The Freakin Rican is doing bacalaitos right, says Times critic Pete Wells in a one-star review of the Astoria restaurant. The cod fritters — a Puerto Rican staple — have “an exterior crunch” and “a firm, chewy interior,” and though they’re smaller than the originals on the island, “they give off all the right signals” here, he says.
The Queens restaurant began as a street fair stall selling Puerto Rican snacks four years ago, and it grew into its permanent location at 4306 34th Ave. about a year ago. The kitchen is helmed by Puerto Rican native Derick López, who owns the spot with his husband Victor Vargas.
Pulling from its origins as a street vendor, the restaurant has a strong appetizer menu, including “exceptional” pasteles, whose masa is made from a “gummy” mash of green plantains, taro root, and kabocha squash, Wells writes. Inside, stewed pork shoulder is mixed with ham, bacon, red pepper, and green olives.
Fried chicken is also done well here, he writes:
The chicharrones, hacked into three-bite hunks, taste of cider vinegar and garlic powder and have a smooth, achiote-tinted buttermilk crust that breaks open with a pleasing crackle. The Freakin Crispy Wings are spicier, and the shell is thicker and more deeply crevassed. These wings may owe more to Atlanta than to Mayagüez, although you can get them with a guava barbecue sauce that’s reasonably tropical.
But the sorullitos, or Puerto Rican hush puppies, could use some work; Wells says they’re “dense and dry.” He also wasn’t impressed with the main courses — the grilled chicken was boring and pork chops in mojo were “dry and dull.”
Skip those and go for the mofongo instead, a garlic-filled plantain mash that can be paired with chicharrones or sliced roast pork, either of which will leave behind “a happy impression of garlic, oregano and salt.” One star.