Columbus Monthly’s 10 Best Restaurants: At No. 10, Bonifacio Makes Our List for the First Time
Bonifacio’s Boodle Nights are among the most enjoyable experiences in town, especially when accompanied by the restaurant’s creative cocktails.
Just before the city’s first full-service Filipino restaurant opened in 2016, chef MJ Hernandez says he met Bonifacio owner Krizzia Yanga and “offered my life and my soul, essentially.” Hernandez was tired of seeing Filipino restaurants in the U.S. close after just a year, he says, and he didn’t want to be stuck on the sidelines.
Bonifacio is going strong. Hernandez says 2018 to 2019 was a turning point, because it’s when the Grandview-area restaurant leaned into pre-colonial Filipino traditions. First, the restaurant began offering more regular kamayan dinners, a family-style feast served on banana leaves and eaten without utensils. Now held weekly on Thursdays and Sundays, Bonifacio’s Boodle Nights (another name for kamayan)—where diners gather around a flavor-packed spread of garlic rice, lumpia, longganisa, skewered pork belly, bistek, grilled bok choy and a host of other items—are among the most enjoyable experiences in town, especially when accompanied by Bonifacio’s creative cocktails.
Most of the week, Bonifacio serves an a la carte menu, and the way in which Hernandez plates Bonifacio’s dishes—focusing on small plates and a natural presentation—has evolved. The message is intentional: Filipino food should be recognized for its complexity. “I didn’t want it to look like a value meal, because there’s this expectation we’ve always faced for years that [Filipino food] had to be cheap,” Hernandez says. “If you put a lot of things on one plate, it’s very distracting from all the little things that we actually do in the kitchen. French cuisine and other cuisines get a lot of praise for how intricate their work is.”
Bonifacio continues to focus more on indigenous Filipino recipes and preparations, thanks in large part to Yanga’s mother, Lida, who collaborates closely with Hernandez. A good example is the restaurant’s stunning chicken Pyanggang, which is marinated (ginger, lemongrass, garlic and Sprite are all there) and then rubbed with a mixture that includes ground burnt coconut, giving the chicken smokiness and its characteristic black exterior.
The dish is very specific to Mindanao, the predominantly Muslim island group in the Southern Philippines where Lida was born—a cuisine that Hernandez had not been exposed to growing up in Manila.
“Ultimately, what started out as a passion project became our top seller,” Hernandez says. “A lot of our decision-making process is now ‘listen to our heart’ and not to social constructs ... or what a Filipino menu should be.”
1577 King Ave., Fifth by Northwest, 614-914-8115, bonifacio614.com
This story is from the “10 Best Restaurants” package in the November 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.