3 stars for Peruvian delights in North Miami Beach
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