On the whole, dining options in Venezuela are extremely cheap but of very variable quality and low on variety. In many places, a stock list of local meat and fish dishes is all that's available. However, in Caracas, and in several other larger towns and places that attract well-heeled locals and foreigners, such as Los Roques, there's a lot more variety and quality is also generally high.
Due to the dire economic situation in Venezuela, budget travelers will often find that midrange and even top-end eating options are within their budgets, though for even bigger savings, restaurants that offer a menú del día or menú ejecutivo, a set meal consisting of soup and a main course, remain a good choice. Another budget alternative can be roasted chicken, usually called pollo en brasa. Filling local choices also include pabellón criollo, arepas, cachapas and empanadas.
If breakfast isn't included where you are staying, the easiest (and most social) option is to visit any of the ubiquitous panaderías (bakeries), which sell sandwiches, pastries and yogurt, and delicious espresso.
Venezuela is very much a meat-eating country, though vegetarian restaurants now exist in most cities. That said, good fresh vegetables can be hard to find. Meatless arepas or empanadas are a reliable option, and Chinese, Middle Eastern and Italian restaurants often have some non-meat dishes.
In almost every dining or drinking establishment, a 10% service charge will automatically be added to the bill. It’s customary to leave a small tip at fancier places.
By law, all restaurants forbid smoking indoors, and most ban smoking anywhere on the premises.
The following are some typical Venezuelan dishes and a few international foods that have different names in Venezuelan Spanish:
- arepa (a·re·pa) – small, grilled corn pancake stuffed with a variety of fillings
- cachapa (ka·cha·pa) – larger, flat corn pancake, served with cheese and/or ham
- cachito (ka·chee·to) – croissant filled with chopped ham and served hot
- cambur (kam·boor) – banana
- caraota (ka·ra·o·ta) – black bean
- casabe (ka·sa·be) – huge, flat bread made from yucca; a staple in indigenous communities
- empanada (em·pa·na·da) – deep-fried cornmeal turnover stuffed with various fillings
- hallaca (a·ya·ka) – maize dough with chopped meat and vegetables, wrapped in banana leaves and steamed; like a Mexican tamale
- lechosa (le·cho·sa) – papaya
- pabellón criollo (pa·be·yon cree·o·yo) – shredded beef, rice, black beans, cheese and fried plantain; Venezuela’s national dish
- papelón (pa·pe·lon) – crude brown sugar; also drink flavoring
- parchita (par·chee·ta) – passion fruit
- parrilla (pa·ree·ya) – mixed grill
- patilla (pa·tee·ya) – watermelon
- quesillo (ke·see·yo) – caramel custard
- teta (te·ta) – iced fruit juice in plastic wrap, consumed by sucking
Venezuela has good, strong espresso coffee at every turn. Ask for café negro if you want it black; café marrón if you prefer half coffee, half milk; or café con leche if you like milkier coffee.
A staggering variety of fruit juices is available in restaurants, cafes and even in some fruit stores. Juices come as batidos (pure or cut with water) or as merengadas (made with milk).
The number-one alcoholic drink is cerveza (beer), particularly Polar and Solera (also owned by Polar). Beer is normally sold everywhere in cans or tiny bottles at close to freezing temperature, though in late 2015 there was a significant beer shortage, with Polar halting production at two breweries due to a lack of barley and an ongoing conflict with the government. Among spirits, whiskey and then ron (rum) lead the pack in popularity.