Jump-start a Colombian feast with a trio of well-dressed arepas

CASUAL

Arepa Sampler

Maïs Arepas

1200 Carondelet St.

(504) 523-6247

Arepas are dense, griddle-cooked cornmeal cakes that taste like a cross between cornbread and tortilla and accompany practically every sort of meal in their native Colombia. At this colorful and modern café at the edge of Central City, arepas are split open like pita bread and worked into a variety of stuffed sandwiches. For newcomers, the arepa sampler ($12) is a good place to start. The plate carries a trio of mini-arepas, each about the size of a silver dollar pancake and topped with one of three of the kitchen’s specialties — shredded skirt steak, pulled pork and a mix of chicken and mashed avocado — and then alternately dressed with chunky red pepper spread, an olive oil salsa and a creamy, remoulade-style sauce.

Once you find your favorite, you’re ready to take a deeper dive into the menu here.

UPSCALE

Chicken Bonne Femme

Annunciation

1016 Annunciation St., (504) 568-0245

The bonne femme preparation (literally “good woman”) usually implies a home-style country dish of the sort the typical French housewife might’ve whipped up in the old days. The chicken bonne femme ($18) that chef Steve Manning serves at his Warehouse District restaurant Annunciation is an authoritative rendition showing the dish’s rustic roots. In fact, this juicy, roasted half bird is a modest marvel of country flavor, with a taut, bronze-hued skin, a smoky, bacon-studded hash and a rich, woodsy pan gravy under it all.

WILDCARD

Baked Des Allemands Catfish

Ralph’s on the Park

900 City Park Ave., (504) 488-1000; ralphsonthepark.com

Catfish and pimento cheese are two Southern staples we just do not normally find on the same plate. But at Ralph Brennan’s flagship restaurant in Mid-City they come together for a new lunch entrée ($17) that is both unique and boldly flavored — two descriptions we normally don’t find associated with catfish.

“I didn’t want to just cut it thin and fry like you see so often, so we put a suit and tie on it,” said executive chef Chip Flanagan.

The pimento cheese forms a cap over a plump fillet of wild-caught fish from Des Allemands, the St. Charles Parish fishing village, and in the oven it becomes a molten crust of cream and spice. A crosshatch pattern of boquerones (small, white anchovies) and a sprinkling of locally harvested choupique caviar add bursts of salty, intense flavor.