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Latin Chef: Primo Peruvian in PB San Diego

Leaving Trader Joe’s in Pacific Beach on Thursday, I noticed a tiny new restaurant called Latin Chef – featuring Peruvian cuisine. I stopped in, picked up a menu and was immediately impressed. The young woman who talked to me was friendly and enthusiastic, the aromas wafting from the kitchen were tempting and flavorful, and the menu with its grammar errors and the listing of a tripe dish, seemed authentic and focused.

Luckily, I was able to induce Dave and Michelle to drive all the way to PB from Jamul for a dinner there Friday night. We were all amazed and impressed. No beer and wine are available (but in PB no one needs to fret about the availability of alcohol before or after their meal), so we had a wonderful Peruvian beverage that looked a lot like jamaica with a rich reddish purple color, but had a distinctive sweet spice flavor. Before any dishes arrived, a small cup of roasted corn kernels that were salty and crunchy, but not rock hard like corn nuts, arrived. We wolfed those down and another small cup magically appeared on the table. Then the food arrived. First, we were greeted by papa a la huancaina, slices of firm potato covered with a slightly spicy yellow sauce that was so tasty that Michelle ended up scraping the last of it from the plate with a spoon. The cebiche mixto quickly followed and was a nice tangy and citrusy combo of fish, octopus chunks, and calamari slices topped with slices of red onion. Yum.

Our main courses were equally impressive. Michelle had tallarin verde con bisteck, a small thinly cut steak (much like carne asada) paired with green noodles in a parmesan, herb, and cream sauce. A good dish. Dave, adventurer that he is, opted for the cau-cau con arroz, tripe and potatoes cooked with a flavorful sauce of onions, cilantro, and other flavors I couldn’t identify. The textural contrast between the soft tripe and firm potato chunks was outstanding, and the dish overall a real winner. Nonetheless, as good as it was, my aji de gallina was (at least imho) even better. Imagine a cross between a rich chicken curry and a chicken green chile (except made with yellow chilies) and you might have a vague idea of what was placed before me. The tender chicken was highlighted by the creamy rich and uniquely spicy sauce. Although the menu said that the dish came with potatoes, in fact, the rice accompaniment was perfect, soaking up all the thick sauce.

For desert, I had the chocolate torta, Dave the strawberry torta, and Michelle the Peruvian lucuma ice cream. My chocolate cake was good, but not especially memorable, but the Peruvian ice cream, not overly sweet, had a distinct flavor of a fruit I had never tasted before. The strawberry torta was incredible with an intense strawberry flavor and a richness that suggested tres leches.

The restaurant is open 3-10 on Tues through Fri, 11 – 10 on Sat and Sun. Most entrees are $8.50. Our total bill was $58. The address is 1142 Garnet – phone 858-270-8810. In addition to what we ordered, there were two fish dishes (one a special), pato con arroz (another special), soups, lomo saltado, another noodle dish, another beef dish, and arroz chaufa, described on the menu as an Asian flavored rice dish. Our server was friendly, attentive, and competent. If I had been able to stay another day in San Diego, I would have been back for another dinner. Yes, folks, I think it is that good.

ed

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  1. Man - PB seems to be quite happening right now. This is a truly encapsulating post ed ....I cannot wait to try it and thank you so much for reporting on it.

    Do you recall any tamales or empanadas being on the menu?

    7 Replies
    1. re: kare_raisu

      No empenadas, but Peruvian tamales are on the menu. Unfortunately, they were out of them Friday evening.

      I also forgot to mention that the cebiche was accompanied by the strangest corn kernals (and I mean strangest in the best sense). They were large kernals with a soft texture and bland taste (again, these were good qualities when paired with the cebiche). At first we thought they were like nixtamal, but they don't seem to have been lime treated so they didn't have that starchified hominy texture.

      ed

      1. re: Ed Dibble

        Hi Ed - When you showed me the copy of the menu the other night, I knew I had to check this place out. I must've missed you by like 15 minutes! I had the Lomo Saltido, which I thought was pretty good. Most versions that I've had, had stir fried the french fries with the sauce, meat, etc... this one had them fried and placed on top of everything. The meat was on the tough side, which I'm used to with Lomo Saltido, but the meat had a nice flavor and wasn't dry. The sauce was excellent, lot's of tangy-salty flavor. The "corn nuts" you mention I think are called "Canchita made from corn that is fried/toasted until it's just about to pop...good stuff, it's addictive. Nice place, very nice folks! Nice find Ed!

        1. re: KirkK

          Here's a photo of the Lomo Saltido at Latin Chef

           
          1. re: KirkK

            are the fries abc crinkle-cut from albertsons? interesting preparation

            1. re: kare_raisu

              hahaha it looks like it.

              1. re: kare_raisu

                You have had Lomo Saltado before, correct?

                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/277174

                Every place I've had this dish at El Pollo Inka, El Rocoto, Aji Grill, and several others, always use french fries, or potatoes that are prepared in a similar manner - in fact, I know a few people who have returned from Peru, and when checking out their photos of food - I ignore most else, the potatoes in the Lomo Saltado looks like french fries, so why not?

        2. re: kare_raisu

          While driving home from the beach with my girlfriend today (who happens to be full blooded peruvian) we hit Garnet Ave. to check out PB since we're fairly new to San Diego. I casually glanced to the left after passing Cass St. and nearly caused a car accident when I saw the subtext under the big Latin Chef sign. I slammed on the brakes, parked and proceeded to have my second lunch.

          We entered the restaurant and found mostly mixed couples (white guys and their spicy peruanas like us) all who seemed like regulars. My girlfriend immediately began chatting up Freddie, the owner in spanish. He's from Cuzco, the town closest to Machu Picchu. The Canchitas (crunchy , salty and delicious) were a great start and we went through two little baskets. I ordered the Lomo Saltado and she had the Papa a la Huancaina. The Papa was good, though a lot more cheesy than the version we make at home, still delicious. My Lomo Saltado, what I consider to be a good test of all Peruvian restaurants was very good. The rice had great flavor, the meat was tender, and while the dish won't be the best version you ever had...this is PB not Lima (or even LA). The sauce had a great flavor and the portion was decent.

          I think one of the nicest draws to Latin Chef is the constantly rotating specials. When I asked Freddie where some of my favorite Peruvian dishes were on the menu, he smiled and pointed to the specials board and let me know that each one would be available at some point as a special. We missed the ceviche but will definately go back to try that and many others. If only they had cuzquenas

          Latin Chef
          1142 Garnet Ave
          San Diego, CA 92109
          (858)-270-8810

          Cheers

        3. You are on your game Ed,
          Latin Chef has only been open two weeks. I too enjoyed the papa a la huancaina and the aji de gallina. This tiny place is definately worth a visit. I plan on ordering the tripe next time since you liked it so much.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Captain Jack

            Thanks for the kind words. I got lucky. Plus, it was nice of my friends to drive all the way to PB. We'd planned on dinner somewhere Friday night, but hadn't decided where. After I got the menu, I just had to try the place, and they were so kind as to let me talk them into Peruvian.

            ed

          2. nice find! It looks a lot better than Amici's in Encinitas (and cheaper too!)!

            1. Nice find Yuma Ed!

              Heck, I live in PB and did not notice the place. Every restaurant in that location has died (non-gracefully I may add). This place will survive; no doubt about it!

              The wife and I dined there tonight and thought the food was quite tasty. We had:

              Papa a la Huancaina – Andean potatoes flavored with a spicy parmesan cheese. The potatoes were cooked cold potatoes that tasted liked…cold cooked potatoes. But the sauce was really good!

              Tallarin Verde con Bistee – Peruvian noodles with steak. The noodles were pesto based and the steak had great seasoning. I ordered this, but the wife finished it!

              Ajide Gallia – Shredded chicken in a spicy sauce made from cream, yellow aji (Peruvian chili), and cheese. This was a type of curry dish…the best of all three dishes!!!

              The owners name is Freddie, which is also the server. He operated a restaurant in Tokyo for over 10 years and spoke Japanese quite well…which made my wife quite happy. The chef has been with him for years. According to Freddie, he was quite the chef in Lima.

              The restaurant does not have a liquor license, so bring your own wine like I did. There is no corkage fee and Freddie will gladly pop the cork!

              4 Replies
              1. re: pbhomey

                Nice review pbhomey. Hopefully Latin Chef will break the location curse. Bakery, hot dog joint. What was it before that?

                1. re: Captain Jack

                  Any word on the Peruvian 'Chufa' (sp) fried rice? I am intrigued by this sub-field in Peruvian cuisine and have heard that versions in LA are quite impressive. I came across a peruvian soy sauce at el tigre called 'sillao' have not tried it but I am curious as to the differences and what role in plays in this dish.

                  1. re: Captain Jack

                    I wish I could remember Jack, sometimes I have trouble remembering my address. I've been in PB for 25+ years and do remember every time I walked by that place before, I always thought...who in the heck would eat here? Maybe the late night drinkers kept the hotdog and other crappy places open. This place is diferent...this place is tasty!

                    1. re: pbhomey

                      Thanks again Ed, nice find. Had dinner at Latin Chef last night. The Cebiche was top knotch, nice lime, onion flavor with delicate fish. Dinner was Lengua Atomatada and the Ajide Gallia, both were very good. The lengua was served in a sauce of tomato and onions, the meat was very tender and not the least bit rubbery. The Ajide Gallia was as described above, very creamy (from the addition of cream and milk soaked crackers, but not at all mealy). If my memory serves me correctly this was also the location of PB Wennie and Cluck U Chicken. Freddie is a very nice guy, we had some nice conversation.

                      Cheers

                2. Ed,

                  Thank you for the great review. We went yesterday and were impressed. We seemed to be the only non-Peruvians there.

                  They were not prepared for their popularity. They were packed at 12:30 on Sunday. When we arrived, there was one couple ahead of us. We waited well over an hour for our food. It was worth every minute. The sole server was extremely pleasant given the crowd and her limited English (no worse than my Spanish).

                  We didn't try the ceviche but a woman who seemed to be a regular told us not to miss it. We did miss it because we wanted to taste the Ajide Gallina and Lomo Saltado. They were both great. Not as refined as Amici (e.g. no Kobe beef and fewer if any walnuts in the ajide). But excellent, and especially good at less than 1/2 the price. I hope they'll do a Saltado de Mariscos.

                  The aji is not the usual green stuff (which I like a lot) but what seemed to be red serranos in a watery base. No complaints; all the Saltado needed was a little more heat and the aji had that. The fries were not crinkle-cut when we were there. I think the chef might have been shopping while we were waiting.

                  No more trips to OC for Peruvian. This is a find.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Spike Costa

                    Actually Spike - We were there at the same time. Rather than deal with the tightly packed dining room, we sat outside. But the majority of the crowd was Peruvian. It was kind of fun to see the trucks and cars with Peru license plate frames, and the I love Peru bumper stickers.
                    We did wait over an hour for our food, but we weren't bothered at the least, since we understood it was a one-cook operation, with the Owner Freddie running around helping out in the kitchen and the dining area. I think the large party of 12 people really threw them off.
                    The Pescado a lo Macho was very good, the Arroz Chaufa, less so. Still, very nice people and good food.
                    If I remember correctly, the Aji "verde" is the young Aji Amarillo, it is milder, we usually get the stuff in squeeze bottles in many Peruvian Restaurants. The yellow version is a more ripened Aji Amarillo, and that is what is in the Aji de Gallina. When it is ripe and at it's most spicy stage, it is orange-red, and that's what the Aji that is served in the little bowl with the food was.

                  2. Did you notice if they had anticuchos on the menu?

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: JRSD

                      Had lunch at Latin Chef today, and Freddie, the owner told us he just added Anticuchos to the menu. Apparently, he had a hard time finding good quality beef heart. We didn't have a chance to try it since we had already placed our order.

                    2. On my most recent trip to America's Finest City, I went back to Latin Chef with my friends Dave and Michelle - in fact, they virtually demanded a return visit.

                      This time we began with the yucca fries and a cebiche de pescado. I thought the fries were nothing special, but the cebiche was the best I've ever eaten, even better than the cebiche mixto. The fish was tangy, slightly spicy, and very flavorful. Its texture was also perfect.

                      Michelle had loved the Aji Gallina that I ordered the previous visit, so she tried it. A Peruvian woman sitting at a nearby table recommended that I have a dish that was called something like picante de mariscos, a favorite of hers, but not a dish on the menu. Similarly, when Dave mentioned that he had really enjoyed the cau-cau on his previous visit, our waitperson suggested another tripe dish, this one made with tomatoes and topped with french fries, also not on the menu. While my seafood dish, full of shrimp and tender circles of squid, tasted very good, I almost wish that I had ordered something else as the aji amarillo sauce that covered the mariscos was very similar to the sauce on the chicken I’d had on my first visit. I did enjoy the taste of Dave's tripe dish as it had different flavors than I had experienced before.

                      For dessert, we shared a very sweet baked desert that was a thin layer of sugary filling between two thin crusts. We also had the special ice cream, and this time I got more than just a taste of it. It is a very flavorful and unique desert. While it is made out of a fruit, the overall flavor is not what I would consider fruity. Instead, it has undertones that suggest flavors like coffee, cocoa, or vanilla or even sweet spices, like clove or allspice – yet, in fact, it has none of those flavors. If this doesn’t make any sense to you, it doesn't make much sense when I read it either, but its depth and complexity of flavor makes this ice cream is a real winner. You need to try it.

                      I just want to add a little more information. Clearly, the restaurant can prepare dishes not listed on the menu. Prices have gone up slightly since I was there in April, most entrées now being $10, which is still a bargain. The owner, Freddie, came out to talk to us while we were eating, explained some details about his ingredients and preparations, and said that he now changes the menu weekly so that new dishes are always available and there is no need to write specials on a whiteboard. His passion for the restaurant and for Peruvian cuisine radiates out of the man. As before, Dave, Michelle, and I left happy and impressed.

                      ed

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Ed Dibble

                        Thanks for the update Ed, You da man. The constantly changeing menu might jack up my take out orders a bit though.

                        Cheers

                        1. re: Ed Dibble

                          After eating Peruvian food in Madrid for the first time (last week), I am very excited to hear about this. I definitely check it out when I return.

                          I had veal heart as the main course last time, and it was delicious. Do they have that in PB? I want to try it again.

                        2. Based on comments from this thread, we had lunch at Latin Chef last weekend and it was a good experience. We had the Cebiche Mixto, the Aji de Gallina, and the lamb entree. The first two were great and the lamb decent if not wonderful. The sweet corn/lemon/pineapple drink called Chicha Morada was a unique and interesting beverage, definitely worth a try and we loved the roasted corn crunchies that are served when you are first seated.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: JeffSD

                            I had the Aji de Gallina there last week. I liked it, but was surprised at how mild it was. I have some Aji paste we purchased to make anticuchos and it is *spicy*.

                            Does anyone know if the spice level at Latin Chef is typical of the dish?

                            1. re: ladron

                              I believe so. When Freddy gave me the run down of the dish, he brought out a whole bag of the Aji amarillo chiles, as a visual aid, so I assumed if the sauce is made from whole chiles, cream, and crackers it would be traditional. Spice level was comparable to other Aji dishes I've had. Check the ingredients of the paste and see if anything else is in there. Also, where did you score the Aji paste? Tropical star is about the only place I can think of. Also the term "Aji" in places such as Chile and Peurto Rico, can mean any chile or chile sauce (thanks Wiki). Mouth is now watering think about anticuchos.

                              Cheers

                              1. re: stevuchan

                                I got the Aji paste at Northgate Market. The product is La Nuestra "Pasta de Aji Amarillo", product of Peru. The only ingredients are Aji Amarillo, water and salt.

                                The anticuchos were awesome, by the way, and really easy to make (given that we had the Aji paste).

                                1. re: ladron

                                  Thanks, I will have to pick some up. I always forget about Northgate Market, what a good excuse to go back. Did you go traditional with the anticuchos and use beef heart? If not, I'm sure it would be good with other meats. It's kind of hard to get my friends to eat organ meats, good thing they have other redeming qualities.

                                  Cheers

                                  1. re: stevuchan

                                    Yep, we used beef heart (also snagged at Northgate).

                          2. Thanks for this post, I'm hoping there will be a good crowd today for Patrias! Happy Independence Peruanos!

                            Any other plans for 28 de Julio? I think the House of Peru will be putting on something on next Sunday (Aug 5th) but thats so far away!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: peruanitavegetariana

                              We won't be making it - but here's a listing for Festival Peruano 28 de Julio in El Cajon:

                              http://groups.yahoo.com/group/sandieg...

                              If you attend make sure to post!