13655 Bissonnet @ Eldridge, # 103
THIS RESTAURANT HAS CLOSED. THAT INTERSECTION HAS BEEN TOUGH ON RESTAURANTS; IT'S TOO ISOLATED FROM RESIDENCES AND BUSINESSES. I HOPE PANDERAPA POPS UP SOMEWHERE ELSE.
There used to be a restaurant by this name much closer in to the Beltway in a very old and past-its-prime strip center. I only discovered that one on b4 after it had closed so I don't know if this the same people but if so they have certainly moved on up. While not new the center where it's now located is much more recent.
I've nearly always had good meals at Colombian restaurants, though never anything spectacular, but one thing I've never really taken to are the arepas, the corn-meal based bread that usually accompanies a Colombian meal. They frequently seem underdone, a little pasty on the inside even. This place specializes in arepas so I thought it would be a good place to try.
The menu offered more variety than I had ever seen - arepas with chorizo, morcilla, camaron, cerdo, queso, lengua, beef and chicken and maybe a few more and some of the standard Colombian dishes like Bandeja Paisa and empanadas. On the first visit I ordered two arepas, con queso and con hogao.
Venezuelan arepas are served like sandwiches, filled, like Mexican gorditas, but Colombian arepas are usually served with the 'filling' on the side or on top. One exception is the arepa con queso which has the cheese as a filling. This one arrived first and was a beauty to behold, nicely golden-toasted on both sides. I thought I was in for a real treat and since it didn't make much of a picture on the plate by itself I dug in, picking it up like a grilled cheese sandwich and I was not disappointed. I think the menu said the cheese was mozzarella. Alas the second arepa (and a subsequent one on another visit) were not as visually enticing, thinner, pancake-like affairs not as beautifully toasted. The hogao, however, saved the day for the second arepa and I actually woke up the next day thinking 'I want to go back and get some more.'
On another visit I went for an arepa con chorizo and an empanada. I've been very impressed with Colombian chorizos and this one was another fine example. The picture does not do it justice; those dark spots are not charring, they are pieces of green onion tops, visible through the translucent casing. The sausage itself was a little dry but otherwise excellent with chunks of meat rather than coarsely ground, like a good andouille, mild but not bland and the seasoning was very reminiscent of a bowl of chili made with Gebhardt's Chili Powder. The casing had a little snap to it. I was given a choice of a larger diameter arepa or a smaller one and chose the larger one, thinking this was going to be something like a Colombian pizza. Next time I'd choose the smaller and, I presume, thicker variety.
The empanada also was impressive, crisply fried, not greasy, with a pureed filling (meat, potato, maybe some beans and peas). This was one of the best Colombian empanadas I've ever had. It came with a very mild salsa.
Every Colombian place I've had chorizo I've inquired if they made their own and every time the answer has been yes (I want to know where to buy some and I have yet to find a Colombian grocery store). The very friendly and helpful waitress here couldn't find the words to explain but made a kneading motion with her hands and pointed in the direction of a woman in the corner eating a bowl of soup, the 'boss' I understood her to mean (and perhaps the owner). She is a very good sausage maker and I definitely intend to try the morcilla here.
That was my plan anyway when I stopped off to get some food to go but I decided instead to opt for the special of the day, Lomo de Cerdo a la plancha, con arroz, maduros, ensalata and sope de lentejas. The aroma of this was killing me on the drive home but I was a bit disappointed when I opened up the box. It was no where near as appealing visually as it was aromatically. Lomo means tenderloin and cerdo is pork so this was a flattened piece of pork tenderloin, pan grilled, a little on the dry side. The maduros weren't as nicely caramelized as they usually are and there was nothing special about the rice or salad. The best part of this meal actually was the lentil soup, a pint's worth, with potatoes, which I didn't include in the picture since you couldn't see anything but the broth. On the regular menu this is $9 (the cerdo may not be a la plancha but stewed in that dish) while this was only $4.99, a bargain for all that food.
The arepas I had on my first visit were $2 and $2.50, the arepa with chorizo $4 or $4.50, I forget which. Most entrees are under $10 but I think there are a few that range up to the low double digits (there's no menu to go, not even a business card for that matter, and I've not been able to remember a lot of details). The empanada was $1. You can buy frozen arepas, empandas, chorizo and morcilla and a few other items in small quantities to take home.
The restaurant is painted in bright colors, greens, mango, pumpkin; there are religious pictures on one wall and a few travel posters while one wall is plastered with what I presume to be folksy sayings. They're open every day except Sunday until 8pm.
Well, I still don't 'get' Colombian arepas; they just don't appeal to me. That's okay, though, there are other things here that do - I definitely intend to try the morcilla and maybe the shrimp arepa. Lengua en sudada (stewed beef tongue I think) is a dish I've seen on several Colombian menus but I've never tried it; maybe I will here. I also saw the Bandeja Paisa being served with some of that great chorizo and a very nice sized piece of meaty chicharron and that's something I'll be back to try.