For Andean dishes, visit restaurants in Portland’s Pearl District, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City.
Diners owe a big debt to Peru, the Andean nation that gave us the potato, a lively yellow pepper called ají amarillo, and a skilled, selftaught cook named Doris Rodriguez de Platt. Now in her 60s, she lives in Portland, where she’s the matriarch of a family-run restaurant specializing in refined Peruvian cuisine.
Each night, the kitchen at Andina in the Pearl District (503-228-535, www.andinarestaurant.com ), turns out sharp adaptations of traditional fare, from spicy raised pork and ceviche (citruscured fish and shellfish) to causas (chilled potato pies) that Rodriguez de Platt first tasted as a child. "I’m not only trying to feed people delicious food," she says. "I’m also trying to introduce my culture to the world."
At Piqueo’s in San Francisco (415-282-8812, www.piqueos.com ), chef Carlos Altamirano applies what he calls a "California sensibility" to tapas-style dishes his own ancestors would recognize. "Peruvian cooking is all about the blending of flavors and traditions," he says.
Varied and vibrant, the cuisine showcases the spice of chiles and the starch of corn and potatoes. But it has been deeply influenced by immigrants from Spain, Italy, China, and Japan. Peruvian was fusion before fusion was cool.
In fact, the legendary culinarian Auguste Escoffier named the cuisine one of the world’s finest (after French and Chinese). Peruvian restaurants now emerging in the West include El Chalan (801-832-0250) in Salt Lake City and Mixtura in South Kirkland, Wash. (www.mixtura.biz ).
"The food can be simple, but it has layers of flavor," says Anne Gingrass Paik, a restaurateur who consults for Essencia (415-552-8485, www.essenciarestaurant.com ).
This Peruvian-inspired spot in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley features such entrées as beef tenderloin in onion–cabernet vinegar sauce.
It’s an approach that’s familiar to Piqueo’s Altamirano, who bathes humita dulce—sweet corn dough—in an innovative sauce with shrimp and curry. "It’s not something I ate growing up in Peru," Altamirano says. "But that’s just the point. It’s also something not too many people have eaten here."
Photography by Susan Seubert 
This article was first published in January 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.