Back when I first moved to Queens in the late 90s, The Arepa Lady—aka Maria Piedad Cano a former administrative judge from Medellin, Colombia, turned street food legend—served precisely two things from her cart outside a nightclub on Roosevelt Avenue. The first, arepa de queso was a puffy disc of corn flour sweet and gooey with crisped edges from a griddling in margarine and topped with salty quesito cheese. The second, arepa de choclo, was made from a sweeter corn enfolding cheese.
Both are equally delicious and both are still served at Areperia Arepa Lady, which her son Alejandro Osorio opened with her in 2014 to return the favor of his mother supporting him and his siblings through street food for decades.
“She’s old school,” Osorio says of his mother. “We can add new things, but we can’t mess with her recipes. Those things include arepas filled with shredded beef, the fried plantain sandwiches known as patacones, and most recently, a Colombian style hamburger.
Osorio’s wife, Nelly, who runs the Jackson Heights restaurant with him came up with the idea for the burger because many diners had been asking for a burger. For Colombians though the hamburger is quite a different animal than the somewhat austere version served at cookouts in America. In Colombia, the patty and the bun are a canvas for a carnival of fruity sauces, other meats, and other textures. Arepa Lady’s Colombian burger does not disappoint. It consists of a patty topped with American cheese; ham; and crisp fried bacon topped with a fistful of crunchy potato sticks, and finally crowned with a trio of sauces green garlic, pink sauce (a mixture of mayo and ketchup), and pineapple. (My waiter, Brandon, who hails from Cali told they are fond of the tart, sweet pineapple sauce in his hometown.) For an extra few dollars you can add shrimp, which I did.
Despite all those ingredients, this was no Frankenburger, but a seemingly restrained study in excess. (It was, however messy, and you may well want to remove bracelets and other jewelry to eat it.) All the flavors—juicy patty, salty ham, and smoky bacon—worked well together and the potato sticks and sauces completed the picture, though next time I’d skip the baby shrimp.
Dining across from me in the otherwise empty restaurant a maroon robed Tibetan monk and a young friend enjoyed some chicharron and an arepa. As I was leaving I almost told them they should try the burger next time.
“My Mom hasn’t tried it yet,” Osorio told me when I asked what the family matriarch thought of his wife’s creation.
Areperia Arepa Lady, 77-17 37th Ave., Jackson Heights, 917-745-1111