2.5 stars for fresh, local seafood at Benny's

 

2.5 stars for fresh, local seafood at Benny's

benny

Victoria Pesce Elliott

When the first Benny’s opened in 1994, houses in the area surrounding the Florida International University’s Main Campus dive were still sporting blue tarp roofs thanks to Hurricane Andrew, which swept through town a little more than a year before.

Chef-owner Benny Ojeda was there to help heal the area with his homey and delicious Puerto Rican cooking. He became something of a celebrity, especially after food dude Guy Fieri raved about his mofongo on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives in 2009. Capitalizing on their success, Benny and his wife Wanda who come from the stunning beach town of Cabo Rojo have opened a second spot, just months old. It’s more than twice the size with seats for more than 140.

Ambience: It sports some fancy flourishes, including a three-tiered fountain gurgling in the middle of the tiled floor as well as walls painted with flowerboxes, windows and shutters, meant to evoke old San Juan. But it is still a spot where jeans and flip-flops are perfect attire.

What Worked

  • Benny’s signature mofongo - an authentic & comforting chunky mash of fried green plantains and chicharrones with fresh garlic
  • Warm hospitality by a young waiter who happily guided ordering without becoming too cozy
  • Fist-sized flaky, golden puffs of empanadas still wafting with steam and stuffed with tender lobster chunks and nice bitey shrimp
  • Refreshing, super tender octopus ceviche with tiny diced yellow onions, tomato, green and red peppers
  • Tasty, albeit greasy, surrullos - cheese stuffed corn fritter fingers
  • Mondongo (stewed beef tripe)
  • Salmorejo de jueyes (stewed crab meat)
  • Stewed goat
  • Satisfying Puerto Rican-style gumbos with thumb-sized snappy tail-on shrimp in a tangy tomatoey broth over white rice
  • Rich, filling, hearty and more complex chicken fricassee in a terracotta-colored sauce with meaty knots of chicken on the bone
  • Arroz con gandules - pea-sized brownish beans sauteed with rustic yellow rice
  • Juicy pernil (roast pork rump) with salty & crisp dark mahogany skin
  • Benny’s “famous” hot sauce - brown, chunky lighter fluid made with seven kinds of chilis and a base of brown mustard
  • Medalla Light, the most beloved of Puerto Rican light beers
  • A limited but perfectly good wine selection from Spain, Italy and California that works with the simple menu
  • Fresh juices including a frosty just-blended sweet lemonade
  • The flancocho - a traditional single cup of flan made over a layer of biscocoho or cookies
  • A trembleque de coco served rather unceremoniously in a foil cup
  • A complimentary sweet thimbleful of coquito, the addictive and scorchingly potent coconut and rum eggnog that tastes like the Caribbean

 

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