The 33rd annual Peruvian Parade is taking place Sunday, July 28. The tradition started in July 1986, when a small group of Peruvian immigrants threw Passaic County’s first-ever Peruvian celebration. In honor of the upcoming parade, we’re taking a closer look at Jersey’s wealth of Peruvian restaurants.
Peruvian food can be found largely in Bergen, Hudson and Passaic counties. Passaic itself is home to the largest Peruvian immigrant population in New Jersey (Peru brought a consulate to Paterson to accommodate the growing ranks of “Little Lima.”) All of which is lucky for Jersey locals with an appetite—Peruvian cuisine is among the most generous and deeply-rooted, with traditions reaching back to the Incas, a wealth of beautiful indigenous ingredients and culinary influences from cultures as disparate as Japan, Italy, Africa and China. In fact—don’t call it “fusion”—Peruvians readily absorbed and transformed Chinese and Japanese influences, resulting in “Chifa” and “Nikkei” styles, or Chinese and Japanese-Peruvian cooking. That’s how you get staples like chaufa, or Peruvian fried rice, and tiraditos, a ceviche-style fish dish with sashimi cuts and Japanese simplicity in preparation.
Given the cultural influences, there are some unexpected elements in Peruvian cuisine. You’ll see “Milanese” on the occasional menu, and do try the salchipapa (grilled hot dog-style sausage chunks on fried potatoes, or papas fritas). Savor the bounty of fresh ceviche, deep-fried seafood, lots of steak and chicken, chaufa, tallarin (Italian-influenced spaghetti-plus-protein dishes), as well as plenty of papas (potatoes served as an appetizer “a la huancaina,” or in a yellow pepper cream cheese sauce).
You’ll also find common elements from restaurant to restaurant: family ownership, no-frills décor (emphasis on comfort and familiarity), and generous portions. Come prepared to eat, and drink—if you see pitchers of dark purple juice with fruit floating in it, that’s not sangria, it’s Chicha Morada, a refreshing, cinnamon-spiced, deep purple Peruvian corn drink. Order a glass or two, and cheers to Peru.
*Due to fee issues with parade organizers, Paterson won’t be participating in this year’s parade—the second time in 33 years. Instead, the parade will begin in Clifton and end in Passaic, where the yearly post-parade festival will take place.
Tradiciones de Mi Pueblo in Plainfield
Tradiciones de Mi Pueblo in Plainfield is as comfortable as they come—bright, spacious dining room that’s got a few glossy touches but still manages to be low-key, with Peruvian classics that have been coming out of the family-run kitchen since 2001. The menu reflects that seasoned stature—Peruvian classics, carefully edited and typically plated with a bit more polish than your typical, deliciously matter-of-fact serving style. Hit any of the major Peruvian proteins here, but especially given the years of dish-perfecting you might reach for marquee dishes like aji de gallina, a classic Peruvian stewed chicken dish, or Parihuela, a gorgeous chili-spiked Peruvian fish stew (or soup, depending on your definition).
307 Park Avenue, Plainfield; 908-226-9066
Don Pepe in Jamesburg
Don Pepe in Jamesburg is small, yes (around seven tables) but they make up for it with abundance on the menu. It’s nothing dizzying, just a healthy selection of Peruvian staples like chaufa (Chinese-style fried rice), ceviche (the national dish, which you can get with octopus, fish, citrus-spiked leche de tigre marinade), tallarines (noodles), and plenty of pollo and carne. Like a lot of other Peruvian spots, they do Saturday and Sunday specials, dishes like cau-cau con arroz (tripe with potatoes, served over rice) and seco de cabrito con frijoles (Peruvian lamb with beans). No surprise considering how prolific (but organized) their menu is, they grew into a second location in Freehold.
200 Buckalew Avenue, Jamesburg; 732-605-0172
Sabor Peruano in Rahway
Sabor Peruano is a family restaurant, run by the Fonsecas. It’s also a leader among next generation Peruvian spots adapting the Peruvian dining style to American expectations of restaurant service. Sabor moved to larger digs in Rahway last year and added more ambiance overall, transforming itself into more of a night-out destination. Not a bad place to try a few Peruvian appetizers like papa a la huancaina or ocopa, which is boiled potatoes with a black mint cream sauce, anticuchos (marinated beef heart on skewers), and ceviche with leche de tigre (a Peruvian chili and citrus marinade).
1576 Irving Street, Rahway; 732-900-1396
Kikiriki in Paterson
Trying to pinpoint a “best Peruvian” restaurant in Paterson is basically moot—any earnest attempt would take a (delightful) lifetime’s eating, and the fact is there just too much nuanced overlap. Market Street alone is packed with options. That said, if you want to make a pilgrimage to the city where Peru opened a consulate to accommodate the influx of immigrants, you can’t go wrong with Kikiriki, the fourth generation-owned family mini restaurant chain built on some incredibly tasty pollo a la brasa. They have customers who’ve been going there for 20 years. The business itself has had an outpost in Peru since 1963, with four total in Jersey since 1990. The Paterson location is their flagship, and what it lacks in ambiance comes back tenfold in reliably delicious, juicy Peruvian rotisserie.
217 Market Street, Paterson; 973-225-0336
El Gordo in Passaic
El Gordo also does a mean pollo a la brasa (it’s hard to find a bad one), but their menu also has a reliably broad selection of Peruvian favorites, this might be the kind of place to begin a deeper dive into homey Peruvian favorites. If you’ve already tried lomo saltado, try the bistek a lo pobre, with a fried egg, rice, and sweet plantains. Instead of pollo a la brasa—weather pending—you might get their sopa de gallina, a super old school Peruvian “hen soup” that’s made of long-simmered hen (or older roaster chicken) resulting in a richly savory broth brightened with herbs, chili and citrus garnish. To be honest, it kind of makes us want to catch a cold because it sounds like the perfect remedy.
295 Monroe Street, Passaic; 973-777-9478
Costanera in Montclair
Chef Juan Placencia comes from a budding Jersey-Peruvian culinary dynasty—his parents opened Oh! Calamares in Kearny, and in 2010 he followed suit with his own spot in Montclair. Costanera isn’t quite as low-key as his parents’ cozy, classic spot, but Placencia definitely stays close to traditional Peruvian flavors. We gave it three stars when it first opened and we’re still going back for more pollo a la brasa (Peruvian-style vinegar-brined rotisserie chicken) as of this year, but anything on the menu should satisfy—especially the fresh ceviches and tiraditos (like ceviche met sashimi and a lot of chilies). Bonus points: the dessert menu features Peru’s beloved lucuma ice cream (lucuma is mango-esque, a so-called “superfood,” and may erupt into a trend near you any day now).
511 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair; 973-337-8289
Con Sabor in Clifton
Con Sabor a Peru in Clifton is another longstanding, neighborhoody Peruvian family restaurant. The Sotelo family first opened it in 2007, so you can rest assured their menu of Peruvian staples has been practiced and is, by now, thoroughly imbued with family-style love. Seriously, this is the kind of place you’d be in good hands trying your first Criolla, a homey, staple beef soup with smoky chili and evaporated milk, or Carapulcra con Chancho, a rich, intensely flavorful stew with dried potatoes (papa seca), chili, pork, and peanuts. Of course you won’t go wrong with ceviches or chaufas. A smaller restaurant, cozy and comfortable, so bring a friend and an appetite. Con Sabor a Peru, 109 Lakeview Avenue, Clifton; 973-340-0008Click here to leave a comment