Bakersfield’s maturation as a city is perhaps best reflected in the diversity of cuisines available. I’m always thrilled to discover exciting restaurants in town, and share my finds.
Concepts that a couple of decades ago seemed to have trouble gaining traction here are now enjoying solid support—great spots such as Mama Roomba, Chef’s Choice Noodle Bar, and Rincon Cubano.
In that vein, Mi Peru Restaurante recently came onto my radar screen, and like the owners of the three restaurants mentioned above, owner Javier Bautista, a native Peruvian, and his wife pour their heart and soul into this delightful bistro. Lucky us.
The restaurant is at 731 California Avenue, at the corner of California and Q St., a couple blocks east of the Maya Cinemas. A wrought-iron fence surrounds the property. The small earth-toned building has neighborhood attractiveness, and the petite dining room with eight tables opens onto a spacious concrete patio with large umbrellas and adjacent lawn. A tiny parking lot behind the restaurant is available, but street parking is the primary option.
I’m unsure of the building’s history, but from its floor plan, perhaps it was originally a house.
On a recent visit we chose to sit inside for a more intimate dining experience. We noticed that regulars seemed to head right out to the patio, but we found the dining room’s red walls graced with themed decorative dishes, and the colorful woven table cloths appealing.
Being unfamiliar with Peruvian cuisine, we checked a couple websites before our visit. At Limaeasy.com, we learned that Peru, on the west coast of South America, had attracted a variety of cultures over the past few centuries: Spanish, of course —the Spaniards were the first Europeans to arrive in the early 16th century—African, Asian, and other Europeans such as French and Italian. The Inca Empire, flourishing long before the Spaniards’ arrival, had its own cuisine. Fusing the flavors of four continents created a unique and exotic cuisine.
As you might expect, potatoes are an important part of Peruvian culture since the potato originated in Peru and was widely cultivated by the Incas, according to smithsonianmag.com and potatogoodness.com. And, as you might guess, potatoes have an important place on Mi Peru’s menu as well.
Upon being seated, our waitress suggested one of Mi Peru’s cocktails, which sounded intriguing. My companion chose El Duende ($7), with aji-infused soju, lime juice, passion fruit nectar, simple syrup, and bitters.
Aji are Peruvian chile peppers, and soju is a Korean distilled liquor traditionally made from rice, barley, or wheat. Soju’s lower alcohol level—in California less than 25 percent—exempts it from more stringent state regulations on the sale of spirits, allowing restaurants with beer-and-wine licenses to use it in cocktails.
I chose the Peru Sour ($7), with lime-infused soju, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, and bitters. South American cuisine aficionados will recognize the Peru Sour as a variation of the traditional Pisco Sour, which has Pisco, traditional Peruvian brandy, as its liquor.
We were both enchanted! El Duende exuded delicious fruit flavors, while the Peru Sour was lime personified. Both were cool and refreshing.
Once we had our drinks, we began exploring the menu. A word of caution: Mi Peru’s portions are ample, so plan on sharing; it’s more fun that way. Most dishes are ample for four.
From the “Piqueos” section we chose Camote Chips ($4.25) and Choclo con Queso ($3.50). The Camote Chips are sweet potato chips with a spicy mustard sauce, while Choclo con Queso is Peruvian corn with fresh cheese.
The freshly made chips were delightful, and the mustard sauce, which was mildly spicy, enhanced the sweet potato flavor. The Peruvian corn was essentially hominy with mild white cheese chunks. I tried some of the corn with the mustard sauce, and it went wonderfully with that, too.
We moved into the “Entrada” section of the menu. Described as appetizers, this section is essentially first courses, larger portions that one could easily share as a meal. Piqueos is what most Americans think of as appetizers.
We chose the Papa a la Huancaina ($6.95), a classic Peruvian potato dish. It consists of potato slices covered in a delicate creamy cheese sauce and Peruvian Aji Amarillo (yellow peppers). The potatoes were draped with the cheese sauce, and served in a square white bowl. They were splendid, freshly cooked, and simply delicious! We thought seriously of ordering a second bowl, they were so good.
Instead, we turned to “Sopas,” or soups section, and ordered the Chupe de Camarones ($14.95), a traditional Peruvian shrimp chowder with rice and egg. A creamy soup with a light orange color—I’m guessing from Aji Rojo or Amarillo—it had delicate and satisfying flavor that we greatly enjoyed. The shrimp in the chowder are peel-and-eat style, so be aware before crunching into one. The bowl was large, and we would have been hard pressed to finish it if we had ordered it as an entrée, so our waitress kindly put what we couldn’t consume in a container to take home. (I warmed the leftover soup a couple days later, and it may have been better yet!)
We were intrigued by the “Peruvian Wok” section and decided to try the Saltado Especial ($15.95), which is chicken, beef, and seafood sautéed with onions, tomatoes, and served with white rice and French fries. Saltado, according to Javier, is a much beloved dish in Peru, and has a number of variations—chicken, beef, seafood, or as we experienced, all three.
The sauce is created mostly from the juices of the meats and added vegetables, which is absorbed by the rice. This makes for a rich and complex dish that is oooh and ahhh good! The fries are made from fresh potatoes and are soft, a style I’m fine with, though my companion prefers crisper potatoes.
Yet another classic Peruvian dish that I was drawn to was the Bisteck a la Chorillana ($11.25). This was pan-fried steak smothered in sautéed onions and tomatoes with white rice on the side. If you’re expecting a traditional American three-quarter-inch thick steak, this is not it. The beef is thinly sliced, perhaps a quarter of an inch thick, so it comes pretty much cooked through. The tomatoes and onions, though, add plenty of moisture, and the rice some substance, so the dish has, if you’ll excuse the expression, plenty of beef to it. I loved it!
If you’re wondering how we could eat so much food, well…we couldn’t. But it was so good, we took the leftovers with us and a couple days later enjoyed it again.
I was so intrigued by our experience that I did an internet search to see if I could find recipes, and hit the jackpot, as most of Mi Peru’s menu items are based on traditional Peruvian dishes.
Javier told us that Mi Peru has been open 10 years, which made me wonder how I’d missed such a terrific restaurant all these years. Everything we tried had fresh ingredients, and was incredibly good.
If you’re looking for a delightful dining experience, one where you can broaden your culinary horizons, and explore an increasingly popular cuisine, head for Mi Peru. I suspect, that like us, you’ll be smitten.
Mi Peru Restaurante is open Tuesday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The restaurant accepts major credit cards.
For reservations or information, please call (661) 631-1952.
Photos by Art of Eric James