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#5 Best New Restaurant of 2018: Criollo

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott #5 Best New Restaurant of 2018: CriolloCriollo offers a build-your-own bowl of Peruvian ingredients. Photos by Lauren Sega.
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Criollo marks new territory for the Sí Señor empire. While Sí Señor already operates successful sandwich shops Downtown, on the Scioto Mile, and in Grandview, it’s shifted gears for Criollo. The empire has entered the bowl zone.

Of course, we’ve all had bowls. It’s impossible to walk a block in Columbus without hitting some sort of build-a-bowl opportunity. We can build them at Chipotle, or BIbibop. There are Italian bowls and poké bowls and Indian bowls. Bowls, bowls, bowls. We love our bowls and the creative control they offer. Now Criollo has given us Peruvian Bowls.

So, there are no wraps, no nachos; there are still a lot of choices in the land of bowls. Let’s walk down the line together. The first, possibly paralyzing, choice will be for the starch base. There are rices and quinoa. The green rice is the best, as it has a distinct seasoning to it, so it can stand on its own. Quinoa and plain ol’ rice are also options, and both are straightforward. For those who struggle to make decisions, you can go half-and-half on your flavors, if you like. Regardless, there’s going to be a lot of rice as the foundation.

Next is the legume step. Between regular beans and lentils, lentils are the best pick here — they have more flavor than the other bean option.

Then there is the meat: the ultimate choice in the meat department determines the price tag for the meal. So far, the Chicken (Aji di Gallina, $10.50) is the favorite. The poultry is shredded, with an orange hue, and dressed in a warm walnut cream sauce that, in terms of comfort cuisine, is vaguely reminiscent of chicken salad.

The beef stew option (Seco de Carne $11) is not bad. The meat is cubed, which you don’t see very often in this world; more often, beef products are sliced or shredded to disguise quality issues. Cooked a little softer, the beef chunks would blend in with the bowl’s other ingredients more easily than they do. Mushrooms (Hongos al Ajo, $10) cooked in garlic and white wine, add an option for the non-meat crew. They provide mostly a texture contribution to the bowl, as opposed to offering a particular flavor. Truly, chicken is the best bet.

After meat, it’s veggie time. There’s a funky salsa that offers more beans (including lima this time) tomatoes, hominy, and queso fresca, It adds some brightness and fun. A thinly sliced cucumber salad adds welcome crunch. You can also add some greens and onion to round things off.

Criollo’s four sauces: Rocoto, the reddish sauce; Tari, the green sauce on the left; Huancaina, the yellow sauce; and Huacatay, the pale green sauce on the right.

Nope, not quite finished. There are sauces. They have indiscernible names, Rocoto, Tari, Huancaina, and Huacatay. The ranges are hot to mild. It’s best to ask for advice, or better yet: try them all out on the side. The textures are all similar: vaguely creamy. The hot ones are not too aggressive, and at least one of the mild ones is a little herby.

Beyond the bowl, the menu offers sides that include some of the vegetable toppings, and plantains, all priced under $4. Criollo made its debut with weekday hours only, but recently expanded with Saturday hours too. You can find it at 51 E. Gay St.

For more information, follow their Facebook page.

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