Restaurant Review

Calling All Meat Lovers: Choripan in Hackensack

Victor Vinciguerra grew up in Argentina eating meats cooked on a parillada, or grill. At Choripan Vinciguerra cooks meats over a charcoal-burning parillada.

Conversations in Spanish and the aroma of wood smoke animate Choripan in Hackensack, where servers rush skewers of grilled meat to tables, and a big screen (mercifully muted) always seems to be showing soccer.

“In Argentina,” says Pablo Spadavecchia, the owner of Choripan, who was born in the province of Buenos Aires, “people eat dinner at their neighborhood parillada [grill] almost every night to see their friends, eat some good beef and drink some nice malbec.”

I have reveled in the parilladas of Buenos Aires on three different occasions, and Choripan felt like a fourth—except that, Choripan being BYO, I brought my own malbec. The wine, accompanying a generous and sublimely rich order of grilled mollejas (beef sweetbreads), brought on an extended déja vu.

Choripan, which has 65 seats, is a humble, welcoming neighborhood place. It employs two grills that burn South American charcoal under a mix of domestic woods. One grill is flat for steaks and flat cuts. The other is surmounted by racks of skewers for chicken, pork, house-made sausage and chunks of meat.

The beef is American, grain-fed, USDA Choice rather than the grass-fed beef Argentina was once known for. It’s prepared in the same rustic manner, rubbed only with sea salt, “so you can taste the meat and not a bunch of spices,” says chef Victor Vinciguerra. It’s served with a traditional chimichurri, zesty with parsley and garlic.

Vinciguerra left his native Rosario, a city near Buenos Aires, in 1969 at age 12 and settled with his family in Garfield. In his twenties, he opened a pizzeria and an Argentinean eatery in Passaic and later an Italian restaurant in Elmwood Park.

“By the time I met Pablo [Spadavecchia], I just wanted to cook,” he says. The two opened the original Choripan on Main Street in Hackensack in 2011. Four years later, it succumbed to a fire. Spadavecchia reopened on Sussex Street in June 2016, with Vinciguerra again the chef.

The roughly 100-item menu ranges from grilled and rotiserrie meats to pizza, pasta, salads, burgers, sandwiches and seafood. The two mariscos (seafood) dishes we tried exposed some weaknesses: The pasta in the cazuela de mariscos was limp, and the seasoning in the paella-style arroz con mariscos was dull and the rice overcooked.

Like many of his countrymen, Vinciguerra’s forebears emigrated from Italy. His excellent, just-sweet-enough marinara appears on or beside several dishes, such as a mountain of crisply fried calamari. His shrimp in garlic sauce (scampi, in effect) is splendidly tender and lush with caramelized garlic. The menu includes several pastas. In all categories, portions are enormous.

The Argentinean menu includes the namesake choripan, a beloved Argentinean street and stadium snack of grilled chorizo sausage with chimichurri on Italian bread; Milanesa milachori, a pounded cutlet of beef or chicken topped with french fries and melted cheddar for a poutine-like effect; and four kinds of empanadas. Spadavecchia also sells these at his other business, Empanadas Cafe in Hoboken.

The kitchen produces about a dozen meat choices. Most are available in the all-you-can-eat rodizio ($35 per person). It comes with two sides; the sweet-potato fries are so good, they’re worth ordering on their own for $6.50.

Then there are the parilladas mixta (mixed grills) that include two sides and serve two, priced at $40. They come in two styles. The parillada Argentina offers the divine sweetbreads, plus velvety chinchulines (beef intestine) along with a hunk of entraña (skirt steak). The parillada Americana substitutes chicken, pork loin, short rib and Argentinian sausage for the offal and other exotics in the Argentina.

The one standout dessert was flan. It’s lavished with a scoop of dulce de leche caramel fudge, just like you’d get in Buenos Aires, minus the gauntlet of airport security and the 11-hour flight.

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Restaurant Details

  • Cuisine Type:
    Argentinian - South American
  • Price Range:
    Moderate
  • Price Details:
    $3-$15; entrées, $8.75-$28.75; rodizio, $35; mixed grills, $40 or $60; desserts, $5.50-$8.75
  • Ambience:
    Rustic and welcoming.
  • Service:
    Enthusiastic and informed.
  • Wine list:
    BYO

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