Orinoco: A Latin Kitchen – The Gluten Free Options Are Endless

I LOVE THIS PLACE! Orinoco remains one of our (Jeremy and I) favorite restaurants in the city. The food is delicious, and the drinks are strong. We never get tired of coming back here. We love the food and ambiance and there is always something new to try.

Orinoco serves traditional Venezuelan cuisine. The food is incredibly flavorful and fresh, and not too spicy. Not only is the food divine, it is reasonably priced and generously portioned. With three locations now open (Brookline Village, Harvard Square and South End), there is no excuse not to try it! Each restaurant (I haven’t been to the Cambridge location yet) are relatively small, maybe 20 tables, at most, and a small bar. They do not take reservations so get there early or show up expecting to wait while having a drink at the bar.

Orinoco gives off the perfect Latin American vibe; it reminds me so much of being in South America, from the music to the menu to the wall decor. The wait staff is friendly, and the food is to die for! Everything is so flavorful and delicious.  Each time (4) I’ve been, our waitresses have been knowledgeable about the menu and double-checked with the chef on everything. Everything is made to order and they can accommodate not only for gluten allergies, but soy, dairy and vegetarians shouldn’t have problems here either

Orinoco is known for their arepas, which are traditional Venezuelan grilled corn pocket sandwich stuffed with cheeses, vegetables, and meats. There’s something for everyone; cheese lovers, meat lovers and vegetarians. And they range from $4.75 – $7 (a little more for the specials, but those can also be a bit bigger). You must try one if you come. But, they are quite filling so I recommend having one a lunch entrée or shared appetizer so you don’t fill up before dinner. I’ve made this mistake.

Jeremy and I shared the Portobello Arepa Special ($15); made with sweet roasted corn and anise seeds, filled with wild mushrooms, sweet corn, sauted spinach, huitlacoche cream and roasted cubanelle pepper sauce. It was delicious. I’ve also tried the Reina Pepiada, shredded chicken salad, avocado and tomato. It was also good, but very very similar to American chicken salad, with the addition of avocado. Don’t get me wrong, I liked it a lot, one of the best chicken salads I’ve ever had actually, and especially the dipping sauce that comes with it, but it was too ‘safe’. It was a hot Saturday afternoon and I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy meat dish, but I do recommend trying one of the traditional arepas first.

Reina Pepiada

The Pelua, Venezuelan-style stewed shredded beef with edam cheese, had a nice balance of flavors. The beef was so tender, and juicy. The smooth and creaminess edam cheese slightly melted onto the warm beef and blended nicely. ($6.50).


Last night we decided to be a little different and order something besides an arepa. From the appetizer menu we ordered the Mini Costillitas These were fall off the bone good baby back ribs, slow cooked in an apple cider and guava BBQ sauce. The meat was so juicy and flavorful and a little messy, but well worth it.  ($8).

From the specials menu we tried the Chupe de Gallina ($5.50). A hearty Andean-styled chicken soup with corn, potatoes, shredded chicken and queso, topped with cilantro and a slice of avocado in a light cream broth. (Can be made without cream). The cilantro was a nice touch, and the chicken was so tender, I don’t think I’ve ever had shredded chicken like that in a soup before. The broth was super light, with just s dash of cream.

For our entrees we tried two meals from the Specials Menu. I had the Fosforera con Arroz ($18.50). A Venezuelan soup (paella-style) with rice, mussels, catfish, scallops, clams, grilled Spanish octopus, shrimp, edamame and roasted red peppers in a saffron, capicola and pancetta softrito. Although it’s described as a soup, it’s more like paella, served in a bowl with about an inch of broth on the bottom. The heaping bowl of rice was full of fish and pancetta and incredibly aromatic and flavorful.

We also tried the Panela Salmon, another Special ($19). Panela marinated salmon, cooked to order, served over Aji Amarillo creamed quinoa with jicama and arugula salad with an olive vinaigrette. The salmon was cooked to perfection and the panela – unrefined cane sugar – crust was sweet, with an almost Asian flavor. The quinoa was spicy, which balanced the sweetness of the salmon nicely. The olive vinaigrette was incredibly fresh and reminded me of an olive tapenade, just slightly thinner.

The first time we went we ordered two of the signature platos principales, main dishes.  We tried the Asado Negro, panela and onion slow-cooked beef and sauce with rice and sweet plantains ($13.50), and Pabellón Criollo, beef, white rice, black beans and plantains. ($13.75). The beef in both dishes was tender and savory. The beef in the Pabellon was a little saltier than the Asado negro, but still very tasty. The plantains were cooked perfectly, delightfully sweet, but not too sweet. I love when plantains are cooked on the outside, but still soft on the inside. I am still trying to perfect this at home, without much luck I should add.

I have also tried the Adobo Smoked Churrasco ($19). A 12 oz quick smoked strip-steak churrasco, char-gilled with a panela red wine glaze topped with an arugula and blue cheese salad in a balsamic, dry mushroom/cranberry vinaigrette ($19). Very lean and tender and cooked to perfection. The blue cheese was too strong for me, but Lauren loved it so I gave most of it to her.

Both empanadas are gluten free. The empanada mechada (shreeded beef) is made with corn flour. The Empanada Verde (vegetarian with mushroom and manchego cheese) is made with plantain dough. However,I want to inform you that these are fried in the same oil as items that are made with wheat flour. I have not personal tried either, but I will next time. I cannot wait for the weather to get nicer so we can sit outside (South End and Harvard Square locations have a patio) and enjoy a nice glass of wine and arepa…

The Sangria is too sweet. But why would you order sangria when you have the choice of 5 mojitos, Pisco Sours, and other Caribbean inspired drinks, made to order with real, fresh ingredients. These drinks are only available at the Brookline location. The Cateluo is very spicy, be ware! The wine list – available at all 3 locations – is small but offers a variety of South American Reds and Whites. I recommend the Carmenere from Chile or Argentian Melbec.

Highly recommended for a date night if you want to impress someone without spending too much, this place is unique, fairly romantic and 100% affordable. It’s also great to go with a small group of friends, your parents or those friends visiting from out of town if you want to show off Boston and its culinary skills and creativeness!

Both locations are small (I have not been to Harvard Square), and they do not take reservations for parties under 6. If you plan on going on a Friday or Saturday night make sure to get there by 6pm or after 8:30, otherwise expect to wait at least 30 minutes. You can call ahead and put your name on the wait list, but we still waited almost 40 minutes when we did this.

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3 Locations:
477 Shawmut Ave. South End Boston
22 Harvard Street, Brookline Village
56 JFK Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge

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I've been on a gluten free diet since January 2009. It's been an adventure, and a challenge at times. I love to go to new restaurants and try new foods, and being gluten free can make eating out difficult at times. But I will not let my dietary restrictions get in my way of finding new restaurants and products. These are my stories of being a young women in a big city, eating out and trying new foods, all while NOT eating gluten. Like I said, it's an adventure and you are welcome to come along... Please note that as I try to eat gluten free 100% of the time, my intolerance is not as severe as others so please use caution when dining at restaurants that are not certified gluten free.