A few years ago, I spent about a week in Peru.
During the visit, I got to experience Peruvian cuisine at locales that varied from the high-end (Amaz, which specializes in Peru’s Amazonian cuisine, and Cafe Museo Larco, a restaurant –attached to the incredible Museo Larco – enclosed in one of the most beautiful gardens that you’ll ever see in your life), to highway roadside fish-fry joints that served up fresh ceviche and daily caught fried fish specials.
The impression that Peruvian cuisine left on me was intense, the flavors and quality of produce made everything that I ate once I got back to America kind of taste like cardboard. I came back from that trip craving the experience of that food so when news broke that not one, but two, Peruvian restaurants were set to open this year in Philly I was excited – but also wondered if they’d live up to what I’d tasted abroad.
At the end of February, Vista Peru (from the owners of El Blanchito and El Blanchito II in the Northeast) opened in Old City (20 S. 2nd St.), and Chaclo’s Ceviche and Pisco Bar (1030 N. 2nd St.) is slated to open later this March.
A friend of mine who also traveled to Peru recently, joined me for dinner at Vista Peru. Upon walking in I was impressed with the decor and atmosphere, it had beautiful authentic touches like Peruvian textiles, ceramic masks, and art that referenced the country’s famed “Nazca” lines.
The drink menu has an array of Pisco-based cocktails, and the upstairs of the restaurant has a Pisco bar where a special selection of cocktails can be ordered. The food menu boasts of Peruvian classics and chef specials.
So, what should you try at a Peruvian restaurant? Here are a few musts that will certainly provide a real-world taste of what is feasted upon each day in-country.
Cancha: In Peru, you get these before every meal and Vista Peru serves these fried corn nuts as a complimentary snack while you wait for appetizers and entrees. Salted, fried and crunchy, these are super addictive.
Ceviche: At Vista Peru, we ordered pulpo (octopus) ceviche as opposed to the more traditional fish one. This particular one is not for those who can’t handle spice and pepper, as it has an amazing kick to it that is delectable with the citrus marinade of the octopus. If you like pepper you’ll really dig this. It’s accompanied by traditional Peruvian corn, choclo (its distinctive kernels are much larger, chewier and starchier than traditional American corn), boiled potato, onions and cilantro. Everything in this dish just complements the other to an amazing degree.
Lomo Saltado: This dish was on every menu in pretty much every restaurant I visited throughout my travels in Peru. It’s a hearty stir fry that consists of marinated strips of sirloin, onions, tomatoes, French fries and rice. It’s simple but mega flavorful. Vista Peru’s take on it was really satisfying, the meat was cooked medium rare and the seasonings were on point.
Jalea: I didn’t try this while I was in Peru but my friend did so she wanted to see how Vista Peru’s version stacked up to the ones she had while on her trip. Jalea consists of assorted selection of lighted breaded and fried seafood (white fish, squid, shrimp, octopus, mussels) served with cassava, tomato and onions marinated in lime juice. It’s much lighter than expected given that everything is fried, the lightness of the batter is key.
Chicha Morada: Corn is a recurring theme throughout Peruvian dishes, Chicha Morada is a juice made from purple corn. Vista Peru has a really delicious Chicha Sour (Quebranta, purple corn, lime, sugar, egg white) which I highly recommend trying! The couple sitting next to us enjoyed a couple of these so being inherently nosy and had to try it for myself. I love the taste of the regular Chicha Morada juice, the cocktail is super easy drinking and is a basically a variation on the traditional Pisco Sour.
Finally for dessert, we had Mazamorra Morada. A traditional Peruvian purple corn pudding, this one is usually made with a chicha morada base and features cinnamon, cloves, dried fruits, and thickened with sweet potato flour. This was my first time having it and I found it super tasty and a nice, light way to end a meal.
Peruvian cuisine is a wonderful addition to the many South American cuisines that we’re fortunate to have access to in Philly. If you’ve never tried Peruvian cuisine, I highly suggest taking this spring to hit local inspired spots to truly understand why it’s one of the it’s one of the top-rated cuisines in the world.
Spring means a fresh start, here are five new places that popped up just in time for the start of a new season that we suggest you check out.
Brothership Blended Whiskey from New Liberty Distillery
This St. Patrick’s Day try something new with this blend of 10-year-old Irish and American whiskies. Brothership came about from a partnership between Connacht Distillery in Ireland and New Liberty Distillery in Fishtown. Try this award-winning whiskey on March 15 from 6-8pm at Art in the Age. | 116 N. 3rd St.
Goose Island’s new Philly Brewhouse
Goose Island’s first brewhouse outside of Chicago opened the first week of March next to the Fillmore. Expect new and exciting beers from Brewmaster Tim Caron, exclusives brewed for Philly, and Goose Island’s classic styles like Goose IPA, 312 and Sofie. Chef Brennan Miller will bring elevated brewpub food to the table, made perfect for expertly-curated beer pairings. | 1002 Canal St.
This March, Chefs Jon Nodler and Michael Fry, and Pastry Chef Samantha Kincaid will open Cadence, a new-American BYOB, serving dinner five nights a week. Guests can expect both a la carte and set price menus as well as an intriguing non-alcoholic drink list. | 161 W. Girard Ave.
Franklin’s Table Food Hall
The food options in University City keep expanding. Slated for a mid-March opening, Franklin’s Table Food Hall will offer dishes from some of Philly’s finest, including Double Knot, Kensington Quarters, High Street, Goldie, Pitruco Pizza, The Juice Merchant and Little Baby’s Ice Cream. The hall will be open seven days a week and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. | 34th and Walnut streets.
The Bourse Marketplace
Coming this summer, a 24,000 square-foot food hall for locals and tourists in Old City. Twenty-seven independently owned spots, including Bluebird Distilling, Baby Buns (a slider concept from Sylva Senat, chef at Maison 208), Chaat and Chai, Ka’moon (halal Egyptian cuisine), Prescription Kitchen (soups), and Pinch Dumplings are just a few of the tenants. More info to come! | 111 S. Independence Mall East
– SWABREEN BAKR | @SSSCORVUS