Each year Yelp puts out a list of their top 100 best places to eat in the United States. For 2023, Bocata Arepa Bar, a small, locally owned restaurant in Glen Allen, landed at number 67. I went over there a few times to see what the fuss is about, and I’m glad I did. I already liked arepas, so it was happy to do it. And I was in luck, as theirs are the best you can get.
Bocata Arepa Bar was opened on the South Side of Richmond, seven years ago by Edwin Serrudo and chef Alejandro Loreto. They’re both from Venezuela, and the recipe’s come straight from Alejandro’s family. Right when the pandemic hit they had moved out to Glen Allen, on West Broad Street. It’s located in a diverse strip mall alongside a hibachi restaurant, a pizza place, a halal market, a muﬃn shop, a smoke shop, a nail spa, a dentist, and much more. You could spend a week hanging around this one strip xmall.
The inside of Bocata is fairly unassuming. There are simple tables and chairs along green and pink walls. They’ve got that unmissable neon sign, and lots of beautiful plants by the front door. They proudly display their Yelp top 100 plaque on the wall. Upbeat, contemporary Spanish language music fills the air. You’ll hear Spanish spoken among the staﬀ and patrons. (The word bocata is Spanish for sandwich.) The centerpiece is the big open kitchen, where you get to watch the brilliant cooks make this wonderful food. It’s a busy place. Even in the late afternoon they’re hustling to feed customers and satisfy take-out orders. There are lots of things to try on their simple paper menu, but I imagine most people are there for the arepas.
What is an arepa? It’s a small, round, gluten-free bread made from cornmeal; stuﬀed with diﬀerent fillings to make a sandwich. It originated many centuries ago, in the region that is now Colombia and Venezuela. At Bocata they’re made fresh. When you order an arepa, they hand- form it and cook it on the grill. In fact, everything at Bocata is made fresh to order. If you get empanadas, which you should, they are stuﬀed and fried just for you.
On my most recent visit I ordered the chorizo arepa. Like all of their arepas, it’s jam packed with layers of complementary ingredients. They put sweet, fried plantains on the bottom. Then there’s a thick stack of queso fresco. On top is delicious, thick-sliced chorizo sausage. They always place a bottle of their garlic cilantro sauce on the table, and you’re going to want to use it. It’s addictive. I accompanied my arepa with a fresh mango juice. It was perfect.
A few days before, I visited Bocata with a friend so we could share some things. We started with their Yuca Frita, a basket of perfectly fried yuca (also known as cassava) served with crema. We had a fresh made chicken empanada. We cut it in half and squeezed that garlic cilantro sauce in there. It’s awesome. We got what seems to be their most popular arepa, the Pabellon. It’s shredded beef, fried plantains, cheese and black beans; completely overflowing the arepa. It was so thick, in fact, that we found ourselves eating it with a fork and knife.
Another fork and knife dish we tried was the Cachapas. It’s a sweet corn cake filled with queso de mano (a soft Venezuelan cheese), and topped with corn, more cheese, and a generous drizzle of crema. Pay a few dollars extra to add the meat of your choice. We went with shredded beef and then later realized we already had the same shredded beef in our arepa, and should have gone with the fried pork instead. Live and learn. Bocata enjoys mixing sweet and savory flavors, which is plainly evident in this dish. It’s a heavy meal. You might need a nap after you finish this.
At Edwin’s suggestion, we had the Tres Leches for dessert. It’s soft, airy, rich and yes, very milky. It’s heavenly. On a future visit I plan to try their churros. I’ve seen the photos and they look amazing! I want to note here that the service at Bocata is great. Our server Miriam is very cool, kind and helpful. You won’t get to see the faces of the friendly staﬀ, as they’re still protecting themselves and other by wearing masks.
The first time I came in I had a shredded beef empanada, which I loved. The beef is incredibly tender and juicy. It’s fantastic on its own, but again, I found myself pouring that garlic cilantro sauce into it. That day I also had what turned out to be my favorite menu item I’ve tried so far; the Sifrina arepa. At other arepa places I’ve been to around the US, this has often been a standard for me, but the Sifrina at Bocata is the best I’ve ever had anywhere. It’s made-to- order, warm chicken salad, blended with avocado and topped with grated Munster cheese. I’m not sure how this French cheese found it’s way to Venezuelan food in Richmond, Virginia, but I’m glad it did. It works so well in this sandwich. Again, like all their arepas, the Sifrina is completely packed full. When you bite into it, the chicken and avocado salad shoots out the sides a bit. Any portion found on the little silver tray gets eaten up with a fork. It’s outrageously good. This is food I could eat over and over again. I can’t wait to eat another one of these.
I’ll have to come back here several more times to get through their menu. Take a peak at their Hamburguesa. It looks unreal, and at $17 it must be incredible! Seriously, go look up photos of it. It looks like no burger I’ve had before. Same goes for their Perro Caliente. Even with limited Spanish skills, you can figure out what that is. It was also recommended that I try the Patacon, but I think I’d have to not eat for a whole day before I try that monster. Edwin told me the Bocata Nachos are really good too, so don’t skip those either. They’re made with fried arepa chips. Bocata also does special arepas and other brunch items on Sundays. You’ll want to try those as well.
Whatever you get, I’m sure you’re going to love it. There are 50 states and hundreds of cities in this country. There’s a reason why Bocata ended up on Yelp’s list of best restaurants for 2023. Just get in your car and drive over there. But notice their hours, they’re only open four days a week.
Bocata Arepa Bar is located at 10170 W Broad St, Glen Allen, VA 23060. Phone 804-716-9547 Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday 11-8, and Sunday (with brunch specials) 9-5