Every Yalie has seen or (even more likely) smelled the delicious aroma of the two food carts that, until recently, resided on York street across from Blue State. Both the Ay! Arepa and The Portabella trucks specialize in Arepas.
These small Columbian-style corn cakes are covered with your choice of protein and accompanied by fried plantains and rice. But, with two very similar carts so close to each other…who has the best?
As a person extremely dedicated to the cause, I sacrificed my own stomach and dignity as I embarked on my journey to order and consume way too much food for one person. The rules were simple:
1. Ask each cart for their most popular arepa.
3. Determine the winner.
When I walked up the cart and asked the very friendly chef, Ernesto, for their most popular arepa, he insisted I try the pollo arepa. As I have yet to turn down food in my lifetime, I eagerly accepted.
While I tried not to drool on myself in public, Ernesto piled on the toppings of tender chicken, fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, hot sauce, sour cream and the customary sides of fried plantains and rice.
Oh, what a beaut. Ernesto shows off his handiwork, how could I not expect to love the dish with that “I heart Arepa” shirt staring me down?
The guacamole may have been a bit smashed in my eagerness to open the container…
After resisting the urge to shove my face in the pollo arepa, I made my way over to The Portobella cart in anticipation of yet more food. The mysterious chef preferred to stay in the shadows for this shot. Definitely playing hard to get. He recommended the pork arepa when I asked for the most popular and I (obviously) accepted.
My mysterious, and now possibly judgmental chef, remained in the background while I practically ripped the arepa out of his hand to take a picture. He covered the arepa with juicy pork, cheese, pico de gallo, sour cream and some deliciously unknown sauce with the customary plantains and rice.
With my two treasured arepas in tow, I immediately ran home for the highly anticipated taste test.
First up was The Portobello’s pork arepa. It was pretty fantastic. The pork was incredibly tender and fell apart in my mouth. That quality, in addition to the cheese, sour cream, and the slightly sweet corn cake made this a well-balanced and addictive dish. The plantains and rice were pretty standard, nothing too special.
The arepa was obviously the star of the show. I could have easily finished the whole thing, but I had more tasting to do…
Next up was Ay! Arepa’s pollo arepa. I dove right on into to juicy, well seasoned chicken with a thick glob of guac and fresh pico de gallo. The arepa itself was very similar to The Portobello’s, just the right amount of sweet with a lightly fried outside.
The rice and plantains were a pleasant surprise. The rice was well seasoned and the plantains were deep fried to perfection. The sides for this arepa could easily stand on their own.
So whose most popular arepa is the best?
With each vendor’s most popular dish containing a different protein, a true comparison was hard. The most definitive answer I could come by is Ay! Arepa hands down wins the side dish game. The rice and plantains were unbelievable.
In terms of the arepas themselves, you may call me biased because the pork was to-die-for tender and went perfectly with all the toppings, but I would have to name The Portobello as the winner.
In the end, I would easily revisit either cart. They both have attentive staff and quality ingredients. And you better believe I will be trying Ay! Arepa’s pork arepa next time.