Discerning Diner...with Elan Head
Try Peruvian; you’ll like it
When was the last time you went out for Peruvian food? If you’re like the majority of Arizonans—or, for that matter, the majority of Americans—you probably enjoy Peruvian food infrequently, if at all.
But if you’ve discovered Peruanitos, the great little Peruvian restaurant on the corner of Warner and Dobson in Chandler, there’s a good chance you’re there on a regular basis.
“Once people try us, they love us,” says Laura Murphy, the restaurant’s owner. “That’s my biggest challenge, getting people to try us.”
Peruanitos opened three years ago to favorable critical notice, yet has always hovered just below the radar of the general public.
That’s a shame, because Chef Juan Carlos Arriola, a native of Lima, brings some truly original contributions to the Valley’s restaurant scene. According to Murphy, Peruanitos is one of just two Peruvian restaurants in the entire state (the other is in Mesa).
Murphy and her husband, Grey, bought Peruanitos from the Arriola family a little over a year ago, retaining Arriola as chef. Although they were familiar with the restaurant business, the Murphys knew virtually nothing about Peruvian food.
“It was an interesting challenge, to say the least,” says Laura. “I’ve learned so much in the past year.”
And she has become a passionate proponent of this exotic cuisine, a melange of Incan, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and French influences.
“The Asian side is everything done in the wok,” she explains. “The French side is sauces, sauces, sauces.”
Those sauces include an outstanding hot sauce, a flavorful and very spicy puree of feta cheese and aji pepper. Don’t overlook it on the lunch buffet, served daily until 3 p.m.
Aji peppers are a staple of Peruvian cooking, and they also appear on the Peruanitos menu in one of Murphy’s favorite dishes, the aji de gallina. Featuring shredded chicken in a bright yellow cream sauce rich with turmeric, this national dish is served with rice and another Peruvian staple, potatoes.
The rice reappears at dessert in an exceptional rice pudding. It’s redolent with cinnamon and studded with raisins, but coconut is what really makes it a standout.
Also notable are the restaurant’s seafood dishes, including parihuela, a luxurious seafood soup swimming with shrimp, squid, octopus, crabs, clams and mussels. The same suspects, plus mahi mahi, combine in an equally extravagant ceviche. “Cooked” in lime juice and seasoned with chile, this mound of fresh seafood is served with served with sweet potatoes and corn on the cob.
“Peruvian ceviche is not like Mexican ceviche,” Murphy says. Indeed, disabuse yourself of the notion that Peruvian cuisine bears any substantial resemblance to Mexican.
“The first thing people think is it’s Mexican food,” says Murphy, “and it’s so not.”
What Peruvian food does have in common with Mexican cuisine, as well as the rest of the food we eat on a regular basis, is good, basic, familiar ingredients.
“Peruvian food is lamb, it’s chicken, it’s pork, it’s seafood, it’s vegetarian,” Murphy says. “We even have steak and eggs on the menu!”
If you haven’t been to Peruanitos since it first opened, expect a remodel, a full bar and a short menu of South American wines.
“And the service is incredible,” adds Murphy, who has made service and cleanliness top priorities.
Rounding out the experience is live South American music, played from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. every Friday.
Or, come for tango dancing, which the restaurant hosts once a month. The next event runs from 7:30 to 11 p.m. June 8.
Peruanitos is located at 2051 W. Warner Road, in the shopping mall on the southwest corner, near Chandler Justice Court. Its hours are 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; and to 7 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, call (480) 821-9498 or see www.peruanitos.com.