As Venezuela falls into deeper economic and social turmoil, Jonathan Hernandez tries to make sense of the crisis in his homeland. He is the owner of Patacon Pisao, an eatery serving Venezuelan street food classics.
Sitting at his restaurant’s Lower East Side outpost, he thinks for a while. “That’s why I want to introduce people to Venezuelan culture through the food,” he said. The dishes on the table become a conduit for people to understand the country beyond what’s in the headlines.
Patacon Pisao first started as a food truck 11 years ago, making the namesake patacon, or fried plantain sandwiches, according to Hernandez’s mother’s recipe. The truck earned such a following that five years ago, it opened its first brick-and-mortar location, in Elmhurst, Queens.
The plantains are the “bread” of the sandwich. The starchy, banana-like plants are first peeled, then fried. Then they’re mashed into flat circles and fried again. The result is a hearty slab of soft plantain with crispy edges that make an audible crunch as you bite.
The restaurant also serves other Venezuelan sandwich-type dishes: arepas, made of ground maize, and cachapas, made of corn, both stuffed with an assortment of meats, cheeses, and vegetables. All three are studies in crunchy texture, with variations in how yielding they are to the bite. Arepas are a little more resistant, while cachapa stick to the teeth as you chew and are imbued with a light sweetness.
The Patacon de Pabellón stuffs the ingredients of Venezuela’s national dish, pabellón, between two plantains: black beans, shredded beef, sweet plantains, fried queso blanco, and nata, a Venezuelan sour cream ($9). Eating this is messy, but rest assured, it’s worth the risk of dribbling sauces and meat threatening to fall onto your shirt.
Meanwhile, the Patacon de Paisa is a riff on bandeja paisa, a Colombian rice platter that is usually served with chorizo, grilled steak, beans, sweet plantains, avocado, and egg. Plantains are universal to almost all Latin American countries, Hernandez explained, so he decided to make this Colombian-Venezuelan mashup. His patacon is filled with steak, chorizo, avocado, and a sunnyside up egg, enhanced with ketchup and salsa verde ($10). Hernandez has even created a burger patacon that features a beef patty and American cheese.
Arepas come either grilled or fried, the latter providing more crispiness. The Arepa Cubana wraps around Cuban sandwich ingredients: pulled and roasted pork, ham, pickles, queso blanco, and salsa verde, for a different take on the meat-heavy treat ($7.50). Don’t forget to drizzle some of the housemade rosada sauce, an addictive chipotle mayo that adds extra zest, on top.
Until the end of May, Patacon Pisao is serving a cachapa made in collaboration with ice cream shop Ice and Vice: guava ice cream and drizzled guava-infused nata sitting inside a cachapa formed into a cone ($7). It’s a refreshing play on savory and sweet.
139 Essex St. (between Rivington & Stanton streets)
Lower East Side
Additional location in Elmhurst, Queens. A food truck is also permanently located in Washington Heights, Manhattan.