Tartareperia 18.64 – serving a new take on the classic Venezuelan arepa in a friendly, familial environment
Rising in popularity throughout the US, the arepa is beginning to make a mark on the American food scene. The dish, originally from Colombia and Venezuela, is made of ground maize meal or flour and is then fried, grilled or baked. A variety of different fillings, from beef to avocado to cheese, are inserted into the dough to complete the sandwich.
“Arepas are beginning to compete with the taco,” explains Manny Gomez, owner and creator of Tartareperia 18.64. “The American public is becoming more and more familiar with them.”
The idea behind Tartareperia 18.64, which opened a little over a year ago in Fishtown, is to showcase the classic arepa, but in a new, innovative fashion. Rather than baking a doughy sandwich to hold the filling in the middle, Gomez has created a cake-like version of the arepa (tarta means cake in Spanish) where the filling is contained on top of the cornmeal base.
“The tartarepa is seen nowhere else in the world. It is a unique and more elegant form of the arepa,” says Gomez.
The signature dish forms the core of Tartareperia 18.64’s menu with over ten different fillings to choose from. The most popular flavor is the Venezuelan classic Pabellón Criollo, a rich combination of shredded beef, black beans, sweet plantains and creamy nata.
Edilia Gomez, Manny Gomez’s sister, is the day-to-day administrator of the business in addition to being the member of the family that brought the crew to Philadelphia from Venezuela. Edilia initially moved to Washington D.C. in 1982 to study English. After meeting her husband Mike O’Hara there, the couple moved to Philly, Mike’s hometown.
Along with O’Hara, Edilia works hard to create a vibrant, exciting atmosphere for customers.
“Every other week we offer a free salsa lesson,” smiles Edilia. “Afterwards, people are free to dance until midnight and try out what they have learned.”
The expansive backroom is also used for special events, such as short plays and monologues and can be rented out for private events. Within the next couple months they plan to revamp the back of the restaurant adding a new door as well as lights and a sign to the Girard side to welcome customers.
Also in the works are plans to add UberEats and GrubHub for delivery and expand the menu, adding fusion dishes that combine Venezuelan flavors with others from around the world.
“Venezuelan cuisine has been fused with many other cuisines,” explains Manny Gomez. “There have been many immigrants from Europe and Asia.”
Working off this Asian influence, one of the new additions to the menu will be Venezuelan rolls. Much like sushi wrapped in seaweed, the rolls will instead be wrapped in plantain and have various meat, fish and vegetarian fillings.
These changes and updates to the menu were planned after consulting with repeat customers who have become like family to Edilia and other workers at the restaurant.
“The restaurant is family. Our clients are family. We treat each other like family,” says Edilia. “Attention to our clients is number one. Treating people well is the secret to running a successful business.”
To learn more about Tartareperia 18.64 and their upcoming events check out their Instagram @tarta18.64. The restaurant is open Tuesday through Thursday from 5pm – 9pm, Fridays from 5pm – 11pm, Saturdays from 11am – 11pm, Sundays from 11am – 5pm and is closed on Mondays. They are located at 1204 N Front Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122 right next to the Girard stop on the MFL.