Colombians call it arequipe, whereas Chileans use the word manjar; in Brazil it's doce de leite, but in Mexico it's cajeta. All of these names describe the caramelized-milk-and-sugar concoction Americans know as dulce de leche.
But while most (non-Latino) Americans may think they know "dulce de leche" (which is Spanish for "sweet from milk"), they tend to know it strictly as the ice cream flavor introduced by Häagen-Dazs back in 1997. What started out as an experiment on that company's part, to see if the United States would favor the Latin American milk caramel, became their second-most-popular flavor (vanilla's still tops) and spawned a bunch of imitators.
And although Gothamist's never been known to turn down a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream, we really like hunting down the many different traditional Latin American desserts that feature this ingredient with everything from crepes to bananas to meringue. At Cabana Carioca's Brazilian lunch buffet, you can find pudim de leite (a.k.a. flan) served with a nice dollop of pure, unadulterated doce de leite. (You can also slice up an apple from the dessert cart and dip it in the milk caramel.)
If you're partial to sandwich cookies, try the alfajores that can be found at restaurants such as Hacienda de Argentina or bake shops like Rinconcito Peruano. Or just make some yourself with this recipe from the Daily News. (Shortcut for the non-bakers out there: simply buy prepared dulce de leche and some sort of plain vanilla cookie, then you can assemble your own alfajores on the spot.) At fancy downtown chocolatier MarieBelle they even import a chocolate-covered version of the cookie from Argentina that must be consumed within 20 days of opening the box (not that that's a difficult task).
When it comes to Mexican restaurants, there's a few different dessert items to choose from. At Pampano, they serve a cajeta custard with caramelized bananas, whereas at La Palapa (and sister restaurant Rockola) they assemble crepes with a drizzle of warm caramelized milk and a hint of cinnamon.
At New York City's only Chilean restaurant, Pomaire, there's a wide variety of options: the "thousand-layer cake" (alternating layers of ultra-thin wafers and manjar with chopped walnuts), suspiro de poeta (a manjar-port wine pudding with papaya and meringue), and panqueques celestinos (another version of crepes filled with dulce de leche).
If any of you have found other great spots for dulce de leche-based treats, be sure to mention them in the comments section.