Si Señor Sandwiches — More Peruvian than Machu Picchu

16 Sep

When most people in the United States think of Peru, they think of one thing: Machu Picchu.  Why do I feel comfortable generalizing like that?  Because I just returned from a trip to Peru.  No matter who I told about the trip, I could almost guarantee what their first question would be. “Are you going to Machu Picchu?” (Incidentally, the answer was no.)

What Peru should be known for, and already is in some circles, is their food.  Tania has told me however that no one wants to read about something that they can’t do.  So for the moment I’m going to spare you a detailed recounting of all the awesome things we ate while traveling.  Instead, I’m going to use this opportunity to sing the praises of a Columbus restaurant that is a personal favorite of mine, and that, incidentally, brings some of the deliciousness of Peruvian cuisine home to our fair city.  That restaurant is Si Señor.

After getting its start as a stand at the Pearl Alley Market, Si Señor moved to a small counter-only storefront in the Atlas Building and then one door down to their current location in the same building.

Update: Si Senor has moved once again.  Starting sometime in March of 2013 ,they can be found at 72 E Lynn St.  That address is an alley between Broad and Gay Streets.  This move brings them much closer to lots of downtown employees, and will hopefully be good for business.  For those of you still unsure about where the new location might be, here’s a map:

Si Señor bills itself as a “Peruvian sandwich shop.”  Unsurprisingly, the main focus of their menu is on just that—sandwiches.  With 13 different sandwiches to choose from, there’s a bit of something for everyone on the menu.  And everyone in this case includes those who like triple decker egg salad on crust-less white bread. (To be honest, that sandwich seemed kinda odd to me when I first saw it.  But it is Si Señor’s true to form take on the “Triple,” a Peruvian classic.)

It’s not all sandwiches however.  Si Señor also offers other Peruvian specialties.  Most noteworthy, on Saturdays—and Saturdays only—you can get their amazing ceviche.  For the uninitiated, ceviche is raw fish that has been “cooked” in citrus juices.  If there is a national dish in Peru, it’s probably ceviche.  Si Señor’s version is a shining example of the dish done well.

Ceviche!

Their ceviche is light and refreshing, and I’m having a hard time describing the flavors as anything other than crisp and bright.  The texture of the fish is as it should be as well: firm on the outside and tender inside.  The way ceviche is made, the acid in the lime juice denatures the proteins in the fish, resulting in a texture that is more akin to a cooked fish than it is to sushi.  Si Señor’s ceviche is accompanied by traditional ceviche supporting stars: corn, sweet potato, and the salsa criolla described below.

Ceviche is not the only non-sandwich offering either.  Many days Si Señor will offer as a special some other traditional Peruvian dish.  I’ve seen aji de gallina, papa rellena, and lomo saltado all offered from time to time.  They also have well-seasoned meat empanadas, which are filled with ground beef, onions, and raisins. Dusted with powdered sugar, these good-sized pastries are a steal at only $3.50.

But. Back to the sandwiches.  For my money (and they’ve gotten plenty of it), the best sandwich on the menu is the Chicharrón Peruano.  A classic Peruvian sandwich, the Chicharrón Peruano consists of pork shoulder that has been cooked slowly and in such a way that it actually ends up frying in its own fat.  The result is a meat that is crispy and can be quite crunchy on the outside while remaining tender and juicy on the inside. The sandwich is then topped with salsa criolla.  Salsa criolla is best described as an onion relish, and it’s found in numerous Peruvian dishes.  (For those of you afraid of the ceviche as described above, try the salsa criolla.  While not the same, the flavors are similar enough to give you an idea of what you’re missing.)  It’s generally prepared by marinating red onions in a combination of lime juice and vinegar.  The result is a delightfully tangy flavor that helps balance out the richness of the pork.  Si Señor puts its own twist on the traditional combination of pork and salsa criolla by dressing the sandwich with a sweet potato mayo.

The Chicharrón Peruano at Si Señor

Having eaten my fair share of chicharrón sandwiches at Si Señor, it was my goal to have at least one while in Peru to see how our locals stacked up to the authentic version.   In what I presumed would be a match-up unfair to Si Señor, I visited T’Anta, a restaurant operated by the world-renowned Gaston Acurio.  (Gaston Acurio can best be described as a celebrity chef and international Peruvian icon.  His flagship restaurant Astrid y Gaston was recently named one of the top 50 restaurants in the world.)  So, when I decided to compare Si Señor’s chicharrón sandwich to that of his, I was setting the bar pretty high.

But you know what? Si Señor held its own and more.  In fact, if forced to choose, I’d give the nod to Si Señor.  That’s not just civic pride talking either.  The larger chunks of pork found on Si Señor’s version better highlighted the contrasting textures that are key to a good chicharrón sandwich. (If you want to make a similar comparison, order your chicharrón sandwich without the mayo.  The versions I had in Peru were all dressed more simply, with only the salsa criolla as a topping.)

Other favorites of mine include any of the options built on a foundation of their oven roasted turkey and their take on a meatloaf sandwich—kicked up with the addition of chorizo and poblano peppers.  Recently I’ve been enjoying the Latin-style chicken club a lot as well.

The Latin-style chicken club

In addition to the variety of flavors provided by the assortment of toppings (which include jalapenos, bacon, cheese, and avocado mayo) the chicken itself is seasoned to make sure it stands out from the rest of the sandwich.  And stand out it does.  The chicken is flavorful and juicy.  As a whole, the sandwich just works, and works well.

I’d also be remiss in not mentioning their “spicy sauce” and encouraging you to say “yes” when asked if you want some.  In Peru, almost every restaurant has one or more aji sauces sitting out on the table.  So the spicy sauce at Si Señor fits into that cultural tradition.  In our travels we had good and bad aji, and I can say Si Señor’s version is one of the best.  Be forewarned, it actually is spicy. They’re telling the truth.

Chicharrón sandwich with a side of spicy sauce.

At the end of the day, the sandwiches at Si Señor are one of the best, if not the best, option for lunch downtown.  And that’s without accounting for the fact that they’re an incredibly good deal.  Priced around $6 (give or take $0.75 or so), the value you get is unbelievable.  The ingredients they use are of the highest quality, and everything is made fresh when you order it. (The one result is that when they get busy, you may have to wait before your order is ready.)  It’s incredibly obvious that Si Señor takes great pride in putting out a top-notch product; the quality is apparent from the first bite.

Along the lines of “value,” their combo meal is worth mentioning.  For just an extra $1.50 you have the option of adding a drink and chips.  At least, that’s what the menu says.  What you really have the option of is chips—or one of any number of other things, including pasta salad, a small portion  of one of the high-quality salads on the menu, or a cup of soup if it’s available that day.  Let me say this: there is no good reason to get the chips.  All of your other options are so delicious, that you’ll be missing out otherwise.

Avocado salad — one of may side dish offerings.

As can be seen, I highly recommend visiting Si Señor next time you’re looking for lunch downtown.  And you’ll probably need to go back on a Saturday afternoon as well.  Otherwise, you’ll never know what you’re missing with respect to their incredible ceviche.

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2 Responses to “Si Señor Sandwiches — More Peruvian than Machu Picchu”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Columbus Events Sept 19-26 « - September 19, 2012

    […] Are Round: Si Señor Sandwiches – More Peruvian than Machu Picchu (One of my favorite downtown […]

  2. A Peruvian Staple — Lomo Saltado (a.k.a. “Jumping Beef”) | Pie are Round - May 10, 2013

    […] written about Peruvian food before, when discussing one of my favorite downtown lunch options, Si Senor. (Which, incidentally should be opening any day now in a new, more convenient, location.)  And as […]

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