Don Pedro's a bit of Peru on south side

Traditional cuisine has flavors, flair from native, international influences
2012-08-30T00:00:00Z Don Pedro's a bit of Peru on south sideKathleen Allen Kallen@azstarnet.com Arizona Daily Star
August 30, 2012 12:00 am  • 

There's no guinea pig on the menu at Don Pedro's Peruvian Bistro.

But there are plenty of other traditional foods from that South American country.

Like fat, juicy Peruvian corn.

And chica morada ($2.50), an almost too-sweet drink made with purple corn and spiked with cinnamon.

And potatoes, lots and lots of potatoes.

Don Pedro's is the brainchild of Lima-born Peter Gonzvar. The menu brings a bit of that South American country to Tucson's southside.

The family-owned restaurant first opened in Rocky Point in 2004, but in 2010 it moved its menu, secret recipes (we would love to know what the beef hearts are marinated in) and pots and pans to the Old Pueblo.

Lucky us.

Don Pedro's is unpretentious - two small rooms with travel posters on the wall, bare tables and a couple of TVs. And the prices are reasonable, with most entrees in the $9 to $12 range.

It also has a staff that knows and loves the food and wants you to do the same.

We did.

When we visited at lunch - they serve you fast at this time of day - each dish began with a small bowl of aguadito, a chicken broth-based soup crowded with corn, peas and carrots. It was so smartly flavored thanks to the rich broth, a bit of cilantro and those veggies, that we longed for more just about the time we took the last sip.

Peruvian cuisine has an international flair, drawing from native influences as well as from Spain, Africa and China.

It translates to menu selections that are rich with nuance and flavor.

The yucca fries ($5.99) seemed like a healthy decadence - they were lightly fried chunks of yucca, which make slightly sweet, very firm, fries. On the side was a flavor-popping huancaina salsa, tossed with Mexican cheese and soft onions.

The tender beef hearts ($6.99) were marinated in oil spiced with chilies and a few secrets no one would divulge. They were served on a skewer with an off-the-chart hot sauce made with rocoto chilies.

The appetizer whetted the appetite for the delectables to come:

The lomo saltado ($11.99) - the most popular dish on the menu according, to our savvy waiter - was a mixture of beef tenderloin with onions, tomatoes, green onions and french fries. Yup, the fries are mixed right in, and they add just the right touch of crunch and soft. The kitchen was a tad skimpy on the beef, which was a shame, as the meat screamed with flavorful natural juices and the open flame it was cooked over. The veggies were cooked to just the right consistency - tender without being mushy - and a mound of fluffy white rice filled out the dish.

The Chinese-inspired chaufa is a big comfort food favorite in Peru, and it's no wonder: the fried rice dish is tossed with meat or shrimp, soy sauce and onion. Hot, hot sauces on the table allow you to dress it up as warmly as you like. We tried it with the chicken ($9.99), tender nuggets of white meat, and were totally indiscriminate with the hot sauce. It was a fiery indulgence that pleased - and, eventually, numbed - the palate.

We wish we had thought of the hot sauces with the lone dish that disappointed - the vegetarian pasta dish ($9.99). It was linguine tossed with onions, tomatoes, bell and jalapeño peppers. Doused in soy sauce, it just seemed like a thrown-together, after-thought dish. It lacked imagination, but we suspect the hot sauces would have remedied that.

A lunch special on one visit was the Seco de Carne con Frijoles ($7.99) - a simple beef and rice dish with a hefty side of Peruvian beans. The rice dish was subtly spiked with cilantro and the beans - white beans similar to pintos - were buttery and tender.

Desserts are few and very sweet. The creamy rice pudding ($3.95) would give our dentist much to work on. Still, it was tender rice, sprinkled with cinnamon, and, truly, the ultimate comfort food.

Which, in the end, made us almost forget that cuy, the Peruvian guinea pig delicacy, wasn't on the menu.

Besides, our waiter said, if they imported the dish's ingredients from Peru the costs would be prohibitive.

And we like spending so little for so much.

Review

Don Pedro's Peruvian Bistro, 3386 S. 6th Ave., 209-1740.

• Hours: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays; 10:30 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays. Closed Friday-Sunday, Labor Day weekend.

• Noise level: Not intrusive, even with two televisions airing sports.

• Alcohol: Wine, beer and cocktails including Pisco Sour.

• Family call: A kid's menu includes a pasta and beef hot dogs.

• Vegetarian options: Several.

• Gluten free: Ask and ye shall receive, we are told. Same with vegan dishes.

• Price range: Entrees range from $9.99 to $18.99, with most being in the lower range.

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