Photo by Chris Casella

Tres Son un Encanto

From the moment it opened its door on the graffitied wall of downtown’s Pearl Alley, the tiny, lunch-only, El Arepazo inspired a cult following. Not only for its fresh Venezulean menu, but for its amazing green sauce that makes everything sing. Really, that green cilantro sauce is the St. Germain of condiments.

Its popularity soon outgrew the downtown outpost, and El Arepazo expanded to Gahanna under the Arepazo Tapas & Wine banner. And now the Latin American restaurants have added another sib to their growing family: Arepazo Tapas Bar Grille in the Brewery District. Located in the former Zydeco Café and BW3 space on South High Street, the new Arepazo is airy and spacious, with a lovely patio for people-watching and cocktails al fresco.

With each new spoke in the Arepazo wheel, there are new additions to the offerings. For the third brick-and-mortar, there is a fantastic happy hour with $5 cocktails – the Guava Caipirinha is a delight of rum and sweet fruity puree – $3.50 beers, and $4 glasses of Spanish wine. And the tapas are plentiful, delicious, and kind to the wallet. The Champinones Rellenos, $5, are popular, with the large mushroom cap overflowing with Spanish chorizo and manchego cheese, as well as two styles of plantains: sweet for $3; and Tostones con Hogao – green plantains, sautéed onions, tomatoes, and garlic dip – for $5.

Sitting at the bar with colorful swirling murals by Carlos Roa to feed your eyes, the tapas spread looks like a sea of little bites, each one a new wave of flavor. The Peruvian Ceviche, flakes of tilapia cured in a citrus lime juice, and tossed with red onion, cilantro, red bell pepper, and scallions, is served with homemade corn chips. The $7 dish is a choice way to start the meal; it’s fresh and invigorating, brightened by citrus and with the bite of raw onion. Counteracting the ceviche pizazz is the Papa Criolla ($5) – baby Columbian yellow potatoes sprinkled with sea salt. The little orbs of starch are so pillowy and soft, it’s like curling up under a down comforter on a chilly night and makes you feel just as good.

While munching on red-wine infused chorizo slices ($4), take a look around – the space has a private dining room, bar area with tall tables and chairs, booths, a little take-away counter, and four tops that can be Lego-ed together for larger parties. There are TVs for sporty stuff and a pool table. Everything is brown and black, with hints of silver, and the jolts of color from the custom murals.

It’s low-key with a pop of fun.

The dinner tapas are a who’s who of Latin American flavors. The Croquetas, oval-shaped crusted dollops of chicken and serrano ham, $9, are addicting with their crunchy outside and savory inside, while the Guava Pork Belly ($8) has a not-too-sweet, sticky glaze that melds with the salty pork belly, at turns crispy and soft, and is wholly supported by the zing of pickled corn salad.

Another new addition to this location is the Cevisheria, a collection of various ceviches including salmon avocado, boiled and chilled octopus, and, a nod to Ohio, walleye, all for $11.

And please, whatever you eat, make sure you leave room for dessert. The Trés Leches cake ($6) is a sweet feat done just right. A yellow cake infused with sweetened condensed milk, the treat could easily fall into the cloying arena; however, the sweet pulls back just enough to dance, and not stomp, on your palate.

Arepazo is a local success story, each location adding a little more to the menu, showing off all the stripes of South American cuisine. From within the alley, to stepping out to the most visible thoroughfare in the city, Arepazo’s following has moved from cult to community.  

Arepazo Tapas Bar Grille is located at 515 S High St. and is open for lunch and dinner, with happy hour clocking in from 4:30 – 6:30 p.m.