When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: FrinGo's Kitchen Location: 2160 North Alma School Road, Suite 116, Chandler Open: About a month Eats: Puerto Rican Price: $10/person
We wouldn't blame you for thinking, "Well, this place can't be that good. It doesn't even have mofongo," when you first look at the menu at FrinGo's Kitchen. After all, the mashed plantain dish is pretty much a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine.
But then you pick what you do want from the compact menu, and the man behind the counter turns to the kitchen says, "Ma!" and recites your order to a woman in the kitchen.
Suddenly, you have hope.
According to the restaurant's website, FrinGo's is a "family-owned establishment" serving "homestyle Puerto Rican food." For once, this doesn't seem to be a marketing ploy. Our first meal at the Chandler restaurant makes us think this place may be serving some of the best Puerto Rican food in the Valley.
About a month ago, FrinGo's took over the small strip mall space that formerly housed well-loved Peruvian restaurant, Tumi. (Don't worry, Tumi is still around; it moved about a mile down the road to 961 West Ray Road.) The space feels largely the same, though there's now a bright mural gracing one of the restaurant's walls.
In a smart move for such a small and reasonably priced restaurant, FrinGo's goes the counter service route. You'll walk to the back of the restaurant and the owner will present you with pans of pernil (roasted pork shoulder), bistec encabollado (steak with caramelize onions), and pollo guisado (braised chicken with potatoes). If you seem unsure, he may even let you sample the options before you place your order.
While you wait for the food to be delivered, you might want to sip on one of the Puerto Rican sodas available at the restaurant. The options include a coconut soda, Coco Rico, that's sweet but not sticky-sweet, and Goya Cola Champagne, an orange cream soda that leans more to the "cream" side than the "orange."
The food might not come out in the expected order -- for example, if you order a side of tostones, they may arrive after your entrees. It's not an issue, however, when you take your first bite. The tostones at FrinGo's, served with the obligatory side of ketchup-mayonnaise, are perfectly fried slices of plantain. Deep orange on the outside, their well-seasoned and extra-crispy exterior gives way to soft, starchy insides. Be sure to get also get a side of the mojo de ajo, or oil with sweet roasted garlic, for dipping.
Actually, the mojo de ajo tastes good on pretty much everything, including the chicharrón, luxurious hunks of fried pork that come with sides of rice and beans. These fatty pieces can also benefit from a quick dip in FrinGo's vinegary housemade hot sauce. If it's not offered, just ask for a side of that, too.
For a real treat, however, the best option may be the pollo guisado. Sure, the stew doesn't look like much, particularly when presented in a heating pan behind a glass wall. But this brown mess of bone-in chicken and potatoes packs a lot of flavor. It's Puerto Rican comfort food delivered in a Styrofoam container, with adobo-like seasonings over fork-tender chicken.
At just $2.25 each, the restaurant's pastelillos are pretty much a steal. The Puerto Rican turnovers can be filled with a number of meats, the best of which might be the moist shredded chicken and pork. The tradicional carne molida, or ground beef, and bistec, or steak, aren't half-bed either.
We also ordered a relleno de papa, but after finishing most of the meal, it still hadn't arrived. That's when chef Ma emerged from the kitchen to explain she'd cracked the first deep-fried potato ball and, therefore, had to start all over making it again.
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It was worth the wait. Break open the softball-size sphere and you'll find a layer of fluffy whipped potatoes around a core of ground beef. It's not fancy, but it is deeply satisfying.
By the time we finished, the tiny dining room had filled (as well as the two tables located just outside the door) with tables of diners. It wasn't loud. Most people were too busy devouring heaping plates Puerto Rican fare to bother talking.