If you’re looking for a unique culinary experience in Binghamton, head to Happy Pappi Arepas Bar. Located on 252 Chenango St., the restaurant is dishing up Venezuelan cuisine with an inviting dining space and great service to boot.
My photographer, Sal, and I had never tried Venezuelan cuisine before, much less heard of an arepa — a corn patty with a crispy outside and fluffy inside, grilled and stuffed with savory fillings like meat, cheese and beans. Nevertheless, the dish sounded intriguing and delicious, so we decided to give it a try for Restaurant Week.
Founded by Louis Carrillo in October 2022, Happy Pappi Arepas Bar is swiftly approaching the anniversary of its first year in business. Carrillo hails from Venezuela and opened Happy Pappi to bring Venezuelan cuisine to the city of Binghamton. Part of that mission includes delivering “high quality, reasonably priced lunches” to Binghamton with authentic flavors and fresh ingredients.
When we walked into Happy Pappi Arepas Bar, we were greeted by friendly staff and were invited to take our seats. Right away, I noticed that the atmosphere was cozy and inviting — an exposed brick wall lined one side of the restaurant, adorned with colorful pictures. On the other side, a dark mahogany bar top gave the establishment a sports-bar atmosphere. Though it was only 5 p.m. on a Saturday, the restaurant had a welcoming atmosphere perfect for families, couples and friends alike.
Happy Pappi offers three Restaurant Week courses for an $18 lunch and $25 dinner. We came for dinner, which included a choice of any arepas from the regular menu for the entree. I appreciated this added flexibility compared to other Restaurant Week menus.
To start, I opted for the sweet plantains and Sal chose the basket of happy balls, which were deep-fried balls of cheese breaded in cornmeal. The plantains were cooked wonderfully and balanced with the perfect sweetness — naturally sweet from the fruit, but not overly so. The crumbled cheese on top added freshness to the dish and topped off the presentation.
The basket of happy balls came out hot and crispy, with a nice crunch and cheesy filling inside. Sal and I agreed that they were comparable to a mozzarella stick. Both of us thought that the filling could have used a bit more flavor, but other than that, the appetizers were a great start to our meal.
For our entrees, I opted for the la rumbera arepa while Sal went for the chorizo arepa. The arepas arrived in a street-food style wrapper that showcased the savory fillings tucked inside the hot corn patty. The la rumbera consisted of delicious pulled pork that brought out the fat and flavor of the meat. The corn exterior was crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, and overall light in flavor.
The highlight of our entrees, however, was definitely Sal’s chorizo arepa. He commented that the arepa was objectively delicious even for the most picky eaters, and when I tried some for myself, I wholeheartedly agreed. Made with pork sausage sourced from McRey farm in Glen Aubrey, the arepa was bursting with flavorful pork, sauteed peppers and a spicy kick that rounded out the whole dish.
I also took the opportunity to sample the selection of three sauces brought to us at the table. First I went with the Guasacaca, a light green sauce consisting of ingredients such as avocado, habanero peppers, cilantro and olive oil. The sauce was light and fresh, and definitely my favorite of the three. I also sampled the Mojito and Besitos de Alba sauces on their own against Sal’s warning, given that they looked hot. Luckily for me, the sauces were both mildly spicy so that flavors of mango and cilantro could shine through.
Sal and I finished our meal with a wonderful pairing of desserts — the quesillo, a triangular-shaped egg-based dessert similar to a flan and the tres leches cake. Sal’s tres leches cake was topped with whipped cream and looked so delicious that he accidentally dug in before taking photos of the food. He stated that the cake had a perfect amount of sweetness, and when I sampled it, I agreed — it was sweet, light and creamy from the milk.
My quesillo also had the perfect balance of sweetness, with an absolutely amazing caramel-flavored glaze on top. I found myself scraping up every last bit of the caramel glaze on my plate.
Happy Pappi Arepas Bar is located a bit farther away from the typical Binghamton University student’s stomping grounds, but it is definitely worth the trip. The restaurant stands out among the Binghamton culinary scene with delicious street food and prices perfect for a student budget — so come down to Happy Pappi Arepas Bar for this season’s Restaurant Week.