Hyde Square, a small sub-neighborhood in Jamaica Plain, is a very vibrant place. Known as Boston’s Latin Quarter, the area is always full of life, whether it be traffic coming from Jackson Square station, people shopping at the shopping center, or kids playing on the playground while old men play dominoes. The most notable thing about this area is the variety of mom-and-pop restaurants it has, from your all-American pizza shops to a place selling the cuisine of just about every country in Latin America. Among this diverse array of food, the restaurant Alex’s Chimis stands out as a cultural icon of the neighborhood.
Founded in 1998 by Dominican native Alejandro Castillo and boasting a menu of 37 items, Alex’s Chimis claims to serve authentic and delicious Dominican food at an affordable price. A small building sandwiched between another Dominican restaurant and a local bookstore, the restaurant is frequently crowded with energized customers. These crowds, along with the plethora of five-star reviews on Yelp serve to show that these eats and prices are just as good as described. Still, I decided to try the restaurant for myself, hoping to find my high expectations met.
The first thing you’ll notice when you walk into Alex’s Chimis is the restaurant’s organization. The space is small and signs direct people to a line that curves to adapt to the tight area. Cooks and cashiers stand behind a counter, ready to take your order and prepare your meal. Behind them, you can see into the kitchen and it feels welcoming to get such a clear view of their process: It’s like they really trust you. The air smells of spices and seasonings that remind you of just how hungry you are. Although the interior is bland and minimally decorated, the bustle of workers in the kitchen, the voices of people in line, and the smells of rotisserie chicken and fried plantains create more than enough atmosphere.
The staff is kind and patient when they take your order, repeating it all back to you to make sure they got the right thing. When you go to pay, you’ll find that the food indeed is very cheap, with a sandwich, dessert, and drink totaling less than $20. The wait for your food is short, no more than five minutes, and you’ll find that they’ve provided many utensils, including enough napkins to clean the face of a toddler eating ice cream.
Most importantly, the food itself is delicious. The jugo de fresa (strawberry juice) is very sweet, but not so much that it’s overpowering. Fresh strawberries give you kicks of bitterness while a cool sugar syrup glides down your throat, a perfect refresher to accompany the large meal you’re about to consume.
The star food of Alex’s Chimis is the chimis, which are Dominican-style hamburgers. The “Chimi Super,” which the restaurant says is their classic Dominican burger, is divine. You can feel this perfection just by holding the sandwich as its toasted bread warms your hands. Your first bite is an eruption of flavor. A soft, well-cooked patty melts in your mouth as you take in all its savoriness. Warm, perfectly melted cheese accompanies this meat and gives a small kick of sharpness, enhancing all the other flavors. A smooth and creamy sauce soaks into your tongue and then slips down your throat, its spice teasing your taste buds. This complexity of flavor is perfectly balanced by crisp, savory vegetables: lettuce that crunches with every bite and juicy tomatoes that leave flavors of umami resting on your tongue. You finish the rest of the sandwich quickly and wish you had more left once you’ve finished.
Luckily, there’s still dessert: a tres leches cake. Just like the rest of the food, this treat does not disappoint. The cake itself is soft and light, almost comforting to eat. The tres leches that the cake is soaked in is so cool and refreshing that you find yourself dipping every spoonful into the sweet milk, trying to absorb it all. The cake is topped with a soft, light cream that is delicious and sugary, but not overpowering like frostings can be. And the cherry on top is a literal cherry, a simple but tasty addition that makes the cake look like a work of art and perfectly tops off the syrupy flavors filling your mouth.
But delicious food for a good price isn’t the only reason to go to Alex’s Chimis. In a city like Boston, that’s constantly changing and becoming more and more exclusive to the white and the wealthy, it’s important to cherish and support these smaller, people-of-color-owned businesses that keep diversity and culture alive. Boston has already become so gentrified and lost so much of its uniqueness. Every JP native will pinpoint Whole Foods’ replacement of the Latin American grocery store Hi-Lo as a moment of gentrification that no one wants to repeat. All these changes make having establishments like Alex’s Chimis more important than ever. The restaurant is a landmark of Boston’s Latine population and preserving its food and its culture is crucial in allowing the city to retain the diversity that makes Boston a fun and enjoyable city to live in.
I would recommend Alex’s Chimis to anyone, whether you want to support Latine populations in Boston or if you just want a good sandwich that’s cheap. Eating their food is truly a great experience from start to finish and the taste of culture it provides is even better.
Alex’s Chimis: 358 Centre St, Jamaica Plain MA, 02130;
Monday – Closed / Tuesday – Thursday 10AM – 8PM / Friday – Sunday 10AM – 9PM