by Deborah Grossman
La Pollada Café, 35 Crescent Dr., Pleasant Hill, (925) 682-8060, www.lapolladacafe.lbu.com, lunch and dinner daily.
La Pollada Café may occupy a small space, but it offers something unique on Crescent Drive’s restaurant row: the earthy flavors of Peruvian cuisine. Many dishes feature potatoes, reflecting the importance of tubers in their ancestral home near the Andes Mountains. A classic papa a la Huancaina, sliced potatoes in a creamy sauce of milk, parmesan cheese, and aji amarill (mild, yellow chili pepper) garnished with hard-boiled egg and olives, is served as a hearty appetizer ($6.99). A similar aji sauce enrobes tender, shredded chicken and sliced potatoes topped with chopped walnuts and served with a mound of steamed rice in the aji de gallina lunch platter ($9.99). Half-moons of fried sweet potatoes, camote frito ($2.29), or fried plantain sticks ($3.99) make satisfying sides.
Lunch sandwiches include sirloin strips or chicken sautéed with onions, tomatoes, and spices served on a French roll ($6.75). A vegetarian version of the sandwich is $5.25. Peruvian-style wraps feature grilled sirloin with rice, beans, and lettuce in a supersized tortilla (beef $8.99, chicken $7.99). For dessert, house-made alfajores, traditional Peruvian cookies, are filled with manjar blanco, the Peruvian version of the famous milk caramel dulce de leche ($2.50). The slightly sweet chicha morada drink, made from purple corn, is a pleasant accompaniment to the meal ($2).
Best bet: Lunch platters.
Cheapest thing on menu: Camote frito (sweet potato fries, $2.29).
Most expensive: Bisteck a lo pobre (rib-eye steak with fried plantain, eggs, rice, and fries, $15.99).
Spiciest: Arroz con mariscos (seafood and rice with onions, tomatoes, and spices, $12.99).
Healthiest: Ensalada de lechuga (lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers with lime and olive oil, $4.99).
Atmosphere: Brightly woven tablecloths; Incan photographs and artifacts.
Kid-friendly? Very. The staff is adorable with kids, and small portions are available.
Specialties: Peruvian dishes such as seco de carne (beef stew in cilantro sauce, $7.50 at lunch).
Alcohol? Peruvian red and white wine ($5.25) and beer.
Outdoor seating? No.
Credit cards? Visa and Mastercard.