An intriguing melding of native, Spanish, Italian and Asian influences, Peruvian cuisine is one of the most diverse and delicious in the world. There are fiercely acidic ceviches, fiery tiraditos, flash-fried fish, stir-fries, rice pots, potato purees, pastas and mellow, herb-tinged sauces in colors as stunning as a sunset. And, the peppers, oh, the peppers. One of my new favorite Peruvian spots is 3-month-old Cholo’s in a North Miami Beach strip mall.
Cholo literally means mestizo (mixed), but is used as a familiar greeting among friends. At lunchtime, this friendly restaurant is filled with paint-splattered workmen, young couples, families, office workers and retirees. The prices are incredibly reasonable all the time, but the lunch specials seem impossible at just $5.50 for the daily offering and two side dishes. Thursday is ají de gallina (chicken in creamy pepper sauce) day, when you might find me there.
Ambience: Clean and brightly lit as a doctor’s office, it’s warmed up by earth-tone walls, rainbow-colored paintings and flame-colored pendant lights.
- Top-notch ceviches
- Leche de tigre shots described as “three of the most powerful non-alcoholic shots you’ll ever have” – tender bits of octopus in a bright orange rocoto chile marinade, the classic with swai (or basa) and ají amarillo (yellow chile) with tidbits of shrimp
- Tiraditos – marinated octopus and tender white fish covered in a rich orange sauce of rocoto chiles and pisco with plump nibs of giant, pale yellow corn
- Stately causas – whipped potatoes spiked with ají Amarillo, formed into thumb-high cylinders and stuffed with a delightful crab salad with mayonnaise and slivers of avocado
- A platter of skinned and boiled purple-tinged potato slices blanketed half in a bright green mint sauce and half in huanciana sauce, a blend of fresh white cheese and yellow chiles
- Lomo saltado – stir-fry with chewy strips of beef, bright purple onions and fresh red tomato smiles
- Pollo a la brasa seasoned with citrus, cumin and garlic and served with an incendiary mint sauce, cooling mayonnaise and a platter of thick, golden fries
- Sweet as candy and dark as velvet chicha morada – deep purple corn “tea” generously spiked with cloves, cinnamon and sugar served here by the glass or pitcher
- Smiling, competent wait staff
- House-made crema volteada (like flan)
- Gorgeously scorched leche asada
- An exquisite barvarois de guindones – an airy confection of egg whites dotted with bits of sweet prune