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Don't laugh. In South America, macho men always drink the ceviche marinade — it's reputed to prevent the resaca, as a hangover is known down there.
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The first meal I ate at Inka was breakfast. Actually, I ate two breakfasts there one recent Saturday. Next door to the main restaurant is a small cafe that opens at 6 a.m. I stopped in for hot-out-of-the-fryer churros filled with cajeta and a cup of Katz's coffee at around nine a.m. That's when I found out the main restaurant had recently opened and they were serving a weekend brunch. So I returned around noon with two ­companions.

We started with enormous bowl-sized cups of coffee and fresh-squeezed juice. I got a dish of grilled sirloin chunks tossed with an extremely spicy rocoto chile sauce and topped with two fried eggs. There were home fries and a small arepa, or corn pancake, served on the side. My dining companions got arepas with poached eggs and lots of tropical fruit. I knew I was going to like Inka the second I bit into those hot-as-hell eggs.

David Sanchez walked around the patio in his chef's whites while we ate brunch. At the table beside us, he explained how he chose this out-of-the-way West Houston location.

"I live in the Heights, but it would have cost me a lot more money to build this place there — if I could even get a liquor permit," he said. "Washington Avenue used to be cheap, but the rents are now four times higher than they were a couple of years ago."

Westheimer beyond the Beltway has long been a good place to look for inexpensive ethnic food including Thai, Bosnian, Persian, Mexican and Vietnamese fare. But the reasonable rents out there are also attracting upscale eateries these days. The new shopping center where Inka is located, just past the Phoenicia supermarket, is also home to Bluefin, an elegant sushi restaurant owned by the same group that owns The Fish and Uptown Sushi. Fuegovivo, a new Brazilian churrascaria, is right down the street near Jimmy Wilson's. Whether these upscale restaurants will succeed in attracting crowds from other parts of the city remains to be seen.

Inka has only been open for a month, but it's already humming. And it should be — it's one of the most exciting new restaurants in Houston. But then again, a Nuevo Latino cafe with a casual vibe and outstanding cooking would probably do well anywhere in Houston.

If I have one complaint with Inka, it's that the seasonings are so inconsistent. Some of the food, like the lamb chops and the eggs over sirloin, is hot and spicy. And some, like the soups and ceviches, is undersalted and underseasoned.

I understand that everyone doesn't like their food as spicy as I do and that South American cuisine is not necessarily picante. So how about allowing for a little audience participation? Put some saltshakers and some South American pepper sauces out on the tables and let us season it ourselves.

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