Restaurant review: Si Senor!

G.A. Benton
Chicharron Peruano Sandwich with a side of Plantains

I'm going to take a not-so-wild guess that the prospect of dining in a chain restaurant sounds less than exhilarating, but what If I add the words “locally grown”?

Relatedly, did you know that a second branch of Si Senor! — the inexpensive local sandwich specialist with a Latin twist — recently opened in Grandview?

Unlike run-of-the-mill corporate eateries that attract customers seeking convenience more than pleasure — and that replicate mostly because they're territorial — Columbus-spawned Si Senor! is expanding because its Downtown operation is an interesting and popular restaurant where people actually enjoy eating.

Save for minor differences — it's smaller, has a little patio, plus offers dinner and Saturday hours — the new Si Senor! is a faithful copy of its predecessor. That means another bustling, tidy, upbeat space with tastefully adorned gray-and-green walls, simple tables, friendly counter service and a Latin-pop soundtrack.

It also means a menu that features 17 Midwestern-friendly sandwiches with South American accents. Most arrive on toasted ciabatta rolls, are enriched with mayo and taste great.

Take, for instance, the Chicharron Peruano ($7.50) — whose title alludes to a dish beloved in Peru, this restaurant's self-described primary influence. Huge, tender, juicy lumps of fried pork shoulder, plus loads of tangy “sweet potato mayo” and richness-mitigating pickled red onions combine for a lusty pig-out.

The delicious Pork and Pork Sandwich ($7.75) deserves a better name — perhaps something in “pig Latin.” It features zesty Mexican chorizo atop lean, house-roasted loin meat with garnishes of provolone cheese, avocado, cilantro mayo, lettuce and tomato.

Bold chorizo likewise enlivens the excellent Meatloaf Sandwich ($7.25). Generous slabs of an inspired, hearty and zippy pork-and-beef amalgam offer appealingly crusty edges and a tender interior. Completing the package are blistered cheddar cheese, poblano peppers and — in a rare break from mayo here — tangy-sweet homemade tomato jam.

I liked the Jumping Beef ($7.50) — a riff on the Peruvian classic called lomo saltado — at least as much. Wonderful, brisket-like meat merges with deeply caramelized onions and melted white cheddar cheese to create something guaranteed to please fans of French onion soup and Philly steak sandwiches. Tomatoes and avocado mayo are also on hand.

For something lighter, try the Turkey Breast al Jugo ($7.50). Thinly sliced, warm house-roasted breast meat and au jus drizzles make this a big improvement over routine deli turkey sandwiches. Pickled red onions, provolone, lettuce and rocoto mayo (made with a chili pepper) accompany.

If something meatless is calling, the Criollo Fish Sandwich ($7.25) dresses up humble tilapia in a crunchy, dark golden-brown batter. Accessories include fresh jalapeno rings, lettuce, tomato and rocoto mayo.

The sizable sandwiches can be part of a combo for $2.50 or $2.75 extra. These meal-deals include a soft drink — alcohol isn't offered, and sweet smoothies are $4 — plus a choice of house chips; plump, ripe fried plantains; soup such as a recent, first-rate chicken-veggie energized by lime and cilantro; or a colorful Peruvian Salad, recommended Passion Fruit Salad or overly sweet Pasta Salad. Si Senor! also offers large, well-crafted sweet-and-savory Peruvian Meat Empanadas starring seasoned ground beef ($3.50).

Just make sure to save room for dessert. I like the eggy, caramelly, unusually sturdy house-made Flan ($2.75), but I love the fantastic Tres Leches Cake ($3.50), which is easily among the best in town.

With so many affordable, good things on its menu, as long as this business can maintain its high quality, I'd like to see it continue to grow. If you're listening, Si Senor!, I strongly believe that Clintonville — where I live — would be a great fit.

Si Senor

1456 West 5th Ave., Fifth by Northwest