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Charming Service and Terrific Takeout from Peru Cafe Express

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It's fine day in Houston when a diner has a choice of several good restaurants serving Peruvian food. Even finer is the fact that one of them, Peru Cafe Express, offers a super casual atmosphere, reasonable prices, takeout, and delivery. Lomo saltado and an Inca Cola delivered to your doorstep? Yes, please.

The Cafe is wedged in a Greenway strip mall, and therefore easily overlooked in favor of other flashier roadside establishments such as Fuddrucker's. Its interior consists of a container, about six small tables, and framed pictures of Peruvian tourist sites such as Machu Picchu.

To facilitate ordering for those completely ignorant of Peruvian cuisine, there is a menu entirely of pictures, which the gentle, soft-spoken owner will offer you without the slightest hint of condescension. By the way, he will also bring you water and several magazines to read while you wait for your takeout.

Not that you'll need some reading material to pass the time.

This story continues on the next page.

An order of papas rellenas and antichuchos was estimated by the owner to take 15 minutes but only required 10 even though a single cook was working on two other tables.

Pappas rellenas, fried stuffed potatoes, are a staple of many different Latin cuisines and Peru Cafe Express's version are filled with a pleasantly greasy-sweet combination of groud beef, sauteed onions, and raisins. Although there's just one to an order, the richness of the stuffing plus the general girth of the dense white potato make it a very filling appetizer and a candidate for sharing.

Anticuchos, skewers of marinated grilled beef heart, are a hallmark of Peruvian cookery and their existence has been dated to the sixteenth century. Five hundred years later, this dish remains extremely popular and is frequently served at barbeques. Alongside the skewers was a small mound of cooked Peruvian corn, whose oversized, slightly bland kernels definitely benefitted from the outside additon of some salt, pepper, and a touch of butter. In an attempt to avoid tater overload, I asked to substitute plantains for the standard potatoes as the other side. No charge and no resistance by the owner in response to this request made the supple sliced fruit taste all the better.

Peru Cafe Express may want for street traffic given its location, but, given a continually ringing phone and a string of takeout orders, it seems to be amassing a fan base. Add a food truck and more press about its willingness to delivery, and it might just dominate the Peruvian food scene.

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