Arepa Grub Spot celebrates Venezuelan cuisine

Grilled cornmeal cakes, known as arepas, stand out at the Bella Vista eatery. 

Owing to the political identity he formed in his native Venezuela, where he championed civil rights, Julio Cesar Rivas has long valued forging enriching opportunities to bring communities together. Since August 2022, he has continued to foster fellowship by helming Arepa Grub Spot, 1112 S. Ninth St., serving guests at the Bella Vista location an ample homage to his South American homeland’s cuisine. 

Owner Julio Cesar Rivas (on right) with Arepa Grup Spot employees Andrea Capriles (left) and Betsire Bracho (center). Photo by Joseph Myers.

“Making connections is always good,” the Northeast Philly resident said from his 20-seat business. “The support has been very nice so far.” 

Opening a restaurant in the South Ninth Street Italian Market might sound intimidating, but Rivas has amassed enough life experience through his civic engagements, including overseeing Juventud Activa Venezuela Unida, that serving customers is as rewarding to him as upholding justice. Having honed his culinary chops in Caracas, Rivas wanted to add to the Market’s culinary mix by offering items that give homage to a mix of cultures, with his Venezuelan ancestry at the forefront. 

A well-constructed menu puts arepas, the grilled cornmeal cakes central to South American diets, at the forefront. Ranging from $7 to $12, the 28 offerings include standouts such as the Reina Pepiada, or “Curvy Queen,” which features a creamy avocado chicken salad (see photo at top); the Rumbera, or “Party-loving,” that gives a starring nod to roast pork and cheddar cheese; and the Pabellon, or “Pavilion,” whose popularity is owed to the tasty combination of black beans, shredded beef, fried sweet plantains, and Israeli feta cheese. 

“Arepas are good for eating at all times,” Rivas said as three late-morning patrons debated which selections to pick. The trio of items designated as breakfast options include the empanadas; patacon, or sandwiches relying on twice-fried green plantains instead of bread; and cachapas, which are pancakes made with ground fresh corn.

Diners with larger appetites can splurge on choices like the Parrilla Venezuela grill special that includes picana, chicken breast, and chorizo over boiled yuca, with a fresh salad and guasacaca on the side. The Creolle Pavilion is a combination of shredded beef, salty black beans, white rice, and fried sweet plantains. 

The Creole Pavilion is among the most requested Arepa Grub Spot items. Photo provided by Arepa Grub Spot,

“We’re proud of everything here,” Rivas said, giving a plug for Arepa Grub Spot’s soups, appetizers that include a Venezuelan-style shrimp cocktail, and bakery delights, with Colombian cheese-based donuts, or bunuelos, among the goodies. 

Arepa Grub Spot seats 20 guests. Photo provided by Arepa Grub Spot.

Rivas is indebted to his staff of seven and especially to his mother, Nubia Castillo, who joined him in opening Arepa Grub Spot. Rivas has tremendous pride in his mother who is currently battling cancer. Ultimately he is thankful that the novelty of his food creations has caught on and hopes to attract more enthusiasm for Arepa Grub Spot’s tasty selections. 

“The journey has been pleasant,” he said with a smile. “We just want to share this great food with everyone.”

Arepa Grub Spot
1112 S. Ninth St.

Sunday-Thursday: 9 a.m.- 9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 9 a.m.- 11 p.m.