Huacatay

If you happen to be walking down 4th Street NE, you can just follow your nose to Huacatay. Seriously, you can smell their chicken roasting from several blocks away, even on a stagnant, rainy night like tonight. You’ll know it’s Huacatay making that yummy smell because you can be sure it’s not any of the sketchballs liquor stores that flank it on all sides.

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I’ll just jump right in here. I hope you like eating chicken like a caveman and getting grease all over your face while you suck juicy meat from the bones because that is exactly what you are going to do here. It’s a good thing we did take-out because nobody deserves to see me eating like that.

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A quarter-chicken meal looks like this:

Yeah. Those green beans are considered a “side.” They are onion-y and peppered, and juuuuuust greasy enough. Don’t worry, the grease isn’t enough to keep you from feeling self-righteous eating vegetables while your significant other ingests an unholy amount of mayonnaise and fried stuff. The side salad is what it is. I added my own dressing at home because I’m pretty sure Huacatay’s dressing is just straight-up mayo.

A half-chicken meal looks like this:

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That is…definitely half of a chicken. The coleslaw side is made to please that person who keeps packets of mayo in their desk drawer. The arroz chaufa is a fantastic salt-bomb (read: exactly the way fried rice is supposed to be, if you’re into that sort of thing). My third-favorite thing about Huacatay is the variety of sides they offer, not just your typical soggy steak-fries that you can find at every other Peruvian pollo joint. My second-favorite thing is their sauces. They offer four: white, green, pink, and yellow. Yellow is great if you want a kick of spice. Green is cilantro-y. White is, I’m pretty sure, just plain mayo again. Pink is a happy medium.

My first-favorite thing about Huacatay is the chicken. I don’t know what they baste the bird with besides magic butter. Is it salty? Definitely. But it has a perfect crisp on the outside while the meat on the inside is insanely juicy.

I almost forgot the alfajor! Sweet but not too sweet, perfectly crumbly in a way I can never capture in my own cookies, and maybe just not quite enough dulce de leche inside. There are few better ways to cap off your dinner than this.

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Price: $12 per person.

Bottom line: In DC, a land saturated with Peruvian chicken restaurants, Huacatay goes beyond with not only their chicken, but also their delicious sides. I know you’ve had pollo a la brasa before, but Huacatay is still worth a detour.

Nazca Mochica

I topped off Restaurant Week with Nazca Mochica, a swanky Peruvian joint just East of Dupont Circle. I sometimes feel like I’m a junkie chasing my next restaurant high. I always want to try something newer, more exotic, more interesting. It felt a bit disappointing to be eating Peruvian at a time like this.

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They’ve got some beautiful digs here, including a live stream from the central park of Lima. Like I needed one more reason to feel bad about not actually being in Lima (although in three short days I will be in Brussels, so maybe I’m still winning). Service started out a little slow (including not starting us off with a drink menu. I’m at the point in my life in which I am insulted while being mistaken for being younger than I am and ALSO insulted at being mistaken for older, so I’m sensitive to them not bringing me the drink menu right away). They did, though, and both wine and cocktails were exciting and reasonable. I got the beet and rosemary chilcano and my wonderful spouse ordered a glass of Malbec. “Blech! Is this cranberry or something?!” he said as he recoiled while trying my chilcano. I liked it a lot and appreciated the spicy ginger beer with the subtle sweetness of the beet, but let this serve as a lesson about there being no accounting for taste. Choose your cocktail wisely.

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This was the last time service was slow.

In fact, from this point on, it turned into a fast-motion meal with “Yakety Sax” playing in the background. Our appetizers came out even before the drinks, and a whole ninety seconds after ordering. It wasn’t one minute after we finished those that the entrees came out, and the dessert came as soon as our dinner plates were cleared. Our reservation was at 6:30 and I’m pretty sure we left the restaurant before 7:00. That being said, let’s go over the meal components:

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For the appetizer round, I had the ceviche and my husband got the causitas. That ceviche was ridiculously good. The fish was so soft, not a bit chewy or rubbery, had a light lime touch with something creamy (coconut milk?) as well. The bits of fried yuca complemented the fish well. And it was enormous! The causitas were very soft and plushy but, if I’m being honest, kind of bland. All three were the same with just slightly different toppings.

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For the entree, my husband (at my strong encouragement) got the seco de cordero and I had the pulpo a la parrilla. The perspective on this photo makes it look like I ate an entire sea monster, but in reality the lamb was much larger. The lamb was very tender with not a bit of chewy fat on it and the sauce was rich and winey with a slight spicy bite. It was top-notch and I think we’re both glad that I forced him to get this. Before I talk about the octopus, full disclosure: my husband recently called me “an octopus master” after I cooked PERFECT tentacles. I love octopus, but when it’s bad, it’s really bad. I started with the fat end, knowing it would be the inferior part and it was…quite chewy. I felt like some kind of hoity-toity Captain Ahab hacking at this leg with the provided steak knife. Fortunately, it improved from there. The sear on the tentacles was perfect (mmmm! Those crispy suckers!) and I liked the accompanying hominy. I wish this dish had had a green vegetable. Potatoes just don’t do it for me.

Finally, the part of the meal we had been waiting for: the alfajores. This is literally the only dessert Nazca Mochica has so we assumed it would be heinously good. Unfortunately, we were mistaken.

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What is this nonsense? The cookie-to-dulce de leche ratio was all wrong. I think the generally accepted rule on this is 1:1 and these cookies were just way too thick. I’m not sure I even tasted the caramel center. It was like expecting a Double Stuff Oreo and instead getting an Oreo that someone had licked the frosting out of and stuck the two halves back together.

Price: $45 per person during Restaurant Week; something closer to $50 or $55 per person at all other times.

Bottom line: I was satisfied after this dinner and not upset that I came here, but I’m not sure I’d come back. The Octopus Master(TM) is kind of above this. PS It has recently come to my attention that I also happen to be the Alfajores Master. My Peruvian coworker was impressed with my cookies, so it has been decided. And if I want to be depressed that I’m not in Peru, I can just watch videos at home.

Las Canteras

This post is technically a week late but I have to rave.

Full disclosure: I love Peruvian food. SO. MUCH. And I’d actually been here once before.

Las Canteras is surprisingly un-busy for a place on the main drag in Adams Morgan. It’s kind of low-profile and lacks the rooftop bar that attracts the majority of people barhopping on Friday nights. Inside, it’s intimate, traditional, and slightly romantic. Prices are reasonable.

The short version of the story is that my second visit to Las Canteras did not disappoint. The pisco cocktails were dangerously flavorful and the avocado salad was buttery with sharp onion. My meal, seco de res, was saucy rather than dry, and seasoned well. The aji de gallina my husband ordered was authentic and flavorful, and although I generally like it spicier than it was, I still can’t complain.

For Peruvian, I’m also a big fan of Jose Andres’s China Chilcano, but the two are in different classes. China Chilcano specializes in chifa/Asian fusion, but Las Canteras is the real deal, like something a Peruvian grandmother would cook up. Always worth a visit!

The bottom line: Definitely worth a trip to AdMo!

Price: $30-35 per person