Different cuisines have different appeals for gluten-free diners. We went looking for great gluten-free Latin American cuisine, and we found a gem with delicious gluten-free arepas.
“Table for three or ¿Mesa para tres?” the host asked as we entered La Caraquena. The authenticity starts at the door of this Latin American restaurant. The small space squats under a motel that I have passed countless times in my life but never thought to try. Now, as a new fan of Venezuelan cuisine, I realize that I’ve probably just as often passed over the opportunity to be surprised.
Full but somehow not crowded, with its seating spilling outdoors, the restaurant served lunch at noon to groups of Spanish-speakers, English-speaking families, and customers greeted as regulars. Our waiter, Raul, was very friendly and when he forgot to bring Michelle her water, he insisted that she ask for other things he could fetch immediately. (And he added a new ladybug sticker to the credit card we paid with, because apparently he keeps ladybug stickers at his workplace.)
Michelle and I decided to try the fried arepas in the peluda style. An arepa is a corn patty the shape and size of an English muffin but with a heavier consistency and grainy texture. It is, as Raul told us, completely gluten-free, made with “corn, water, salt…and of course, love.” Typically, Venezuelans serve it cut open on one half and stuffed. I had the chance to visit Venezuela last summer, where I tried an arepa stuffed with queso de mano (literally “hand cheese”), a soft, white cheese. At La Caraquena, I was not disappointed in the quality or authenticity. They serve around eight different styles of arepas cooked either grilled or fried. We did not ask about every type, but ours were gluten-free, filled with pulled beef and shredded cheese. You should double-check the filler ingredients before assuming that these delightfully tasty parcels are gluten-free, but they are mainly packed with meat, cheese, and vegetables. The portions are somewhere in between what I remember from Venezuela and what a typical American sandwich consists of – manageable but still filling. And were they good? Well, I will certainly go back. Let’s put it this way: I could definitely taste the love.
The highlighted dish on the menu, a Bolivian sandwich, was not gluten-free, but if you are looking for a gluten-free dinner in the D.C. Metropolitan area, there are enough gluten-free arepas to make the trip worthwhile several times over. If you are not from the area but are still interested in branching out from typical Mexican fare, you can check out our Restaurant Guide to find Latin American restaurants in your home state.
Bonus: if you are Southern or a fan of Southern cuisine (American Southern as opposed to South American), I would suggest the iced tea, which, as Raul warned us, was sweet tea. Now, for the first time, I know it is possible to get good sweet tea north of Richmond.
La Caraquena Latin American Cuisine is located at 300 West Broad Street, Falls Church, VA 22046. Hours: Mon, Wed-Fri 12 PM – 10 PM; Sat 11 AM – 10 PM; Sun 11 AM – 9 PM.