When it's lunchtime and the local climate has gone tropical jungle on your Midwestern visage, why not stumble over to a place that knows how to cook for overheated people?
That was my airtight reasoning Friday when I beat a path out of the steamy rainforest-like weather of Downtown Columbus and entered the great little South American eatery called El Arepazo.
El Arepazo has recently undergone a smart renovation. That doesn't mean it won't still feel like close quarters in there during the midday rush, but now the ceiling's been opened up for more breathing room and the dark wood beams up there match its tables.
And they've built a more convincing patio, too. So check out the square red tent-like canvas roof with plastic windows stretched over a few outdoor tables looking onto the busy noontime foot traffic of Pearl Alley. Overall, these new alterations make El Arepazo seem much more like a legit restaurant than just a terrific counter joint.
What hasn't changed is the venue's colorful, vibrant and flavorful Columbian and Venezuelan-based food. If you've never eaten at El Arepazo, then you need to get their only-available-here Patacon ASAP. It's a long, rectangular, smashed and fried sweet plantain base topped with lively salady stuff plus your protein of choice (salty pulled chicken works very well). It makes for a filling but still light meal.
Ditto - only more so - for a current seasonal special the restaurant's menu warns is "only for summertime." Called a Ceviche Salad ($10), I highly recommend it. You get two big tostadas (crispy fried tortillas) lightly spread with mayo then piled high with a salad made with tender uncooked tilapia chunks cured in lime juice.
The deliciously acidic fish was mixed up in colorful confetti style with chopped red peppers, red onions, jalapenos, tomatoes, corn and cilantro. Glistening above that mounded melange were strips of fresh sliced avocado.
While the tostadas were literally dripping with tart lime juice, that assertive citrus was countered by creamy mayo and avocado and the sweet red pepper and corn (the corn also reinforced the flavors of the tortilla base).
Gleaming with bright colors, bursting with head-snapping flavors, and sporting crisp, crunchy and pliant textures, it's a big Latin-American fiesta perfectly built for your sun-drenched mouth.
Afterward, I walked back out into the searing afternoon feeling refreshed and ready for even more sultry summertime.
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog Under the Table at ColumbusDiningGuide.com