Stopping by La Casita Roja, even if it’s just to grab a takeout order, feels more like a quick trip to Peru than a Sunrise strip mall. We stumbled upon the shoebox-size storefront during a televised Peruvian-Chilean soccer game, when the place packed with patrons cheering for their team (till the 1-0 loss). The room, plastered with Latin beer posters and mementos, was filled with the heady aromas of garlic and onions wafting from the open kitchen, as transporting as the game.
Lima-born chef-owner Miguel Davila and his wife, Lola Ugaz, married seven years, joke that their “baby” is La Casita Roja, melding the dishes of their childhoods. Davila likes to say that while the place is small, “it has a big heart.” So as patrons were watching the game, Davila and family were feverishly preparing classics of ceviche, arroz chaufa de camarones (shrimp-fried rice) and anticucho (skewered beef heart).
It’s cooking over flames — Davila calls it “the flame inside the food” — that helps give Peruvian cuisine its vibrant flavor, transforming strips of steak, for example, into marvelous lomo saltado, the meat marinated in soy sauce, vinegar and spices. Cilantro adds the final touch to the stir-fry, with french fries and sliced tomatoes served over white rice. The Peruvian staple papa a la Huancaina, served cold, is a dish that travels well. The creamy cheese sauce, ladled over boiled potatoes, blends yellow hot peppers and feta, with a garnish of black olives.
Tallarines verdes was another hit, with well-seasoned, grilled chicken fillets set atop spaghetti tossed with a pesto-like sauce, a blend of spinach, feta, a little olive oil and garlic. Chicken milanesa is a basic breaded cutlet spiked with lime, served with fries or a salad. The menu also features several variations of tacu tacu, a Peruvian-style pancake of white beans and rice with juicy steak that’s also available with chicken, beef stew or seafood gravy. There must have been a high demand for one of our favorite dishes, ají de gallina (chicken breast in a cheese sauce spiked with yellow ají amarillo chiles), because they had run out of it.
Take home a treat of suspiro de limeña, an ultra rich, dulce de leche parfait with the poetic name “the sigh of a woman from Lima)” to end your brief visit to Peru.
La Casita Roja
3834 N. University Dr, Sunrise
Hours: 12:30-8pm Monday-Thursday, 12:30pm-3am Friday-Saturday, 12:30-6pm Sunday
Price range: Starters $6-$14, entrees $10-$18, desserts $2-$4, kids’ menu $6-$7