Maïs Arepas Colombian Food: New Orleans
My hubby and I had a marvelous (nice) date night out in New Orleans last week, and we finally made it to a Colombian restaurant I’ve been dying to try. Mexican/South American food is not a passion of my dear husband’s like it is mine, so you know he loves me dearly. I had never had Colombian food before. But as much as I love Mexican food, I was curious to try its culinary cousin.
I first heard about this Colombian restaurant in New Orleans three years ago (yes, three years. It’s been busy the last few years. . .) How it came about was that one evening I was sharing nursery duty with a lady at our children’s program, and we were chatting away, getting to know each other. In the course of our conversation I learned that she was from Colombia. So, being the taste-bud led person that I am, I immediately asked if she knew of any good Colombian restaurants nearby. She screwed up her face as she ruefully considered what was available on the Northshore (nothing). Suddenly her eyes lit up and her entire face beamed. “Oohh, if you drive down to New Orleans Maïs Arepas is the best! It’s authentic; once we drove there and it was closed until the evening but we waited. We went and found something else to do until it opened.”
It did not disappoint.
An arepa is a South American corn cake, and a staple in the region; it’s thinner than a biscuit, about as thick as an English muffin, and often split for sandwiches. If my translation is correct, “maïs arepas” is “corn cakes”. Yummy ones. Maïs Arepas is just a block off St. Charles, in a gentrifying neighborhood. This means there was free parking and easy to get to! And yes, we did feel safe.
We got there five minutes after they opened on a Friday night (6:00), and were lucky enough to snag a table right away without a reservation. Very lucky indeed, for it is a small restaurant. Not 15 minutes after we sat down there was a line to get in, and the entire place was packed! We’ll probably plan ahead and make reservations if we come again on a Friday night.
As I mentioned, it’s not large, but cozy and lively all at the same time. Rustic traditional Colombian decor blends with modern elements for a vibe that fits the food — traditional but not old-fashioned in the least. I saw high chairs, so I have no doubt that children would be welcomed, but it strikes me as more of a parents’ night out restaurant. Which is exactly what it was for us. 😉 Our table had a view of behind the bar, and we were fascinated to see the variety and range of fresh ingredients being turned into cocktails.
We ordered a mojito, which was solidly delicious, then the waitress talked us into an appetizer since it would take 25 minutes for our arepas to arrive (everything is made to order). Are we ever glad that she did, because the appetizer was our favorite part of our dinner! We ordered the Picada Colombiana, which is they describe as “house-made morcilla & chorizo, chicharrón, papa criolla, cherry tomatoes, mini arepa, guasacaca sauce”. Whatever it was, it sounded pretty good. “It” turned out to be three kinds of sausage, along with cooked pork belly (similar to bacon); one of sausages was filled with corn and rice as well as the meat, and was incredible. “Papa criolla” were tiny golden potatoes that were perfectly crisp on the outside, and “guasacaca sauce” is the Colombian version of guacamole, and I LOVE IT. Next visit, this may seriously be my main course! It was all so flavorful.
Michael got the marinera arepa, which is “grilled jumbo shrimp, citrus slaw, avocado & salsa rosada”. To be honest, it didn’t wow either of us, though it was tasty enough. We would have enjoyed a little more “pop” to the flavors, and I wonder if chopping the shrimp wouldn’t help too. . . I ordered the pollo grilliao, which is grilled chicken with caramelized onions and mozzarella.
We both liked my arepa much more! (But how can you not with caramelized onions and melted cheese??) It was much more satisfying to eat. Both arepas were served with delicate crispy plantain chips.
I’ve never had arepas before, but I thought they were delicious; I do also love cornbread and tacos with corn tortillas, but arepas are much more tender and more interesting than either of those foods. They paired beautifully with the savory foods, but I can totally see them with honey and butter too.
I couldn’t resist getting dessert, something I rarely do. I opted for their passion fruit flan. The tang of the passion fruit was intensified by a passion fruit juice reduction drizzled on the top. It was a smidge overcooked, but nonetheless delicious, and the perfect way to end our meal.
My Colombian friend’s enthusiasm was well-placed, and I look forward to exploring the menu further; maybe next time for a girls’ lunch out, so we can split several dishes. (Their soups are top of my list — I forgot until afterward that my friend specifically mentioned them!)
(If you want to drool over more pictures of their menu-which appears to vary seasonally-, head over to their Facebook page.)
1200 Carondelet St, New Orleans, LA 70130
Tuesday-Saturday, lunch from 11:30-2:15, dinner from 6:00-9:45