Bolívar Cafe & Gallery — named for Venezuelan hero Simón Bolívar, who liberated much of South America from Spain in the 18th century — might seem like a typical neighborhood café, serving up coffee, sandwiches, free Wi-Fi and a cozy vibe. But one item makes the restaurant distinct: the Venezuelan arepas. The arepas — cornmeal patties split lengthwise and filled, sandwichlike — are so popular that Bolívar recently invested in a custom-made machine that can turn out eight at once. Arepas dominate the streets of Caracas, but they're difficult to find here in Los Angeles. (Don't confuse them with the Colombian arepa, more flat, thick and dense than the fluffy, moist Venezuelan kind found at Bolívar, or other Latin American cornmeal counterparts such as Salvadorian pupusas and Mexican gorditas.) At Bolívar, try an arepa with black beans and cheese, ham and cheese, tuna and avocado, or chicken salad with avocado. Or the roasted pepper, duck bacon and mozzarella variety. Shredded beef cooked in tomato broth is another possibility, and owner Jose Carvajal says more are planned. Bolívar serves its arepas with a cilantro sauce so delicious that customers beg for the recipe. 1741 Ocean Park Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 581-2344, cafebolivar.com.
—Daina Beth Solomon