La Caraqueña, Falls Church, VA

The patio at La Caraqueña (at least the side that’s allowed to serve alcohol – the one away from Route 7) was a tough ticket on a beautiful Monday evening, so it was either wait for an outdoor seat to open up, sit on the side that doesn’t serve beer, or head inside – I’m not going to have dinner here without a beer, so inside it was.

I asked our server – who perhaps remembered me, perhaps not – what types of beers were offered, and there was a surprisingly large selection. Then, I asked him what his favorite was (there were several I hadn’t tried before), and he immediately said the Estrella Inedit.

So I ordered a Port Royal ($5.50), a Honduran beer brewed by a subsidiary of the giant SAB Miller corporation, and an Estrella Inedit for my friend based on his recommendation.

All well and good until the Estrella Inedit arrived in an oversized bottle in a metal champagne bucket, and was served with a wine glass. The amount on the bill for this beer? $22.00.

Now, it would be one thing if that price (and the size of the bottle) had been mentioned, but given that I’d ordered a $5.50, 12-ounce beer for myself, this came across as something of an unwanted, inappropriate up-sell. That is a lot of money to be blindsided with when the bill arrives, and dare I say I enjoyed the Port Royal just as much?

That unfortunate incident aside, the food was magnificent. Under the “appetizers” section of the menu are two traditional side orders: Platanos Fritos ($4.99) were as good or better as any I’ve ever eaten, a simple, but astonishing, fry-job and presentation with latino white cheese and picadillo. Get these. Yuca Frita ($4.99) was also wonderful, and may in fact be the first fresh yuca I’ve seen in this area (I’m not sure if it was fresh, but it was awfully good). Served with homemade salsa amarilla and picadillo, my only nitpick is that the portion was small, and came across as somewhat precious (there were only about eight pieces of yuca, and I’m used to a paper sack being loaded to overflow at Peruvian pollo a la brasa houses – I’m actually a fan of frozen yuca, and the difference in quality is not as large as you might think if these were indeed fresh (the menu said “fresh fried yuca” which could mean “freshly fried [frozen] yuca” or “fried fresh yuca” – I suppose I could have asked, if I was curious (which I now am (can you tell I once programmed in LISP?)))).

I’ve never had a grilled arepa here that wasn’t fantastic, and the streak continues with JP’s Favorite ($8.49), with seasoned, thin slices of steak, sauteed onions, tomatoes, and cilantro; and Paluda ($9.99) with pulled beef and shredded yellow cheese. If you haven’t had an arepa at La Caraqueña, you owe it to yourself to try one, and I recommend getting them grilled. I also highly recommend the immortal salteñas here – the best I’ve ever tasted – but unfortunately they were out of them on this evening.

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