100 Favorite Dishes, No. 50: The Arepas at Zaguán Latin Cafe

A chicken and cheese arepa — a savory corn turnover — is $7.95.EXPAND
A chicken and cheese arepa — a savory corn turnover — is $7.95.
Nick Rallo
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Every arepa at Zaguan is a sensory experience. What’s an arepa? Owner Carlos Branger introduces us: It’s a sister to the gordita or the pupusa, as if an ear of corn and a cloud had a baby.

Whatever arepas are stuffed with — eggs or marinated chicken and tomatoes — you’ll be subject to synesthesia. One bite in, each ingredient arranges itself into clearly defined, bright panels in your mind. You’ll see the bright yellow of farm corn and crystal-white salt. You’ll be able to sift out each singular taste because there’s nothing weird in Zaguan’s food. There are no gums or syrups; it’s salt, water, pummeled corn and the slightest bit of oil. The arepas always arrive piping hot and have both chew and a little crust.

It’s a welcome break from heavy biscuits or bacon or gravy, but just as satisfying. You’ll never leave Zaguan feeling like you ate a sledgehammer. It's been serving food like this, humbly and under the radar, for 15 years, and they’re served all day. The fried Paisa cheese (incredible with eggs), a family recipe of Zaguan’s owners, seared on the flat top, will make fireworks go off in your mind. Get one to go, or, better yet, sit and take your time with a cup of Colombian coffee and weep from the deep regret of not having done it before.

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