The thing Andres Branger missed most after he moved to Boston from Venezuela were the arepas: the crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside corn pockets traditionally stuffed with fillings such as spicy chicken and avocado or shredded beef and cheese. When Branger returned home for visits, often accompanied by new American friends, he'd tour his favorite areperas (arepas specialty shops). Soon his friends were missing the areperas too. Someday, he told them, I'll open one in Boston.

About 15 years later, he's finally done it. After years in corporate marketing, Branger worked up the courage to "cash in all his chips" and follow his dream. He sold his South End apartment and slept on a friend's couch for nine months while he developed a business plan, found a location, and hired a chef. Today, Branger is the proud owner of Orinoco, a casual but cozy Venezuelan spot that specializes in-you guessed it-arepas.

Almost immediately, Orinoco became one of the most popular restaurants in the neighborhood. "People have been really excited about the new tastes", says Branger. "Even though what we serve is simple Venezuelan comfort food, they find it really exotic."

Unexpected flavors are what distinguishes the newest restaurant in the South End, a neighborhood already bursting with popular bakeries, bistros and late-night lounges. At Orinoco, the draw is simple yet still unfamiliar dishes served at extraordinarily reasonable prices. The tiny space-just 30 seats-is casual and cheerful, with vintage photographs hung on mustard-colored walls and several pretty wood booths painted green. And unlike most of its local competition, the price is right. Starters range from just $5 to $8 while the main courses are generally under $15.

Many guests order several arepas-filled, perhaps, with slow-cooked pork, black beans and cheese-as an appetizer (they could easily serve as a full meal). An eaqually authentic Venezuelan dish is the pabellon criollo: shredded beef served with white rice, black beans and plantains. Also not to be missed is the popular palmito salad of endives, hearts of palm and bacon wrapped dates tossed with fresh greens in a Cabrales vinaigrette.

ABOVE: the Orinoco dining room, left molten Venezuelan dark chocolate cake, BELOW; Andres Branger, below; empanadas around remolacha con cabra (mixed green salad with pine nuts and shallots).

Concierge FALL, 2006