The new Arepa Zone downtown. (Andrew Cajas)

The good news: The new Arepa Zone is 10 times bigger than its Union Market stall. 

The bad news: The new Arepa Zone is 10 times bigger than its Union Market stall.

“We’re trying to get used to cleaning it all,” says Gabriela Febres, who co-owns the space with partner Ali Arellano.

The restaurant, which recently opened downtown, is the duo’s first bricks-and-mortar location. And while it may be harder on the owners as they get used to some growing pains, the expanded space comes with perks for diners: The larger kitchen allows the team to offer new menu items, including the pabellon bowl, a traditional Venezuelan dish made with black beans, sweet plantains and chicken or beef over rice ($12).

You’ll also find the same lineup available at the tiny Union Market kiosk and original food truck, including the namesake dish — a Venezuelan corn pocket stuffed with meat, cheese or vegetables. Arepas, which are naturally gluten-free, are available in such combinations as the sifrina, made with chicken salad, avocado and shredded cheddar cheese ($8); the canosa made with shredded beef and queso fresco ($8); and the simple domino, made with black beans and shredded queso fresco ($6.50).

The patacon is a messy, delicious dish made with fried plantain disks and your choice of beef, chicken or vegetables. (Holley Simmons/The Washington Post)

The patacon is also a new addition. Made with two fried plantain disks stuffed with coleslaw, queso fresco and your choice of meat ($12), the dish is described by Febres as a sandwich, but you’d have better luck eating a bowl of soup with your hands. Instead, she suggests breaking off pieces of the fried plantain and using your fork to load it up with the filling. “The bottom [plantain] gets soggy from the juice and is good to eat with a fork and knife.”

You’ll also find a small bodega-style corner offering Venezuelan grocery items, including tubs of soft white cheese, soft drinks and candies. These offerings are imported through Arepa Zone’s sister company, Antojitos de tu Pais, which operates out of a warehouse in Fairfax. Through Jan. 1, Arepa Zone will also sell fresh-baked pan de jamon, a Venezuelan ham bread popular during the holidays.

The new location is open only for lunch and dinner, though Febres plans to roll out breakfast in the new year. Pending a liquor license approval, beer and wine will also be available soon, meaning it won’t just be a great spot for lunch, but for a downtown meal any time of day.

1121 14th St. NW.

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