While there are plenty of Hispanic restaurants in the Washington DC metropolitan area, I have never encountered one that serves Colombian cuisine. Until now. In Silver Spring, Md there is a place that has been doing so for 5 years: Arepas Pues .. !
I have been going to Arepas for several years now. I not only like the food, but the service is fast, making for a good quick meal before or after a movie. I cannot say how authentic the food is but the owner, Chef Nicolas Arcila, is from Colombia, so I suspect it is very authentic. The look of the place has changed quite a bit over the years, but the quality of the food has not.
Of course, you cannot go to a place with Arepas in the name without trying the namesake dish. Arepas, perhaps the most famous Colombian dish, are stuffed corn tortillas somewhat similar to a soft shell taco but with a thicker shell which is freshly grilled. They are a bit more enclosed than a taco, so there is no issues with the fillings falling out. Arepas Pues has 20 different varieties, so there is quite the choice. Fortunately, they have a sampler basket with 4 mini-arepas. I recommend starting with that.
With the basket, there is a choice of shredded beef, avocado, shredded chicken, and roasted pork. My favorite is the shredded beef. It has the most flavor, probably because it has the most fat. My second favorite is the avocado, which was fresh and ripe. The one with the least flavor was the chicken. Outside of the basket, arepa choices include a vegetarian, shrimp, corn, cheese, and several variations of egg. The only one I have tried is La Pabellon. Consisting black beans, fried sweet plantain, and brimming with shredded beef, it is delicious.
Arepas Puess has a good selection of appetizers and sides. I have had several of them. The one that stands out is the fried yuca. Yuca is a root vegetable somewhat akin to a potato. Often, the come out very dry. Not so at Arepas! These are moist and delicious. Also noteworthy are the empanadas. They have beef, chicken, jalapeno, and cheese varieties. I had the jalapeno one. It is very different than the Salvadoran empanadas I am used to. It is more reminiscent of a mini chili relleno but very crispy and having a thick crust. In other words, what all good chili rellenos aspire to be. I loved it.
Normally, I stick to the arepas. But recently while I was there, I saw someone order an entree that had a giant slab of pork. It looked amazing. So on my next trip, I ordered a dish with it: the Bandeja Paisa, which turns out to be the unofficial national dish of Colombia. Along with the pork, it has ground beef, beans, chorizo sausage, sweet plantains, a corn cake, a mound of rice topped with a fried egg, and a half of an avocado.
It’s quite a bit of food and I ended up saving half of it for another meal. My favorite part of the meal was the beans. It has a seasoning that I found delicious. The pork, I felt, was a little too dry despite the copious amounts of fat on it. I think the cooking method causes the parts of the meat away from the bone to dry out. Because of the dryness, I asked for some sauce and that resolved it. The rest of the meal was quite good. Other menu items feature typical Colombian soups, steak or fish entrees. The only one I have tried is the Carne Asada. A common Latino dish, carne adada is a steak pounded thin and grilled. It is typically made from a tougher cut meat tenderized by the pounding. I normally don’t order carne adada as it tends to be over cooked. But Arepas offers the choice of medium or well done. Ordering it medium has made me rethink my opinion of the dish. It was delicious.
Arepas Pues used to be a sit down restaurant with table service, brightly painted walls copiously decorated. It is now a fast food place. They still have tables and bring your food to you, but you order the food at the counter. They also do a good amount of take out business. The Colombian themed decorations remain, but there are fewer of them. While it no longer has the charming ambience it once did, the food is still great. The wait staff is very friendly and welcoming, making for a pleasant dining experience nonetheless. I heartily recommend Arepas Pues.