Arepa Domino from Aripo's in Oak Park

Folks, we’re taking a trip south and discussing one of the most important food items in my life. It’s called the arepa and it’s near and dear to my heart. In fact, I get choked up just thinking about it (taking a moment, thanks). This food item has done two things: strengthened my marriage and brought me closer to my brother-in-laws. In general, it signifies the positive power that food often has over me.

In the Chicago region, they rock this food item at a small storefront in downtown Oak Park called Aripo’s. Pictured is the Arepa Domino; an arepa sandwich stuffed with black beans and cheese. Simple, beautiful, nutritious. It does me right in so many different ways. I love sandwiches, I love black beans, I love downtown Oak Park, and I love indie, single-storefront resties where the owner cares about serving high value foodstuffs.

I could stop there, but I wont. I feel like reminiscing.

My wife recalls the exact day we first tasted an arepa. She dreamily recounts sitting in my sister’s place in Miami and having arepas with scrambled eggs. My sister learned to make them from my brother-in-law, who was born and raised in Bogotá, Colombia. My wife was so smitten that she went out and bought some Harina P.A.N. white cornmeal and started making regular batches daily, for weeks, and weeks, and weeks. That’s what she does.

Then we got serious. My sister taught us about Don Pan, a Florida restaurant chain and one of the greatest fast food places in the history of mankind. It’s a must-visit venue when we go to South Florida. In fact, we always haul back at least a six-pack of arepas. They keep well.

Oh, how great would it be to have something like that locally in Chicago… at least the savory food, lunch-style portion of it?

Enter another brother-in-law of mine (who lives in Oak Park, IL). He says one day, out of the blue, “Have you guys ever had an arepa? We have a great arepa place in Oak Park.”

We couldn’t get out there fast enough. We love the Oak Park downtown and Aripo’s has catapulted it to the number one downtown in Chicagoland, in my humblest of opinions, with a bullet (High Fidelity reference). I always get the Arepa Domino. I bet there are only a handful of ingredients in this thing. It’s basically corn, beans, cheese, and spices. And it’s a lot of beans, and they’re steaming hot. The arepa is crispy and firm but soft on the inside. I could live on this.

So that’s the story. We share a lot of arepa-love inside and outside of the household with the relatives. The arepa is a special food item and Aripo’s is a must visit.