Cheap Eats 2010: La Caraqueña

100 places that offer great food at low prices.

Why go: For diners who know that first impressions are often wrong, this pan-Latin diner next to a dingy Falls Church motel offers ample rewards. Owner, chef, and waiter Raul A. Claros draws inspiration from the flavors of Venezuela, Bolivia, and Chile, and his plates are as colorful and attractive as the ones at posher spots.

What to get: Rich peanut soup; black-bean soup with bits of chorizo and cilantro; the area’s best salteñas, handmade pastries filled with a savory stew of beef, potatoes, and black olives; any of nearly a dozen arepas, the grilled or deep-fried corn cakes that are a staple on the streets of Caracas and Quito.

Best for: An appealing south-of-the-border alternative to the area’s many Salvadoran and Mexican joints.

Insider tip: It pays to frontload your order, concentrating on the left-hand side of the menu—soups, salads, and stuffed pastries. Main courses are satisfying but seldom as exciting—although the rice and beans are excellent.

>> See all 2010 Cheap Eats restaurants here.   

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