In Peru, eating out is for feasting and sharing. Platters come piled with breaded octopus, squid and deep-fried mussels as chefs slapdash raw fish into citrus-soaked, herb-laced ceviches. Along the coast, diners tip these back on the half-shell, much as Long Islanders shoot raw clams and oysters.
From further inland come grilled and spit-roasted meats paired with herbaceous chimichurri, puréed sauces of sweet-hot aji pepper, and plenty of hand-spun aioli. From the country’s native Quechua people — tamers of the potato — originate spuds in every imaginable shape, color and preparation.
Here on Long Island, Peruvian restaurants are not uncommon. According to the most recent U.S. Census estimates, Nassau and Suffolk counties are home to more than 17,000 people of Peruvian descent. Most live in Long Beach, Hempstead, Glen Cove and Brentwood, so it was a surprise to find three Peruvian outposts tucked among the Asian buffets and sari shops in Hicksville’s “Little India,” near the intersection of Old Country Road and South Broadway.
Together these three family-run spots — La Candela Restaurant, Jalea Peruvian Cuisine and Inti Peru — offer a solid snapshot of what eating out in the shadow of Machu Picchu is all about.
LA CANDELA PERUVIAN RESTAURANT
495 S Broadway, Hicksville, 516-470-0805.
Elvin and Elizabeth Paulino opened Hicksville’s first Peruvian restaurant in 2008 with 20 seats — these days, it sprawls across three storefronts. “We’ve been going for 12 years and it’s getting better every year,” Elvin Paulino says. “It’s just good old real traditional Peruvian food. For many of our customers, it’s home.”
On weekend evenings, guests sip sun-colored pisco sours topped with meringue-y foam (try one sweetened with passion fruit), as the hosts channel a supper-club vibe with karaoke on Fridays and live music on Saturdays. Waiters deliver bowls of whitefish ceviche — in-season, the sea bass comes from Freeport’s docks — while favored large plates include fried chicken “pollada” smothered in velvety cream sauce and Chinese-style fried rice loaded with seafood, chicken or beef.
Sundays are for traditional breakfasts: plump, savory sausages stained orange with achiote; pan-fried potatoes and hulking tamales, among other delights. Small plates are $8-$30, entrees $12-$25.
251 W. Old Country Rd., Hicksville, 516-605-2251, jaleaperuviancuisine.com
Opened in 2017, Jenny Jaches’ chic bar-bistro spits a polished image with tables dressed in white linens, exposed-brick walls and a gleaming black granite bar-top. But don’t let that fool you: this is a place made for eating and drinking. Happy-hour specials ($5 margs; bar snacks for $6-10) are available most afternoons, but whatever the hour, Jalea’s menu is meant to be taken with beverages.
There’s papa a la huancaina — sliced potatoes smothered in aji cream sauce; lemon-drenched mussels scented with Andean spices; marinated beef hearts split and singed over grill-flames, with seared potatoes and tiny pots of peppery aioli.
For dinner, slip into a table along the restaurant’s long-running banquette for its namesake shellfish plate, in which prawns, squid and bivalves, battered and fried to a crackling crisp, float atop a pool of passion fruit vinaigrette. Then, keep the fish coming with pescado a lo macho — breaded whitefish in white-wine cream sauce with crispy fried yucca or tuck into chef Teo Huaylas’ fine grilled skirt steak. Small plates are $8-$18, entrees run $14-$25.
319 Jerusalem Ave., Hicksville, 516-597-5211
Blink and you’ll miss it. Situated on a mostly residential stretch of Jerusalem Avenue next to a Hindu cultural center, Inti Peru is easy to drive by. But stop and you’ll be rewarded with a real-deal food experience uncommon this side of Lima.
Owner Rodolfo Sanchez is native to Chosica, a hilly district in the Andean foothills, and his restaurant is much like the tiny dinettes that dot the Peruvian countryside. In Hicksville, Sanchez has one goal: “I want to share the Peruvian culture,” he says. “We want to introduce people to the gastronomy — and the food, most importantly.” As such, Inti Peru’s interior is spartan: Tables are set with paper place mats and napkins, while simple wood booths line the walls. Most of the workers seem most comfortable speaking Spanish. But the menu is in English, which helps bridge the language gap.
To drink, there’s homemade chicha — a milky corn beverage sweetened with warm spices — or fresh-pressed passion fruit juice. To eat, lomo saltado is the thing to get: French fries smothered in a saucy stir-fry of beef, tomatoes and red onion. And you won’t go astray with the rotisserie chicken, salted and spiced and spit-roasted to a deep amber glow, with or without salad, fries, hot dogs or a bottle of atomic-yellow Inca Kola. Small plates are $6-$17, with entrees $13-$23.