A hot trend takes flight in Contra Costa County.
Courtesy of Limon Rotisserie
Do you know your ají de gallina from anticuchos? Your lomo saltado from pollo a la brasa? It’s never been a better time to test your knowledge of these classic dishes, as a wave of Peruvian restaurants is about to hit the East Bay. The cuisine is as fascinating as it is delicious—incorporating flavors from Italy, Japan, China, and even Africa—and you can get a taste of it at Concord’s Lima (opened last November), Walnut Creek’s Limon Rotisserie (set to open by May), and Lafayette’s Barranco (launching this summer). Though Limon and Barranco had yet to open as of press time, they are owned by chefs who already have similar Peruvian restaurants, so we checked with them to get a sense of what to expect.
Located across from Concord’s Todos Santos Plaza, Lima is a vibrant eatery with an authentic approach to Peruvian cuisine. A simple, airy dining room and an inviting outdoor patio set a relaxed tone at this charming restaurant.
The chef: After apprenticing at various restaurants in Lima, John Marquez named his own Peruvian eatery after his birthplace—where he first became fascinated with food while shopping for groceries with his grandma. When he was a teenager, Marquez moved with his family to the United States and fell in love with cooking while taking a catering class at Danville’s Monte Vista High. He later worked at The French Laundry in Yountville and at Coi in San Francisco.
The food: Of the three new Peruvian restaurants, Lima’s cuisine is the homiest. “We’re trying to do authentic Peruvian,” says Marquez. “Nothing is Americanized or watered down.” That being said, his technique and food presentations are as precise as the world-class restaurants he’s worked in. Skewered beef heart is like meaty steak; the citrusy quinoa salad and aromatic arroz con mariscos burst with flavor; and the halibut ceviche, served with sweet potatoes and two varieties of corn kernels, is pristine.
Lima, 2151 Salvio St., Ste. I, Concord, (925) 309-7774, limaconcord.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
Limon Rotisserie, Walnut Creek
The San Francisco–based Limon Rotisserie was slated to open by the beginning of May on Locust Street in Walnut Creek. The first East Bay location will feature an exhibition kitchen and a dining room outfitted with brick walls, Guanacaste wood tables, and a 15-seat bar.
The chef: Born in Lima, Martin Castillo came to the United States in 1998, when he was 18 years old. After working at Rubicon and Sol y Luna in San Francisco, he opened his own fine-dining restaurant in the city, in 2002. At the time, the eatery was simply called Limon, and it later moved to a spot on Valencia Street. It wasn’t until 2008, when the second location opened on Van Ness Avenue, that Castillo decided to rebrand the restaurant as Limon Rotisserie, highlighting rotisserie chicken alongside vibrant Peruvian dishes. He has since opened another Limon Rotisserie in Burlingame, and he is set to open one in Oahu this winter.
The food: Casually presented and full of flavor, the dishes at the Valencia Street location were uniformly delicious on our visit. “The dishes are close to those I had growing up,” says Castillo. “[They’re] authentic, with a bit of California cuisine and Latin American fusion.” The luscious pollo a la brasa is marinated overnight in garlic, lime, and spices, and then spit roasted over an open flame; flash-grilled, chile-flecked octopus comes in a rich Peruvian pepper sauce; and the moist tres leches cake is boldly spiked with cinnamon.
Limon Rotisserie, 1524 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 378-3816, limonrotisserie.com. Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Sat.–Sun.
Named after the Lima district that’s famous for its beaches and seafood, Barranco will open on Mt. Diablo Boulevard in Lafayette this summer. The restaurant will have indoor-outdoor seating, a ceviche station, and a full bar focusing on craft cocktails—and it may give Parada, its sister restaurant in Walnut Creek, a run for its money.
The chef: Carlos Altamirano grew up in a small town near Lima and helped his mom in a tiny restaurant they ran out of their home. He later moved to the United States and eventually founded two restaurants and a fleet of food trucks in San Francisco. Altamirano also earned a Michelin star for his oceanfront restaurant, La Costanera in Half Moon Bay. And this spring, he will open Paradita Eatery in The Public Market in Emeryville. His latest spot in Lafayette pays homage to Barranco, his favorite area in Lima.
The food: Creat- ivity is as important as authenticity at Altamirano’s restaurants. “You have to take it to the next level to be the new trend,” he says. “You have to be a little more extravagant.” My meals at Parada have been stimulating affairs: sweet and spicy calamari stuffed with chorizo, and purple potato gnocchi enriched with lobster sauce are two examples of his imaginative style. Barranco’s menu will be just as innovative, offering creative seafood dishes, family-style tapas, and Peruvian classics like pollo a la brasa.
Barranco, 3596 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, barrancokitchen.com. Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Sat.–Sun.
On the Menu
All three Peruvian chefs craft authentic dishes using fresh, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients. Here are some classics at their new restaurants.
Ají de gallina: An Italian-influenced chicken stew made with parmesan cheese and a yellow pepper called ají amarillo.
Alfajores: Buttery cookie sandwiches filled with dulce de leche.
Anticuchos: Originally an Andean dish, these skewers of marinated grilled meat may include beef heart or pork belly.
Ceviche: Ubiquitous in Peru’s coastal cities, Peruvian ceviche can evince an Asian edge by incorporating leche de tigre, a pungent, ginger-infused marinade that’s tossed with pristine raw fish just before serving.
Empanadas: Tender pastries that are traditionally stuffed with beef and spices, but they can come in a number of guises.
Lomo saltado: A Chinese-style stir-fry of onions, tomatoes, fries, and marinated beef.
Pisco sour: A tangy cocktail made with lime and South American brandy.
Pollo a la brasa: A whole chicken that’s brined and marinated before being roasted on a rotisserie or over an open flame.