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A new Peruvian restaurant is packing them in.

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For those of you who have not been to Binigi’s, hurry. It’s hard to get a table. This unassuming Peruvian restaurant at one end of a nondescript strip mall is one of those rare places where you can get tasty and interesting food, cooked with love, for very little money, served to you by sincere and friendly people. One would like to think that there are plenty of such places around any city. Too often, though, strip-mall ethnic spots offer little else than cheap, redundant food, doled out in a dirty room by an uncommunicative staff. Binigi’s is the kind of place you hope for when you enter those other restaurants. And a lot of people are taking notice.

Owner/operators Laura and Luis Chirichigno are responsible for the food and friendliness. They both work the kitchen. Luis turns out the hotter dishes, while Laura bakes the breads and mixes up the milder sauces. Laura also works the floor, rocketing around the room like a proud pinball. She takes good care of her people, but is being continually challenged to do so.

The food is simple but striking. The flatbread appetizer ($3.99) is a good place to start. The dense, grilled bread is accompanied by your choice of four of the nine sauces offered. Though I like hot sauces, I found the tangy cilantro and Aji (Peruvian hot-pepper) sauces best complemented the toasty flavor of the bread. Moving on, the entrees ($6.99) are accompanied by rice and choice of one side. The Lomo Saltado and Chicharrones are excellent. The Lomo features zesty strips of steak grilled with onions, tomatoes, herbs and accented with Aji sauce. The Chicharrones are simply marinated chunks of pork, slow-cooked until rich and tender. Put the Pico de Gallo on the rice and let the pork do its thing alone. For $1.50 more you can upgrade any entrée to a combo by adding another side. Be hungry if you do this, as the sizes of the entrees belie their prices. If you do, I suggest the fried yuca and the camotes (fried sweet potato chips). The yuca is billed as “Peru’s answer to the French fry.” The wedges are thicker, denser, slightly sweet and don’t taste greasy. Likewise, the camotes are an excellent substitute for the boring white-spud chip.

If you’re thinking light, there are several specialty salads and vegetarian dishes available from about $5-$7. The Palta Rellena ($5.25) with crispy flatbread, avocado and a citric crabmeat filling is an excellent way to justify a dessert ($4.25). Here, I suggest the traditional orange cake, which resembles a dense, whole-wheat muffin with just enough sugar in the icing to satisfy your sweet tooth. Lunch features both traditional Peruvian sandwiches and American standards, most for less than $5.

At Binigi’s you have to be early or patient. Word of mouth and good reviews have prompted a storm of customers. Parking is getting tight. There is not enough seating, though there is room for it. The small staff is being stretched to its capacity. But help is apparently on the way: Laura says they’ve just hired another person to help in the kitchen and will soon add another waiter or waitress. Soon, I imagine this “great little restaurant I discovered” is going to become a destination for local foodies. My apologies to the regulars. S

Randall Stamper worked in restaurants in Boston, New Orleans and Indiana for seven years and has filled every job from dish washer to general manager. All his visits are anonymous and paid for by Style.

Binigi’s Café and Deli ($)
7424 Brook Road
261-2224
Lunch and dinner: Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.


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