Lickety-split Puerto Rican cafe makes the fastest sofrito in town.
Take heart, super-busy Chandlerians: Your restaurant has arrived.FrinGo’s Kitchen in Chandler fills an under-served niche in Valley dining; namely, Puerto Rican fast food. Its sauce-slathered kebabs and fried snacks are the kinds of things you’d inhale at a San Juan food stand. Ready-to-eat entrées and sides, heady with blends of sofrito, Sazón and adobo, are shoveled from steaming trays into Styrofoam boxes, whether you intend to take them home or not. And when you find yourself at the counter, you will most likely be told, with complete reverence, that each menu selection consists of one of two wait times: now and five minutes from now.
FrinGo’s Kitchen is the brainchild of Puerto Rican-born Urias Torres, an ex-New Yorker who got the idea for his restaurant from frequenting the city’s bodegas (small stores selling groceries and prepared food) when he was a kid. Opened in February on Alma School Road in the former home of Tumi’s Fine Peruvian (which moved to a new location a mile south), the tiny, colorful spot (just six tables) is truly a family affair, operated by Torres, his mother, his wife, and his sister – with the restaurant’s moniker a nod to the nickname of his late father.
Snacks rule the day here, foil-wrapped treats that the regulars pair with fried plantain slices and cold bottles of the molasses-like soft drink called Malta, which is black as night but packs a teeth-chattering sweetness. There are pastelillos ($2.25), meat turnovers reminiscent of empanadas, with a light, flaky crust; fried baseball-size rellenos de papa ($2.50), orbs of mashed potatoes filled with seasoned beef; and alcapurrias ($2.50), oblong fritters filled with spicy ground beef and wrapped in a fried dough made of green bananas and yautia (taro root) for a kind of Puerto Rican corn dog. The best street snack of the lot may be the pinchos ($3), small chunks of grilled dark meat chicken snuggled on skewers and slicked with a glaze of guava, orange-passion fruit or mango barbecue.
As a man with expediency on his mind, Torres is comfortable transforming family recipes of simple Puerto Rican comfort foods into meat-centric grab-and-go meals fortified with sides of white rice or yellow rice studded with pigeon peas and bits of ham, and a hearty stew of red kidney beans, potatoes and olives. His garlic-laced pollo guisado ($7.50), Puerto Rico’s version of chicken stew, includes hunks of golden-red potatoes nearly as large as the tender pieces of bone-in, skin-on braised chicken. Thin-sliced steak, marinated in a slightly spicy and herby mix of adobo, oregano and onion powder, is mixed with caramelized onions for bistec encebollado ($8.50), or Latin-style steak and onions. But it’s Torres’ version of pernil (also $8.50), marinated and slow-roasted pork shoulder, that’s especially appealing. Simmered to an almost velvety texture and perfectly seasoned, you can imagine stuffing it into a late-night sandwich even before you’ve finished eating your fill.
Thankfully, at FrinGo’s Kitchen, you have the time to savor every bite.
Cuisine: Puerto Rican
Contact: 2160 N. Alma School Rd., Chandler, 480-821-3012, fringoskitchen.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. M-Sa
Highlights: Pernil ($8.50); pollo guisado ($7.50); bistec encebollado ($8.50); alcapurrias ($2.50); pinchos ($3); pastelillos ($2.25)
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