From street eats to Eat Street, Hola Arepa has built up a loyal clientele that fiends for those signature hearty corn cakes stuffed with Latin-influenced pork, beef, chicken, cheeses, and salsas. For the first several months after opening their brick-and-mortar location, owners Birk Stefan Grudem and Christina Nguyen focused on their lunch and dinner menus, tacking on a happy hour to sate the after-work crowd, but keeping the promise of a weekend brunch menu tucked up their sleeves.
On Saturday, the couple unveiled a bona fide, fully fledged brunch menu, and we were first in line on Sunday to check it out. (Technically, we were second in line. Apparently other brunch nerds were equally concerned about beating the crowds -- though it was not yet full by the time we left around 11:30, so perhaps you won't have to drag your old bones out of bed by 10 a.m. to get a table.)
Oh, and what a brunch menu it is. We were quite pleased with its array of specialties, arepas, and cocktails, but even more so with its curatorial restraint. For the love of all that is holy and served before noon, do not give us a brunch menu of 50 items at 11 a.m. on a Sunday. Have mercy on our feeble, hangover-addled souls.
For the stalwart arepa lovers, there are five varieties to choose from, two of which -- the breakfast arepa and the chorizo and egg -- are special to the brunch menu. But it's the selection of brunch plates that will steal the most hearts. The fried yuca hash takes Hola's tender, fluffy yuca fries and mixes them with sweet and spicy house-made chorizo, black beans, and a clean verdure blend of pickled cabbage, radishes, tomato, and sliced jalapeños, and then tops it all with a fried egg.
Hola's take on fried chicken and waffles, the fried chicken and cachapas, tops a sweet corn cake (or two, for $2 extra) with crispy, juicy, boneless fried chicken, bacon, kernels of sweet corn, and rings of jalapeño. It comes with a chipotle maple syrup and a side salad of arugula, which, as far as we're concerned, completely undoes the calorie intake of the aforementioned ingredients.
Chilaquiles get a fancy makeover with Hola's tostada-stacked version. Layers of crispy tostada, fried egg, beans, and pork ($2 extra and highly recommended) are doused in tart tomatillo salsa and topped with crumbly queso fresco, cilantro, sliced radishes, and pickled onion. This masterpiece is the grandest in presentation, big and colorful, so we recommend it to anyone trying to impress his or her brunch date, as we assume you use your brunch order to impress your date. Unless we're doing this whole dating thing wrong.
The brunch cocktail menu includes some of your regular morning drinking buddies -- a mimosa, a michelada, a bloody Mary with Puerto Rican sofrito -- but we recommend the wild rice horchata with rum. This not-too-sweet morning sipper goes great with a cup of coffee and offers a splendid respite from the regular brunch routine. Not that we don't love a bloody Mary -- indeed, it is often the only thing that gets us to the mid-morning table -- but isn't it nice to try something new?
Hola Arepa's brunch runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. We didn't get a chance to try the Arepa Benedict with spicy Hollandaise so we predict a return visit. Look for us -- we'll be the nerds waiting out front at 9:58 a.m.
3501 Nicollet Ave.