“If you don’t like it, you don’t pay,” goes the Punta Verde slogan. Talk about confidence.
Well, if you enjoy a restaurant that specializes in a specific national cuisine, then you’re in luck. Punto Verde is the only Venezuelan specialty house in Ajijic.
But it is the arepas (a Venezuelan staple) which are the house specialty. Arepas are thick pita-like buns, golden-baked and crisp on the outside with a soft-dough center, that open like clams and are stuffed with a variety of fillings. They are made from pre-cooked cornmeal, which gives them a distinct texture and taste. At Punto Verde, arepas as a stand-alone dish come in pairs, pancake-sized and offered in a number of exotic variations, including a vegetarian version. Most common are those loaded with pulled pork or beef in an authentic Venezuelan sauce with cheese or with sautéed mushrooms, onions and peppers.
The vegetarian arepa was juicy, saucy and herbaceous. One wouldn’t have known it to be vegetarian. It came with finely-chopped sauteed spinach and onions, a sheer coat of tomato sauce and a wonderful goat cheese filling. Warning: this is a six napkin adventure. You’re informed at the outset that the only way to eat an arepa is with your hands, so it’s not a first-date dish, if you’re trying to appear roguishly charming or poised and unflappable. But the taste sensations are worth the picnic casualness and frantic chin daubing. In short, after a first bite, it’s hard to stop, no matter what’s falling where. Sloppy Joes dressed up as Spanish noblemen or Mayan princes.
Other variations are less challenging but just as luscious: an arepa with jamon de pavo (turkey ham) comes with a house dressing of mayo and custom spices that include just about everything in your spice chest, but at perfect measures. This filling glows with a thick layer of gouda. The arepa was originally a quick workman’s snack decades ago, but has elevated itself to a culinary boom over much of South America. Simple, delicious, satisfying – the definition of great, unpretentious cuisine.
In addition, the Punto Verde menu provides standard and some exotic breakfast and brunch offerings: eggs and omelets any style as well as pastas, baguettes and pizzetas, which as their name suggests are pita-size on pita bread. If you’re just snacking or you’re an undecided dinner, tapas are available, topped at your request.
You’ll also find Criollo dishes here. These are hearty plates of simple Latino standards in the emblematic colors of Venezuela’s ethnohistory: shredded pork or beef sauced up with peppers and mushrooms (brown, indigenous), rice (white) black beans (African) and fried plantains (bronze Latino).
Comida accompaniments are fresh-squeezed juices, smoothies, teas and freshly ground coffee.
Many interesting curios and antiques deck the restaurant. Ask to see the Fallen Heroes Plaque, honoring the first responders to the World Trade Center attack in September 2001.
Punto Verde is an eastside neighbor to Maskaras Clinic, but it is regrettably short on nearby parking. Nonetheless, a little car-to-restaurant walk is worth it. I happily paid our bill and am planning to return.
Hidalgo 75-B, Riberas del Pilar. Tel. (376) 106-2401. Open Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Sundays until 4 p.m., closed Tuesdays.