Robert Sietsema

Arepas and other Venezuelan snacks have lately become a thing in neighborhoods like the East Village and Bushwick, a modern cheap eats phenomenon that also spells fun, with their seemingly random fillings wedged into a corn cake. Right on Avenue A across from Tompkins Square Park, Arepa Factory is the latest example. The premises are bright and pleasantly busy, with an eating shelf furnishing views of the park — where autumn leaves are currently raining down — and a few tables concentrated in back. The 16 stuffed-arepa choices wander pretty far afield from the Venezuelan canon, but that’s a good thing.

“Frida Kahlo” arepa from Arepa Factory Robert Sietsema

Classics include reina pepiada (mayo-drenched chicken-and-avocado salad), perico (scrambled eggs and black beans), and pabellon (shredded beef and plantains). But you can also go crazy, as I did, with the Frida Kahlo, which gives a Mexican twist with its cumin-scented ground beef, avocado, and shredded cheese. There are also Thai- and Peruvian-leaning arepas, plus plenty of other Caracas-style snacks, including empanadas, cachapas, and tequenos.

Best introduction to this enjoyable place: montaditos, a basket of three mini-arepas. The default fillings are lobster salad, reina pepiada, and capresa (a mini Italian caprese salad), but feel free to select your own. And everything gets washed down with fresh-squeezed juice blends. 147 Ave A, 646-490-6828.

Harlem and Flatbush display the city’s greatest concentration of small Jamaican cafes, specializing in surprising breakfasts such as ackee and saltfish or liver and cornmeal porridge; and heartier lunch and dinner fare with widespread notoriety like jerk chicken and escoveitched fish. One of the best and most obscurely located purveyors in Harlem is People’s Choice Kitchen, a very small café with four stools along a counter as the only seating. Viands may be ordered in a variety of sizes, which usually include copious servings of rice ‘n’ peas, steamed vegetables, and fried sweet plantains.

The jerk chicken here is good, with a Worcestershire aftertaste, and also regularly offered are brown stew fish, curry chicken, and "slice fish." Lighter appetites will go for the soup of the day (Wednesday, it’s gungo peas) or a freshly baked spicy beef patty. 2733 8th Ave, 212-281-3830.

When Landin Macaroni & Cheese opened near the Melrose Houses in the South Bronx, its specialty was a macaroni and cheese pizza. "At $4 per slice, it was too expensive for the neighborhood," the proprietor lamented, "so we stopped making it." Run by a Mexican-American family from a small kitchen visible behind the order window, the place offers 11 varieties of mac and cheese in four sizes (mini, small, large, and family). The Classic American deploys both grated cheddar and Velveeta to achieve a perfect texture, nicely browned on top in the broiler before serving, while the Mexican uses pepper jack, muenster, pimentos, and jalapeños for a fiesta of color and flavor.

This is some of the best mac and cheese in town and the menu also offers tacos, tortas, and quesadillas. Shelf and stools for eating in. 701 Melrose Ave, Bronx, (347) 726-4217