Passion fruit batido (MJ / Emma Slonina)
Passion fruit batido (MJ / Emma Slonina)

BY EMMA SLONINA, Staff Columnist

This may be my favorite review so far. I’ve heard rave reviews about Frita Batidos for a while now, but never had the chance to visit.

To be honest, I had absolutely no idea where it was. It turns out it’s in the main “foodie district” along Washington Street in Ann Arbor. Right by all of the other restaurants I have failed to visit over the years.

After a few screenings at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, my boyfriend and I walked over to Frita Batidos (a nice walk, ten minutes tops) and met up with a friend for dinner. The place was packed. My friend said it wasn’t usually so packed, even on Friday and Saturday nights, but the line was huge and the tables were almost completely full.

The restaurant is whitewashed with light blue accents, with four large picnic tables and two mini bars for diners. We stood in line, waiting to place our order at the counter as we eyed the room, calculating who would leave when and which seats we could take.

We ended up in the back at one of the mini bars, but the communal seating at the picnic tables did not altogether turn me off. Somehow, it wasn’t forced like it sometimes is at upscale restaurants that want to give off an ambiance of “hominess and camaraderie.” This was just casual enough to make you feel comfortable sitting down for a meal with a bunch of strangers. Maybe even comfortable enough to talk to them.

Dominoes, for a quick game before dinner (MJ / Emma Slonina)

We almost started a game of dominoes using the set that was in a silver bowl on the bar, but my passion fruit batido came out and I was out of commission. My batido – a thick Cuban-style milkshake made with fruit, ice, and sweetened milk – was absolutely magical. It was overwhelmingly creamy with the slightest hint of tangy, tropical passion fruit. Something along the lines of a liquefied upscale Creamsicle.

Our food came out shortly after: a chorizo frita with avocado spread for me, a chicken frita with lemon-scented mayonnaise for Charlie, and cilantro lime salsa with plantain chips to share. Fritas are Cuban “burgers” traditionally made with chorizo, topped with French fries on a soft egg bun. An egg bun made with lard. Can it get any better?

Plantain chips with cilantro lime salsa (MJ / Emma Slonina)

They came out on a silver lunch tray, nestled into a little paper envelope and sitting on a banana leaf “plate” to keep the tray relatively clean. For once in my life, I used my knife and fork where everyone else was using their hands.

The fritas were phenomenal. Mine was spicy, tamed by the cool avocado and perfectly seasoned fries. I would have been happy eating a very large order of just the fries. I couldn’t taste anything beyond salt and pepper on them, but they were just crispy enough and just tender enough. Charlie’s was delicious as well. Rather than a chicken breast, it was made with ground chicken which kept it relatively more manageable.

Chorizo and chicken fritas with plantain chips (MJ / Emma Slonina)

I couldn’t finish the entire thing. Partially because of its size, and partially because I wanted to try the plantain chips and salsa. I’m glad I did. The plantain chips were delicious on their own, and I happily ate more than my fair share of the salsa. It was extremely chunky – too chunky, really, for the fragile chips – and outrageously fresh. Do not get this if you are cilantro-averse. It’s almost half cilantro, half tomato.

I am still kicking myself for not getting the conch fritters (yes, conch – those giant-shelled mollusks). They were $10, though, and dinner happened to be my treat that night. Next time I may be able to justify the purchase. It’s not cheap (especially for Cuban “street food”) but it’s still affordable.

So long as you’re not buying a $10 side. But everything is worth it. A must-visit in Ann Arbor.

Frita Batidos is open every day for lunch and dinner. Contact (734) 761-2882 or visit http://fritabatidos.com/ for menu and more info.