Billed as a “maize kitchen” with a corn-centric menu, Pica Pica ( according to the glossary thoughtfully provided on the back of the menu, means “a little bit of this, a little bit of that”) brings a little bit of the traditional Venezuelan Arepara to San Francisco. These casual dining spots are “as present in in Venezuela as coffee houses are in the United States” . If Arepas are Venezuela’s answer to the tortilla or maybe the gordito, since they are thicker, slit and filled), areparas could be classified as their answer to the taqueria. Pica Pica is colorful, friendly, and looks not unlike a well-presented taqueria. Plus, it has the advantage of being gluten-free, without any adjustments to the menu… it just is, as a corn-based kitchen. Casual, fun and easy, once you get the hang of it, here’s how it works:
- Pick one of the three corn-based exteriors, which Pica Pica refers to as “maize breads”:
- Arepa ($7.99) pockets of corn-based dough (masa) filled with anything from basic ham and cheese to any number of Venezuelan specialties
- “maize’ wich”, a grilled, sweet cornbread ($7.99)
- chachapa, 100% sweet corn pancake ($8.99)
2. Pick a filling from a list of ten items, 3 of which are vegetarian and of those, 2 are vegan, so there really is something for everyone. Tested:
- Arepa de Pepeada which is a chicken salad with creamy, Venezuelan-style guacamole called Guasacaca in place of mayonaisse. Tasty and filling, but you have to be a chicken-salad lover. After a few bites, it just isn’t as exciting as wome of thier other dishes.
- Maize’ wich Pablellon is shredded skirt steak with sweet plantains, black beans and cheese. The unexpected taste of the sweet plantains and the sweet corn outside with the barbequu-flavored beef and the black beans was a great taste combination, layered and interesting, and good lunch portion, as long as you get a side- try the yucca fries, beautifully-crisped, not at all heavy or greasy with a choice of 5 different salsas. Our favorite salsas: Pica-Chup (chipolte-spiced ketchup), and Pica’Pun signature hot sauce
- Cachapa de Catira, sauteed chicken in their signature sofrito (define on the glossary as “the base for pretty much anything that is sauteed in Latin cuisine” made with diced garlic, onions, peppers, tomoatoes, cilantro and aji dulce, a sweet pepper). This was a bit hit as well, great seasonong and balance, again between the sweet corn outside and savory filling, with the portion generous to be called dinner, again, you might want to add a side or salad.
- Bululu- baby greens, jicama, roasted corn, pineapple bits and daikon sprouts. Refreshing but the passionfruit dressing as a bit too sweet.
Overall, Pica Pica is a culinary adventure worth trying. If a little pricey for the style of food (with sides and beverages, be prepared to drop $15 plus tax and tip, so considerably more than an upscale taqueria), the steady stream of customers seemed to say that its worth a little extra to be able to eat something so distinctly different.