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The kitchen at a restaurant where I used to work is mostly staffed, ailment as is common, with latinos. One of the cooks there is a Peruvian man named Felipe. Felipe is a great cook who would often prepare peruvian specialties, such as ceviches with leftover scraps of fresh fish for the staff to eat. The Peruvian food I have been lucky enough to eat in NY has always been amazing, and Felipe’s cooking helped confirm for me that Peruvian food is one of the great–and largely unrecognized–cuisines of the world. Sometimes I would pester Felipe for information on Peruvian food, including where I could get the best of it here in the city.

Felipe gave me some suggestions, including Pio Pio in Queens, and then accidentally let slip that there was one other Peruvian restaurant, by far the best, and completely a secret. Where was it? Could we go? When? He gave me and Vanessa some vague details, including a ten-block range in which to look, and added that a beer sign was adjacent to the secret back entrance. I was determined to find it.

I called up my friend Geoff and convinced him to come along, not telling that we didn’t have an exact address, let alone an exact street, so as not to scare him off. The chances of finding the place were a million to one, but where food is concerned my gut cuts a clear path. In this case the path lead straight to a small elderly Ecuadorian man standing a short distance from the subway exit. Go ask him if he knows where it is, I told Vanessa. Geoff cut in, annoyed at discovering my omission: You don’t know where this place is?!?

Vanessa approached the man and asked him in spanish. The clouds parted and the sun shined, and he said yes he did, and he walked with us to an undisclosed corner where he pointed down the block to a portly man in his driveway receiving mail from the mail lady. We thanked our guide and approached. Vanessa called to the man as he was about to disappear back into the house. Was this where one could eat? she asked. Oh, yes, he said, but not today, today we are closed. Come back any other day.

More normal people would have been disappointed. The trip to Queens wasted, hours lost. But not us; we were ecstatic. WE KNEW WHERE IT WAS!!! And besides, Pio Pio was within a five to ten-mile radius of the undisclosed location, so we headed over there to celebrate with fantastic roast chicken, fries and sausages, avocado salad, yucca, and ceviche.

Later that week we met again, this time knowing not only where we were going, but that it would be open.

Walking down a stranger’s driveway, up their back stairs and directly into their kitchen can feel strange even when you know they’re serving the best Peruvian food in all of New York City. A moment later we were over our discomfort and settling in at a table in the dining room, looking at the short menu, deciding what to get. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t giddy and we weren’t gloating.

We ate: a solid mound of ceviche, perfect in every way, marinated just enough that the exterior of the fish-pieces had absorbed the acid and flavor, but the innermost part still tasted of clean, fresh fish; a deep-fried fish fillet, well-seasoned and crisp, smothered in stewed onions and tomatoes, this description doesn’t do it justice; and a tomato-based seafood stew that would give any good bouillabaisse a run for its money.

All this, and I’m never going to tell you where it is. So HA!

2 Responses to “The Best (Clandestine) Peruvian Restaurant in New York City”

  1. on 15 Jan 2007 at 12:35 pmdaniel levy

    I’m too prissy to eat in someone’s kitchen, and PS how much did you tip and how much was your bill?

  2. on 20 Mar 2007 at 12:22 pmChristophe Gillet

    The next time I’m in NYC you HAVE to take me to this place! I promise to keep it a secret ;)

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