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Sep 6, 2008 08:13 PM

La Caraquena -- Falls Church

I wanted to a quick report on a great lunch I had at La Caraquena. Its a pan-Latin American place with dishes from Bolivia, Venezuela, and Chile. When I arrived at around 1, the place was completely empty, but the sole front of house employee was extremely welcoming and walked me through the menu. After I had been seated for about 15 minutes, several spanish speaking regulars came in behind me. The host couldn't have been more gracious, seemlessly moving back and forth between the old timers and me, the newbie.

I started with a saltena, a very tasty, solid version of this Bolvian standby. This was followed by a Diputado, one of the several Chilean sandwiches which the host said was a specialty. With no other versions to compare this to, I can only say that it was one of the tastiest sandwiches I've had in a while -- thin steak slices, a fried egg and assorted other goodies. Next time, I hope to try some of the Venezuelan areas. All in all, a great place.

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  1. Thanks for the report. I've been curious about that place, but the few times I've walked by (not necessary hungry) it's been empty. I'm not keen on steak-and-egg sandwiches, but I like saltenas.

    If you're locally curious, have you tried Koi Koi? That's another one that I've never felt like I was hungry enough to eat lunch in.

    1. Much thanks to BobBarry for his reconnaissance of La Caraquena.

      There are at least two reasons why La Caraquena is a must stop for NoVa Chowhounds and is probably worth a journey for others.

      First is that they serve fresh soursop (guanabana) juice. I thought that this was impossible in the US. The waitress claims they have a friend who brings them in from Colombia. This could be the only place I've heard of in America to get fresh soursop. If you know of any others, please let me know.

      The other reason to journey here is the tequenones. These are cheese sticks wrapped in a pastry. A VERY simple food that I'm sure can be found in every bakery in Venezuela and should be sold on every street corner here, but is pretty much unavailable elsewhere. These are hot dog-sized, the tiny ones in Venezuela are called tequenos. Served with a trio of forgettably flavored mayo. Turn instead to the exceptional salsa verde.

      The other item I thouroughtly enjoyed is a reina pappeada arepa. Venezuelans prefer their arepas served sandwich-style, stuffed with all sorts of cooked goodies, but a sandwich that might be impossible to tackle by hand. Reina Pappeada is a cold avocado and chicken salad. Get it topped with grated cheese. That and some of the salsa verde makes for an impressive meal. Many other fillings available for the arepas.

      For dessert, the flan is served as a large, dense brick. If you like your flan light and fluffy, this is not for you. But since I like the dense stuff, it hit the spot. The tres leches cake was top notch also, not too sweet.

      My overall suggestion is to try the beef dishes which seem more of the focus, as well as any of the bread items. My 9 year old daughter ordered the comparatively boring chicken (it comes with a lemon caper sauce) that was a boneless, skinless breast you could surely make at home.

      La Caraquena is one sign that the DC area is finally growing up very fast indeed.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Steve

        This is SO exciting, I just found this place on the boards today and will be trying it this weekend. I was just back in Boston lamenting the fact that DC doesnt have Venezuelan food. Has anyone tried the Pabellon Criollo? I wish I had gotten my abuela's recipe before she passed away - if their version is half as good I would be one happy girl

        1. re: Steve

          I had the pleasure of dining in the outdoor seating area of La Caraquena on a lovely warm afternoon this past weekend. I can strongly concur with Steve's tequenones recommendation although I enjoyed 2 of the 3 provided mayo-like concoctions served with this appetizer. I also barely had room for desert, but nonetheless greatly enjoyed the Tres Leche cake and also the flan type concoction. Both were not exceptionally sweet - a big plus for me. My main course was the sirloin and corn salad - fairly simple but pleasant fare. I will be back to try the shredded beef. The waiter/owner is also an extremely amicable fellow and although the items came out at a leisurely pace everything was so fresh and non-processed tasting it was well worth the wait. I will return soon !

          1. re: Aza Mila

            I'm not so crazy about the shredded beef. This is a 'wet' version,and I generally prefer a crispy, dry version like El Rinconcito in DC.. Good point, though, about how fresh tasting everything is. The soups are very good. The peanut soup is not much different than other versions, but the black bean soup is notable.

        2. Is this in Rose Cafe's old spot in the motel on Broad?

          3 Replies
          1. re: Meg

            Yes, exactly. And they've made the place fairly inviting on the inside.

            1. re: Steve

              finally!! venezuelan arepas. But one question... are they a la plancha or fried?

              1. re: cleveland park

                You have a choice between 'grilled' or 'fried', though don't expect grill marks from a charcoal pit.

          2. I just discovered this place this morning and we went for lunch. My wife and I split a saltena which had good flavours, but a bit sweet, adding a little of the outstanding salsa verde made it perfect. We then tried the sopa de frijoles, which was a marvelous and simple black been soup with chunks of ham and queso paisa (white venezuelan cheese). The we shared the arepa (called JP's Favorite on the menu-the cheese is the difference between JPs and pepeada I think) described in detail below with chicken and guac and cheese which was delicious especially with a little more of that salsa verde. Lastly, we shared the pabellon completa. the spiced beef was excellent and is what they use on the arepa mechada. The beans were good and flavorful as well and any plate of food with a fried egg on it makes me happy (like romanian tochitura!).

            So. I think my perfect meal next time will be a bowl of that sopa de frijoles and a couple arepa mechadas con queso paisa y salsa verde. I will also have to try the tequenones.

            And we were also ecstatic to see the jugo de guanabana. It was delicious. He told us that they get it sent in and the whole fruits are frozen. I would love to get my hands on some of those.

            5 Replies
            1. re: sekelmaan

              thanks for the report. Do you mean the whole fruits are sent in fresh and then they freeze them? I am excited by the availability of the juice, but that would explain why the juice they serve, while being the best I've had in the U.S., is still not quite as 'wicked' as truly fresh guanabana.

              And I agree that the salsa verde, which is really a very fine version, is essential for fully enjoying some of this food. That's why they give you such a big bowl!

              1. re: Steve

                I didn't inquire any further, but I will the next time which will be soon as the wife is already craving the arepas. Have you found sapote in the area?

                1. re: sekelmaan

                  Fresh Sapote... I wish.... but if I stumble across any I will post about it.

                  1. re: Steve

                    If i am not mistaken, i have seen fresh sapote at the Harris Teeter onGlebe Road, on the international fruit & vegetables section.

              2. re: sekelmaan

                JP's favorite arepa is certainly not my favorite! It's thinly sliced steak with grilled onions and tomatoes, which sounds really good but unfortunately was quite salty. The only think that made it palatable was the salsa verde i doused it with, which was quite good. The carne mechada arepa I found to be a tad bland, like a mediocre pot roast stuffed in a cornmeal griddle cake (again the salsa verde proved useful). The place is definitely worth exploring, but I can't say I would order either of those items again.

              3. I wanted to like this place. I really, really did. And while I didn't hate it, I wasn't as impressed as I expected to be after all the great things I've heard from coworkers, friends and the Washingtonian's cheap eats issue.

                Let's start with that "cheap eats" label. I paid $20 — actually, essentially $25, because their credit card machine was broken so I had to visit an ATM that charged me a $5 withdrawal fee — for two arepas about as big in circumference as the palm of my hand. They didn't come with anything on the side except a literally thimble-sized serving of salsa verde which was very yummy, but the amount so meager it was more of a tease than anything else.

                We had JP's favorite, which had nice savory flavor, but the server had recommended having the bread grilled instead of fried and it didn't have the best texture. We also had the reina pappeada, fried, and the texture of the arepa was better that way. Both of the fillings for the arepas were quite good, but i just felt like for $20 I should have gotten two big sandwiches and instead got two tiny little filled buns.

                1 Reply
                1. re: littlew1ng

                  i agree it is really not that cheap to eat there...i've been a few times since my last visit and it's really only worth it to get a saltena, they might be the best in the area.