Cafe Racer Kitchen Vist (#1?)

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Well I finally got to MY most anticipated Truck restaurant of the year, the Café Racer Kitchen. I would have gone much sooner, but after hearing a month wait for their Beer and Wine license to kick in, figured I’d wait (not that I actually HAD any, but sometimes it’s nice to give restaurants time like that to settle into their groove). For that, they currently offer a few cans from Indeed and Bauhaus Brewing, along with an Argentine Red and White, though there is talks of some fun cocktails coming soon.

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A big painted ad for Orange Crush soda on the building’s side greets one as they travel around the corner; of course I don’t ask why it’s there, whether they did it themselves or were too lazy to take it off in the first place, thus it stays a mystery! Under the motorcycle-imbued sign and into the door, we find ourselves in a small yet very open environment, smooth and shiny wood booths and tables, mostly connected for an almost communal eating opportunity. But of course I have to sit at the bar, basically four seats in front of the till with a full-on view of the kitchen.

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Where I get to watch the small team work, the two people in the kitchen and the one working the front (it was a nicely quiet-ish Sunday afternoon, though I bet even in the ‘busy’ periods they may only have 1-2 more employees total) while almost casually yet quickly doling out the truck food.

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For those of you still unaware of their mobile focus, Café Racer generally sticks with the ‘choose your entrée’ style similar to Brasa, focusing on Central American flavors/tradition. One goes for Pulled Pork or Chicken (or a veggie dish –shudders-), with which they can make an ‘entrée’ by getting two sides (rice, yucca/carrot frites, plantains, beans n rice, etc) or having with a couple Arepas for a sandwich of sorts. They also bring an awesome hot dog with toppings which I’ve experienced Here. All of this has been brought to the menu, alongside a few new plates combining some of these select sides with bigger proteins a la Quarter-Chicken and Chimichurri Skirt Steak.

 

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I came during Brunch-Sunday though, so I got to choose between options topped with Egg, Kielbasa for the protein, and plenty of sweet potato hash, arepas tossed in for buns (breakfast sandwich), base (benedict), or just on the side like toast.

 

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For a fun, semi-exploratory and semi-just-wanting-new-food visit, the Steak just called out for me. Served with a single small, firm-yet-pillowy masa cake (I love how they do their arepas now, for their style) and a side of eggs made however you want (I went for basted in lue of no poaching, wish I did sunny-side or over easy though, didn’t realize the yolk was gonna get cooked through… cooked well for a fully cooked egg though), they did little to dissuade me from diving right into that steak and hash. The meat was definitely juicy and flavorful, gotta love that harby-garlicky chimichurri paste (really gets the crave and appetite going), it is a bit chewy but only so much as one expects out of a skirt/fajita steak. The texture is just as much a part of it as the flavor, I’ve known some chefs who completely get rid of it through very long sous vide techniques, but despite how good and meltingly tender that must be it just doesn’t really fit what this dish is supposed to be in my opinion. Sorry, I just couldn’t help wanting to mention that, I guess that’s what happens with proper food experience; makes you want to discuss other things about it.

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Can’t help but love a nice hash too, they certainly hit the craving. Roasted together with herbs, this mix or regular and sweet potatoes immediately had me noticing the divergent nature between the two tubers. Whereas the sweet potatoes were fully soft, I found the russets I had to still be sorta firm; I think still cooked, but just on that edge where it could have been undercooked with just a minute less time. At first I was worried about having to critique, but I actually enjoyed it; it gave another texture, again was in an acceptable cooking range, AND it brought proper variation to the hash. What’s the use of using two different potatoes if they both feel the same anyways?

Ultimately, I very much enjoyed eating this plate, especially when I got to chop everything up and mix it together, a proper hash brunch!

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Which is never complete without a bit of coffee and dessert (really brunch is a complete daily meal: breakfast, savory lunch/dinner foods, and sweets at the end, maybe with a bit of booze). The dessert is a housemade Tres Leches (white cake soaked in a mixture of cream, condensed milk, and some other dairy), this one made with a rather compact and dense texture for the thick monster, stuffed with that sweet cream oozing from the sides like a sauce. Luis then tops his with a layer of whipped cream (a classic ‘frosting’ next to meringue) along with some orange segments and a dark chocolate drizzle. A decent offering, served cold and creamy, made even better when consumed alongside the hot, bitter and slightly-creamy coffee, brewed from a blend made just for them and served as-is or ‘au Lait’ with some simple steamy milk foam on top.

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It’s a shame that I don’t drink coffee more, this is one of those situations where I really wish I could delve into and pick out flavors like I can with wine and spirits. But I can certainly tell this coffee blend has a personality to its own, that’s quite clear as day, which I’m sure any coffee aficionados can enjoy (whether some of these notes are positive or full-on-catastrophe I can’t say there; for instance, I particularly noted a certain bitter note that I couldn’t tell if it was from over-roasting or natural ‘green’ coffee bean tannins). Do what I did and go Café au Lait option, it’s delicious and one can still get the full flavor of the roast; definitely makes the dessert complete.

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Apparently, despite the month wait, it seems I was STILL a bit soon in coming; word from Luis’ own mouth states that they’re about to start playing around with some further menu changes/addition, including a bevy of small-plate options (sorta like tapas) and some further inventive desserts, such as a Dulce de Leche (a milk-focused pudding-like dish) that’s going to be treated like flan and eaten with papaya.

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I guess I’ll just have to stop by again sometime soon, which as you know is something I RARELY do for Food Trucks on their own (for efficiency purposes), let alone the restaurants that come from them. But I think Racer is the first truck-staurant that I have a sincere urge to want to intently go back to for further explorations (I still have more sides to try!), so do take the hint dear readers and help me help them keep this little café of coolio in business.

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Brunch at Hola Arepa

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Getting to Hola Arepa’s Restaurant in Uptown, across the street from the legendary Pat’s Tap, was a long road in coming… now granted, I never paid attention to when they opened, so I don’t know HOW long a road, but I can figure at least a notable few months right? Having only two days off a week doesn’t help either, especially figuring they aren’t open on one of them (who’d figure it was Monday and not Sunday? Good thing there’s Brunch). But I got out recently so yay.

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I’m going to start off by saying this, I mean I expected them to be good of course (there’s a reason the truck’s been so popular), figured a really sweet Mexican lunch ‘sandwich’ spot reminiscent to a truck experience, but I didn’t think they’d be THIS good. Hell this was a TRIP on level with a trip to Pizza Luce, and you know how good they are.

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Especially during Brunch, which happened to be the time me and my dear sister ended up making it there. It was here that I discovered, to my intense satisfaction, how popular the spot has become, garnering a half hour wait for a table for two (so one can safely say that, unlike the truck, not the best spot for those trying to get in and out fast, at least unless you get to brunch early). Not that we minded, it gave us the opportunity to grab some rather badass cocktails.

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Here comes my first happy surprise, seeing a menu full of fun, modern Craft Cocktails reminiscent to some of our favorite finds at local bars such as NE Social, Pat’s, and Marvel. For my sister, the Seasonal Horchata Cocktail, based off a house-made ‘spiced whey horchata’ with flana cor 4yr rum, bitters, and cinnamon. A fantastic, thought-provoking improvement on the classic spiced rice-milk drink in the form of a ‘milk punch’ (look it up, they’re delicious and I want to make one). For myself, because the sister already grabbed the cocktail I wanted, something with the name of Paradise (okay, I forgot to steal or take a picture of the menu, thought the website would have it okay!? I was wrong) filled with Tropical flavored Aged Rum, Bourbon, Vermouth, Bitters, Lillet (if I remember correctly), and other cocktail things.

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Smooth, delicious, refined, definitely a great thing to sip on the benches outside during a beautiful sunny day. I absolutely love the pineapple flavor it got; subtly present, not super bright or artificial, just that deep tropical undertone lifted up and fused with the aged rum and whiskey spirits, mixing with the botanical-infused spirit elements to bring body, sweet complexity, and that amazing mouthfeel.

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But it was gone, and we got a table, and another cocktail was deserved, thus I grabbed an “Hola Fashioned” based out of well-aged rum with a dash of smoky Lagavulin Scotch to subtly tie in to the original cocktail, giving it just a light, subtle bit of that whiskey barrel-aged whiskey essence in the back while the rest fills with that delicious mix of orange aroma and rich sugar spirit. The sister got a seasonal Sangria, Red, with blueberries and another fruit. Let me just say, sangria is almost never something I crave or ever really FEEL like drinking unless it’s just in a fridge at a party (or offered to me), but THIS is one I’d go back to.

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But that’s enough talking about booze, let’s get to the actual food. There’s been plenty of articles written about this already I’m well aware, in fact I do wish I could go back for the Chicharone and Arepitas dishes, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy my own experiences right?

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It’s not a trip without an Arepa, and I got to grab one I had yet to experience so far, of the ‘Breakfast’ Variety. Stuffed with a Fried Egg, Beans, the white cheese Cojita and some Tomatoes + Aioli, we decided to take the next step and also add in Pork. Which I’m glad we did, because without it I would imagine it’d be a very flat, not-so-full sandwich. Along with the meat, it certainly met the basic requirements, though I feel I’ve found more enjoyment with their other arepas (more of that rich, juicy experience, plus the dough today felt a little denser than usual). The real highlight of the order, though, was the Yuca Fries. God these fit literally every feature that I look for in PERFECT fries (at least of the thick-cut variety). Crunchy and crispy outer crust, soft pillows inside (maybe a bit more starchy than the really fluffy white potatoes), and big, these were a delight, especially with a side of aioli.

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Main Course happened to be Cachapas (yellow corn pancakes) and Fried Chicken; the latter a drier style with thick crust, truly ideal in those ‘chicken and waffle’ experiences when you just wanna cut it up and get a big piece of peppery fried batter in every bite of food. The pancakes came super soft, naturally savory-sweet highlighted from the corn sprinkled on top, and acting as an amazing base to carry the flavors of the accompanying egg, bacon, jalapeno… and of course that syrup. Easily the best part on that plate, for it truly completed that smorgasbord flavor of the ‘full pancake breakfast’ we expect, and without needing to cover the whole plate in calories. Just a few drops over my giant forkfuls of food, and that distinctly unique and deep chipotle-maple flavor could be picked up amongst everything else. It was classic, yet modern, yet traditional in a different way, and all executed well to convene in a mass that hit everything I wished for at Brunch (unless I’m craving hash brown skillet sorta thing, but that’s another day).

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Let’s move on, two more small items to get through (btw, yes there was leftovers… not much, but some nonetheless). Nowadays I love granola, yogurt, fruit and honey in the morning, and their version is easily now one of, if not MY, absolute favorites. A simple Yogurt Flan (baked custard, panna cotta, etc) with fresh Blackberries and a Cornflake-Pepita ‘Granola,’ which if anything was more of a candied mix of the two, with some sort of syrup on bottom (my money’s on a flavored Agave, but who knows? Maybe it was just honey based). Whatever the details were, it was good, and a perfect way to have a little dessert at breakfast time; I want more of the ‘granola,’ that was just sweet and crispy and addictive, they need to make an actual cereal out of it.

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Despite that, I had to try a certain actual dessert, the Mini “Churro.” Both I and they use the quotation marks for good reason, because I’m pretty sure they don’t use the same crème-puff-style dough which churros are usually made from. It came out more… actually, now that I think about it, it was basically like a coffee cake. A really good one, covered in a thick layer of cinnamon-sugar, and then served with a chocolate-coffee sauce on the side. Which, may I say, was DIVINE. Silky, smooth, with that teasingly bitter flavor that makes you think of classic Mexican Cacao, all to dip and pour over your little ‘churro,’ which ate nicely (if not messily, and yes you MUST use your hands for this or you aren’t a proper Hombre). It’s not a churro on any real fashion besides the fry job and cinnamon, but it is still good for what it is.

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And that thus concludes my little round-up of my first, and hopefully not last, visit towards Hola Arepa. I know I don’t have to wish them any luck, so instead I shall simply set my feet, look forward, and continue on towards the next meal, wherever it shall take me. Certainly I hope you can do the same. Good Luck and Good Eating.

Fall Rally Roundup and some New Stuff

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                This Saturday was the second of MN Food Truck Association’s new Harriet Brewery Truck Rally events, this time with 15 Trucks showing (one of which didn’t show, but was quickly replaced with Twisted Fork). Though despite the two months wait between this and the first of the (hopefully) many events, the weather was oddly the same (truly… rainy, then sprinkling when I arrived, getting sunny, and then rainy again… so weird).

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                Despite what was, ultimately, a very cold, grey, and rainy start to the morning and afternoon, attendance to this street-side affair was a perfectly surprising boom! Talking with the guys carding at the front, about 3-4X the first rally despite notably colder and wetter conditions. And I have to say it seemed to be the PERFECT amount of people too; enough to be quite crowded and busy (particularly in the actual taproom and the one tiny tent over tables, which this year was moved over to the corner with the extra trucks occupying the middle, where it was quite cramped), but with just the amount that one could navigate around the Trucks with ease, and into the taproom with only mild difficulty.

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                That said, I’m sure all in attendance would agree this to be a very successful day, and can’t wait for the next ones; so far, two events in, both of which completely dominating the Food Truck Fairs in execution.

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                So then, I actually had more than one reason to come here; besides the need to report as an addition to the blog, along with my obvious joys in the continued visiting and exploring evolutions of our fantastic Truck and Brewery scene, I was also meeting up with a new acquaintance in the Truck scene.

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                This is Brett from Food Truck Empire, eating something on a skewer (I’ll detail that in a bit), a fellow Minnesotan Food Truck lover who started up his own blog/site. We just finished doing a fun podcast interview a couple weeks ago (which should be out in a couple more weeks, will report when it’s launched!), and after hearing he had a sadly miniscule amount of experience with ACTUAL local trucks, having only been to a few in St. Paul (so sad the city’s lunch scene doesn’t support a large amount of our mobile brethren), I just HAD to invite him down to the Rally to enjoy some beer and show him to a couple of the trucks. That said, I should probably get to what was actually experienced during the day!

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                With getting there a little earlier than him, having to wait in the cold for a while, I just couldn’t help but need something to warm me up. Luckily for me, MidNord decided to bring some Hot Apple Cider and Horchata (Mexican Rice Milk with Cinnamon), and I of course had to have a cup of the latter. So warm, spiced, and a nice simple way to warm up during the weather (certainly a great thing to grab if you still see them on the streets in the coming months).

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                After getting snuck up on by a black-hat-ed hobo in a hoodie (Ha! Just kiddin’ Brett), we slid over to say hi to my buds at Motley, which had done their own podcast with Brett just a month or so ago. I was happy cuz I was finally able to get my bag of Nuts, and Brett ordered one of their delicious Funky Phillies, which I swear was even better and gooey-er than the last one I had.

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                As for my thoughts, the nuts are definitely good; crunchy, with a thick little shell of spiced sugar on the outside, with a nice flavor of cinnamon and other notes coming out. I think I still prefer the awesome, unique pretzels they have though; the nuts aren’t really so stand-out “oh wow amazing what is this,” but to be fair it’s hard to do that with candied nuts these days (probably because we know what to expect). But they’re still made WELL and proper, and I doubt I could reproduce something close to its style that easily.

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                While eating, we headed over to the little beer stand, moved to the side wall and a bit away from the tent-covered tables instead of under it, where we, after proving our idea at the gate to get a wristband, we then moved to ONE line to then buy a beer ticket and back to the OTHER to get the beer (so many separate steps… felt odd, haha). With a few beers starting with W, I ordered the Woluptuweiss (very dark malted beer, my favorites) while he ordered their West End IPA. Such nice beers to enjoy over conversation, Nuts and Pretzels, and Food Truck traveling.

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                Next stop, to my own surprise until a saw a post of their menu before leaving, was Hibachi Daruma. From the looks of it, it seems they’ve actually took notes of some of the things mentioned in my, and possibly others, review and comments… either that or just did it on their own, but that destroys my self-esteem so I’m gonna say the former!! Besides a lo mein and rice dish, the Menu, accompanied by a set of pictures describing the items, now consists of Gyoza, Chicken Yakitori Skewers, and a Beef “Negimaki” (basically strips of cooked beef rolled up like sushi and filled). So much better potential for street-eating, and bringing in lower-priced options as well! I’ll definitely be updating my review of them shortly after this.

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                After a bit of thinking, I just had to try the yakitori (it was my main option complaint in the review afterall) which, though certainly tender and very portable, and looked pretty with the carrots (though it felt odd to have for street food), wasn’t really all THAT impressive in flavor. It was… a skewer, that’s about it. Chicken and Bell Peppers with soy sauce, meh. Stick with gyoza, those are always tasty.

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                Had to of course stop over at Café Racer while we had the chance, firstly to get my obligatory conversation in with the owner and secondly to introduce him to Brett for a potentially awesome podcast opportunity. I even got a little scoop myself that Mr. Patino might be putting together his own Late Night local Food Truck show (web-based I think) in the coming months, which I will definitely keep track of and update when I have the chance.

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                Taking a look at the slightly redesigned (visually, not in product… though I think they increased the price on the hot dogs) menu with added pictures, we grabbed one of their Arepa sandwiches. And I’m glad we did!! Much redesign and evolution has happened to this item that once was a pile of pork with cornmeal flatbreads on the side, making it into a complete, already-put-together sandwich with slightly thicker arepas and an addition of that delicious pink sauce, light greens, some thin pepper slices, and fried carrot strips. It all came together soooooo well and delicious, very complete and juicy, the pork being just as perfect in its cooking as usual to make a very, very enjoyable sandwich/arepa experience.

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                It is, however, still a bit messy, but one could easily eat it with their hand while walking and use a fork to clean up everything else, just need a napkin for afterwards. Oh, and the plantains were good, a little honey-sweet, though it didn’t wow me too much. Either way I have another Truck to update.

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                With the end of our eating experience in sight, dessert became a must-have. So we headed over to Social, only to find that 4 of the 5 offerings they had were already sold out! Thankfully, the one that was left was a “Mocha” with dark chocolate cake and an espresso buttercream; probably what I would have ordered anyway. And of course, always refined, rich, and delicious.

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                Oooooh, and I got to snap a pic of that Cupcake-Sundae thing I learned about at Lunch by the River! It sadly wasn’t what I was expecting (was hoping much more cupcake and in a long split/sundae bowl), but it still looks good…

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                And so went my afternoon that day, stuck in a brewery parking lot crammed with a bevy of trucks and bumping elbows with the crowd, everybody enjoying a beer, food, or both (much like this lady with her amazingly-plated BLT Sliders). Hopefully my wait until the next similar event won’t be as long, but even if this is the last of the year I’d have to say 2013’s had a pretty damn good run. So however the rest of this year plays out, I wish the Trucks the best of luck in the coming season of cold. With this we’ve said goodbye to the weather of warm, and usher in colored leaves and grounds of snow (of which, I think I saw the first falling of the season… at least in my area).

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                Good Luck and Good Eating to all!

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Hola Arepa

HolaArepa

holaarepa.com/

https://twitter.com/holaarepa

 

Main Location: Minneapolis

             Easily in the top 5 of recognizeability, Hola Arepa quickly shot up near the top of the city’s popularity. Chef-driven (I actually used to work with a couple of their cooks… sadly not in the truck though), they focus on traditional Mexican-style flavors and fillings, stuffed in a unique, perfect little package.

            Now, this is the point in the show where we detour to an old-timey, scratchy black and white video explaining a ubiquitous term (I don’t care if that’s not the right use of the word “ubiquitous,” it sounds confusing and I like it). For those who have yet to be fully explained on what an Arepa is, then here you go.

            Those who know true tortillas know that they’re made from a special Mexican corn flour called “masa.” An “arepa” is when they take this same flour and turn it into something that’s a mix between an English Muffin, Pancake, Tortilla, and Hamburger Bun. They then slice it mostly in half (again, best way to cut buns for Street Food consumption), scoop out some of the fluffy inside, and fill with whatever fancies.

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            You know, it’s sorta like a Taco and a Hamburger Patty smoked crack, had sex and got pregnant (don’t ask which one, I don’t want to get into those kind of food politics).

            Hola Arepa serves on average five different sammiches; almost always the same, but just recently I saw a new item, so don’t quote me on that. A VERY important thing to do, lift the top bun to get a look at your filling; in the early days I always had to add more sauce after getting through the first few bites. I hear this isn’t the same nowadays, but you can never be too safe.

            Sauces themselves are a few different housemade salsas, set on the front shelf with a selection of house pickles (always a good sign). Tortillas and guac are quite popular with their clientele, so there has to be something behind it.

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Food: 9

            Once completely topped with one of their fantastic sauces, the fillings easily rival some of the best taco trucks’ in their tastiness. The recent Chorizo-Pepper was scrumptious and fantastic, then you counter the fattiness with their pickles, and it’s all there. The arepa is a very unique and, more importantly, very FLAVORFUL package; flour tortillas and regular burger buns just can’t seem to match that note where you want to eat them on their own. Those who have had a Masa tortilla, though, know that feeling when you just happen to take a bit of it on its own with only a little sauce or lime.

Holdability: 8.5

            Basically the Mexican street food, arepas are made to eat with one hand. These ones in particular tend to be a bit bursting over the top though; one of their newer ones (which is what I had last) is actually very messy in particular. If it’s important to you, avoid the one with Chorizo and Fajita Peppers… though it makes up for it in pure fatty deliciousness.

Price: 9

             Arepa options stick in the $5-7, staying at that great range of price for true street food.

Speed: 8.5

             Much the same speed as making a taco, just differently shaped masa.

The TOE: 9

             The only Truck serving arepas, Hola fits that “unique item” niche perfectly, while offering it with in a fun-colored truck to walk the street with easily. Not to mention, they’re one of the few trucks to do pure-blackboard menu display, and of the other ones this is easily the most cramped for information.

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             If there’s anything that feels “lacking,” not that they even need to consider it, I almost wish they might try a seasonal “creative” arepa now and then. I think it’d be fun, both for customers and the chefs coming up with it.

                        Tally: 44/50

Final Thoughts

            I can’t put much effort into suggestions, every item is good. If you’re willing to shell out the high cost of *Gasp!* 7 dollars, the Cuban is one of my favorites.

            Don’t really understand the draw of the chicken-avocado salad filled arepa, but to each their own (a good reason to go to Hola if you’re more into cold sandwiches, though). Personally, I also don’t see any reason to get chips n guac; as a foodie I go straight for the arepa and move onto the next conquer.