Craving Peruvian? Head South to Chuyos

About 40 minutes south of Houston there's a small restaurant in a strip mall whose owners are from Lima, and they are making some very good and authentic Peruvian food. Ana Cecilia and Oscar Dasso opened the place in 2008, and it has since become a favorite of Peruvians and others looking for lomo saltado, ceviche or beef seco.

I spend a good deal of time in the Clear Lake area, and during the past several months a number of people have mentioned Chuyos to me, so on a recent weekend I took a trip to League City, straight down 45 South, pork on my mind.

A clean, well lighted place is Chuyos, and at 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon it was host to a few families and several couples. The occupants of my table were the only ones not speaking Spanish, which I took as a good sign.

We started with mussel ceviche, which came to the table on a round platter, each "serving" nestled in a tasting spoon. Corn, chiles, onion, tomato, cilantro and slightly too much lime juice surrounded the mussels, and each spoonful was the perfect amount. The mussels had been transformed perfectly by the acid; they were done al dente, as I like mussels to be.

We then shared two empanadas, a fairly bland spinach version and one filled with beef, beef that tasted as if it had been braised in tomatoes and onions, deliciously so. The husband-and-wife team at Chuyos makes the dough for the empanadas, and one bite makes that evident: flaky, a proper chewy-to-crisp ratio, and the perfect foil to the fillings. (One word of advice: Make sure to ask that your emapanadas be sufficiently heated; ours were lukewarm at best.)

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Next came a sandwich, my favorite plate of the meal. It was a roll not dissimilar to Cuban bread stuffed with tender, almost juicy pork and crisp cabbage, plus fried sweet potatoes, both in the sandwich and served on the side. A bit of mayonnaise was the ideal condiment. Something magical happens when all of the ingredients on a sandwich meld to create nearly perfect bites. This one is worth a drive to League City.

We finished with pionono, a traditional South American dessert that would make you think of angel food or strawberry short cake, only this one is rolled around layers of dulce de leche neither too sweet nor thick.

We had come on that afternoon for lomo saltado, that mainstay of Peruvian cuisine, but were distracted -- agreeably, it turned out -- by other items on the menu. A return visit is on the calendar.

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