Benji’s Rincón Jarocho
08 Apr 2020
Authentic Mexican food prepared with passion and spirit
115 Dawkins St.
By RAY LINVILLE » Photos by Mollie Tobias
Think you know Mexican foods? Think again. Just because you have tacos on Tuesday and add avocados to a salad doesn’t mean that you are experiencing the best authentic foods of Mexico. It’s time to visit Benji’s Rincón Jarocho.
Although owner-chef Benjamin (Benji) Rojas opened his current restaurant on NC 5 in Aberdeen near its border with Pinehurst only two years ago, he has been in the Sandhills for 16 years and has owned a restaurant for 13. While living in Chicago, he came here to visit family members and fell in love with the area. “I also saw the opportunity here to make something for myself,” he adds.
Preparing Mexican dishes is his passion and draws on his experiences in central Mexico where he grew up in a small village on the Pacific coast near the beach resort city of Puerto Vallarta, known for its long-running gourmet festival and local food traditions that are centuries old and emphasize quality ingredients from land and sea.
The influence of the Pacific coast is evident in several seafood dishes on his menu such as shrimp ceviche. Medium shrimp are boiled in their broth and then cured in lime juice with special sauces. “We have a great variety of Mexican-style seafood dishes. All are delicious,” says Rojas.
However, his culinary journey has been much more international. “I started working in restaurants when I was 18, and I’ve worked for a variety of different types: French, Italian, Japanese, American,”
His initial experience in the food service industry in Mexico included being an accountant that expanded to managing a restaurant and the kitchen staff. How much he enjoyed interacting with customers and preparing their favorite dishes led Rojas, armed with a degree in culinary arts, to seek other opportunities and immigrate to Chicago in 2002.
What’s Rojas’ favorite food? “For myself, it’s tacos, tacos, tacos, 100 percent tacos,” he says.
Although tacos are his favorite, the sizzling sounds of fajitas being delivered to a table tell you that more than tacos are popular at Benji’s. His artistry in the kitchen is the reason.
“I create great flavors with fajitas — chicken, steak, or shrimp. I start with everything on the grill and then finish in a sauté pan where the flames add special flavors,” Rojas explains.
Eight different styles of both burritos (tortillas rolled around a filling) and quesadillas (tortillas filled with cheese and heated) may require extra time for you to pick one. All are crafted superbly. For example, the burrito California comes with steak or chicken and is filled with grilled bell pepper, jalapeño pepper, onion, tomato, cheese, and cilantro. The quesadilla trio — so named because it’s filled with chicken, shrimp and steak — is packed with cheese, sautéed bell pepper, onion, tomato and mushroom.
Some items such as the soups may be a surprise to a first-time visitor unfamiliar with traditional Mexican dishes. A prime example is the very flavorful shrimp soup with 15 shrimp that come with their heads and shells on. Another is the chicken soup, a boiled broth with shredded chicken breast and vegetables, that is served with cheese, rice, onions, avocado, chipotle sauce, and cilantro.
Benji’s extensive seven-page menu includes 45 lunch and dinner combos — each served with rice, beans, pico de gallo salad and guacamole salad — plus more: 17 seafood dishes, 14 other special dinners, and 12 additional authentic Mexican dishes. And there’s still more.
Surprisingly, the menu is not all-inclusive. “I can’t put everything on the menu,” he says with a grin. “Some customers come in and ask for something not on the menu that I can prepare because I have a lot of experience.”
When groups make arrangements in advance, Rojas always prepares something special. “I’ll make a master-chef dinner — four or five dishes — served family style that they can enjoy with each other,” he explains.
For special occasions, Benji’s can accommodate groups as large as 40 people.
On May 5 when the world celebrates Cinco de Mayo, Benji’s is the place to go for truly authentic Mexican food and special drinks. The restaurant will be decorated traditionally, and karaoke entertainment will add to the festivities.
Special prices on drinks — margaritas, tequilas, wines — are also regularly featured on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Activity in the restaurant starts daily around 8 a.m. when the kitchen staff begins to prepare the fresh items needed for the day. The advertised opening hour is 11 a.m., but customers often arrive much earlier.
“When some regular customers see my car in the parking area, they’ll come in and ask to be served. Some even ask for breakfast (which is not on the menu). I can fix any kind — a Mexican breakfast, of course: migas (fried corn tortilla strips with eggs and other ingredients), huevos ranchero (fried eggs on corn tortillas), chilaquiles (corn tortillas cut and fried) as well as Mexican-style egg dishes with chorizo, bacon or ham,” Rojas says.
After initially preparing his specialties for other area restaurants, he fulfilled his childhood dream and opened his first business — a taqueria — in Pinebluff in 2008. When he moved five miles north to his current location, he gained a better space that is closer to his growing base of local customers and golf groups.
“I really appreciate the golf groups who stop here when they are in the area,” Rojas says. But in his heart, he also has a special place for his repeat customers who live in the Sandhills. “They sustain my business,” he adds.
As they enjoy authentic Mexican dishes, out-of-town groups and locals also appreciate the ambiance of the restaurant and its decor. In addition to dine-in options, Benji’s offers takeout and delivery service.
Rojas proudly says, “I serve something special — I prepare authentic Mexican food, really traditional dishes. Some can’t be found at any other place in the Sandhills.”