Peruvian Hole in the Wall a Downtown Favorite
If you happen to be in downtown San José during the day and in the mood for tasty Peruvian fare at bargain prices, head for Delicias del Perú. Long a favorite lunch spot for the legion of National Insurance Institute (INS) employees who toil in their high-rise nearby, this unassuming restaurant tucked away on a side street in Barrio Amón has been dishing out Peruvian specialties for more than 13 years.
You would never have noticed it – just a hole-in-the-wall soda like so many others downtown. But a recent coat of yellow paint, a splash of dark blue on the new awning over the entrance and a two-level, white-washed interior with scenic posters of Peru on the walls transformed the little eatery into a notably cheery, inviting lunch place.
Chef Luis Quispe Paucar always sports a proper chef ’s hat, a wide grin and good humor. He has no pretensions to delicate haute cuisine. His food is hearty and flavorful, the kind of food you might expect to eat in a fisherman’s home in the chef ’s native Peru. Service is friendly and fairly prompt, since most customers are on their lunch hour.
For starters, there’s ceviche, of course, invented in Peru by Japanese immigrants who adapted sashimi-style raw fish to the tropics by marinating the fish in lime juice.
Instead of the familiar Tico-style, cubed version, the ceviche here is the chunkier Peruvian style. The ceviche mixto (¢2,400/$4.80) is a mix of plump octopus, corvina and shrimp, laden with onions. If you want to spice it up more, ask for the homemade hot – and they do mean hot – sauce.
Potatoes, for which Peru is renowned, make up the bulk of the appetizers. My favorite is the causa limeña (¢1,300/$2.60); apparently it’s very popular, because they often run out of mashed potatoes by late afternoon. It’s a mound of rather lurid-yellow, room-temperature mashed potatoes, enveloping creamy mayonnaise-and-shrimp salad. A chicken version (¢1,100/$2.20) is also available. It’s not delicate in appearance or size, but it’s delicious. You can make an entire light lunch of it or share with a friend.
Save room for perhaps the best chicharrón de calamar in town. This signature dish is what keeps bringing me and my friends back. It is the juiciest, tastiest, tenderest, thickest strips of calamari I have ever eaten, with a light, crisp coating that’s never greasy.
It comes with salad, chunks of fried yuca (cassava) and a dish of homemade tartar sauce. The portion is so large that I have to share this plate with friends. And it costs only ¢2,300 ($4.60).
Seafood rules here. If shrimp is your delight, you can order it in mushroom, garlic, butter, tartar, tomato or spicy sauce (all ¢2,800/$5.60). Fresh, flavorful, fried corvina comes plain or with a shrimp, mushroom, garlic or seafood sauce (spicy and non), for ¢2,200-3,200 ($4.40-6.40). If you’re watching calories, you can also order it steamed, plain or with onions (¢2,300/$4.60). You can hardly cook it at home for less, especially when you include the salad, accompanying vegetables or fries, and friendly service.
A plate of mariscos salteados lets you sample the entire selection of seafood, sautéed with onions, fresh tomatoes and potatoes (¢2,900/$5.80). Oddly, the potatoes are French fries incorporated into the sauce, so they are soggy, which takes a little getting used to.
On the meat side, there’s a smattering of chicken choices (¢2,000-2,300/$4-4.60), one lomito (beef) dish with potatoes and onions (¢2,300/$4.60) and an enticing lamb in a pea and cilantro sauce (¢2,000/$4), listed but, alas, not yet tasted since it appears to be a sometime, seasonal offering.
The best deal is the daily special, a variable casado with fresco natural (fruit drink) and dessert (¢1,700/$3.40). The only letdown here is the dessert. Instead of inspired Peruvian desserts, the offerings are of the Jell-O and fruit-salad variety. Still, you’re so full by the end of the meal – I almost always go home with a carton of leftovers – that dessert can wait for later.
If you need a treat after battling over an insurance claim at INS headquarters or lining up to pay impuestos at the Foreign Ministry behind the Casa Amarilla, Delicias del Perú is just a short walk west. But get there early, before they run out of mashed potatoes.
Location and Hours
Delicias del Perú is on Calle 3, just north of Avenida 7, in Barrio Amón, across the street from Hotel Santo Tomás and down the hill 20 meters; or one block north of the Aurola Holiday Inn, then one block west and down the hill. Hours are Monday to Saturday, 11 a.m.-4 p.m. The restaurant also does take-out. For information, call 222-9249.
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