When Angela Sierra moved to New York City more than a decade ago, she craved the street food she grew up eating in Colombia. She also struggled to find Colombian restaurants with more plant-forward options and ones where arepas were made with flours other than corn.
Enter Palenque, the food truck Sierra launched in 2011 with business partner Viviana Lewis. Palenque quickly became a staple at Brooklyn street fairs, parks, and beaches. It served hot meals to those affected by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Overwhelmed by the demands of a mobile business, Sierra and Lewis opened a brick-and-mortar in Williamsburg in 2020. At the end of 2022, the restaurant expanded to a second location inside Gaia Nomaya, a wellness center in Prospect Lefferts Gardens that Sierra thinks is the perfect fit for her restaurant.
Palenque’s expansion is an exciting addition to the city, where sit-down Colombian restaurants remain a rarity. Colombian food is typically found at food trucks and quick service spots such as the popular Empanada Mama. Palenque is expanding those options.
Palenque spotlights vegetable-centric dishes and whole grains. Meat-eaters can choose between chicken and fish (the menu doesn’t include red meat, a staple in most Colombian cooking).
Stuffed arepas, street food staples in Colombia, are a menu highlight. Sierra makes them with quinoa, multigrain flour, or corn, and fills the warm flatbreads with peppery arugula, chipotle mayo, and cilantro salsa. Diners can opt for a meat filling or vegetarian options such as roasted mushrooms and vegetarian chorizo. La arepa maduro is a standout, topped with sweet plantains, beans, and cheese.
Empanadas are another top seller at Palenque. They are made with multigrain dough and stuffed with cheese, chicken, guava, or portobello mushrooms.
Heartier plates include vegetarian bandeja paisa with rice, beans, sweet plantains, and portobello mushrooms. Ingredients such as tomatoes, corn, and eggs are locally sourced, while Sierra gets beverages and cassava from Colombia through a New York-based importer.
The Gaia Nomaya outpost allowed Sierra to introduce cocktails to Palenque’s menu, including Colombian beer, wine, and sangria. The signature drink is agua de panela hechizada, inspired by the popular Colombian (and South American) beverage made with panela or hardened sugarcane juice. Sierra mixes in mezcal or tequila, and adds a rim of Tajín seasoning.
Nonalcholic options include Colombian sodas such as Kola Champagne and Manzana Postobón, a pink-hued, sparkling, apple-flavored drink. Fresh juices, smoothies, tea, and coffee round out the alcohol-free options.
There’s plenty of seating to choose from at the plant-filled wellness center, including a sidewalk cafe, stools at the bar, and indoor tables. The eclectic, casual decor features hanging plants, colorful paintings, and an embroidered sofa. It’s like hanging out at a quirky and lovable aunt’s house. Palenque’s dining room is the kind of place you want to linger in the afternoon with a good book, or visit for cocktail hour with friends or colleagues.
Attendance at a Gaia Nomaya class isn’t required to dine at Palenque.
“We’re excited to take the restaurant to a next level with the liquor license, and make a very fun experience restaurant for the community of Brooklyn and New York City,” Sierra says.
Palenque at Gaia Nomaya is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11 am to 9 pm. Keep an eye on Gaia Nomaya’s events page to book a meal before or after a reiki circle, plant medicine class, or other wellness experience.
Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner is a writer based in Brooklyn, where she lives with her wife and rescue dog. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.