Hey, what do you know about Peruvian food? Nothing? Me neither. Let’s get into it.
We could take the lazy path and Google or Wiki this (hopefully delicious) topic, which would teach us this generally rustic cuisine has roots in ancient civilizations, peppered with modern influences from Europe, Africa and Asia. We would also discover that Peru’s diverse geography yields interesting ingredients, colorful stuff beyond the staples of corn, potatoes and chile peppers like the brightly flavored, medium-spicy aji amarillo.
Let’s just go eat it and learn that way.
Our first stop seems like a simple little shop with a simple little menu, but as we’re about discover, first impressions mean next to nothing. At the months-old Peru Chicken (2055 E. Tropicana Ave. #9, 732-0079), juicy rotisserie bird (pollo a la brasa) is the obvious choice, and it’s delicious. For your first time, get a half-chicken with fries and salad or rice and beans for $9. When you come back, check out salchipapas ($5), fries and sliced hot dogs slathered in several sauces, or anticuchos ($10), grilled beef hearts on a stick. Didn’t see that coming, did ya?
Pollo a la brasa is also a specialty at Henderson’s stalwart Mi Peru (1450 W. Horizon Ridge Parkway, 220-4652), but this is also a great place for ceviche, the citrus-doused raw fish dish you probably thought originated in Mexico. Nope, it’s Peruvian. I also dig Mi Peru’s arroz con mariscos ($17.95), rice cooked in fish broth with assorted shellfish. Here is where you see the Spanish influence on this colorful cuisine.
Another Peruvian standard is lomo saltado, a stir-fry of beef, onions and tomatoes. At Lima Limon (222 S. Decatur Blvd., 463-0002), tender strips of ribeye splashed with a bit of soy sauce make this dish sing ($14.95), served with white rice, fries and an incendiary house-made hot sauce flavored with aji amarillo. This joint is known for Chicken Lima Limon ($10.50), fried chicken breast in a tangy lemon sauce over pasta, but it’s also home to one of the most odd things I’ve ever eaten—palta rellena ($6.75), a whole, peeled avocado stuffed with an egg salad-chicken salad hybrid and finished with an extra coat of mayo. I was terrified, but eventually I couldn’t stop eating it.
The local Peruvian restaurant that keeps me coming back is Las Americas (2319 S. Eastern Ave., 457-8004). It’s a quintessential unassuming hole-in-the-wall with an extensive menu that includes the Peruvian take on tamales, where lime juice is incorporated into the corn masa and chunks of chicken and briny olives are hiding inside. A caddy of chilled sauces accompanies almost every dish; watch out for the sneaky-hot jalapeño cream sauce. Want to get weird? There’s honeycomb stew with vegetables ($11.49) or aji de gallina ($12.49), shredded chicken mixed with a sauce made from milk, bread, cheese and pecans. Don’t be afraid, and don’t skip the carapulcra ($12.49), a smoky, curry-like dish of potatoes, aji panca red pepper-peanut sauce, and succulent, long-simmered pork chunks. Culinary exploration has its rewards, and this is one of them.