Peruvian roots, a dedication to tradition, and a star-trained Peruvian chef make Inca's a must-try for an authentic experience.
Nestled in the Andean valley of Peru, a tree with waxy leaves grows along the edge of the rainforest, sprouting fist-sized green fruit. With green skin and pulpy golden centers the color of egg yolk, they are the fruit of the lucuma tree. And they make for a mean ice cream.
The lucuma ice cream at Inca’s Peruvian Cuisine, helado de lucuma, tastes surprisingly familiar – the flavor is somewhere between maple sugar, sweet potato, and caramelized hazelnut. The orange colored ice cream is buttery smooth and nectarous.
Peru is known as the kitchen of Latin America.
“Peru is made up of cuisines from different parts of the world,” said general manager Luis Campos. “There’s a lot of Asian and French influence, and general European influence, and that mixes with native ways of cooking.”
Campos’ Mexican mother and Peruvian father opened Inca’s in November 2009. This year, 2019 marks their 10-year anniversary. Most of the recipes have been passed down from Campos’ paternal grandmother, ensuring they are serving authentic Peruvian cuisine.
Inca’s chef Helen Oberlin studied at Gaston Acurio’s academy in Lima, Peru. Acurio, referred to as a gastronomic revolution, is a Peruvian chef with restaurants around the world. By training at Acurio’s academy, Oberlin has learned the dishes and techniques used in Acurio’s restaurants and returned to Inca’s as an ambassador of Peruvian cuisine.
Staples of Peruvian cuisine are potatoes, corn, quinoa, and beans, and Peru has a vast variety of each. In fact, Peru grows over 4,000 kinds of potatoes natively. And Peruvian corn is different than our sweet corn, with kernels that are large and starchy, with a potato-like consistency.
Campos is so dedicated to the authenticity of the food at Inca’s that he imports certain ingredients that aren’t available locally. He imports potatoes, aji amarillo and Rocoto peppers, mint, and corn nuts. Just like bread is put on the table at Italian restaurants, bowls of toasted Peruvian corn nuts are put on the tables before the meal arrives.
Also, before the meal arrives, be sure to order a Pisco sour. Campos describes Pisco as “a liquor similar to grappa. It’s kind of like a mixture of vodka and tequila, like if they had a baby.”
Pisco is made from distilled grapes and though it’s often enjoyed straight, it has become very popular to use in cocktails. The Pisco Sour is Pisco Porton shaken vigorously with lime, simple syrup, and egg white, creating a melted marshmallow texture. The tart, bright lime balances with the honeyed sweet pisco for a light and refreshing summer cocktail.
Or try the Chicha Morada, a Peruvian beverage made from purple corn, pineapple, apple, and cinnamon. This non-alcoholic beverage is rich in antioxidants from the properties of the corn.
Then start with the ceviche, offered as either ceviche de pescado or ceviche mixto – with fresh white fish or mixed seafood. The fish is marinated in lime juice and Rocoto pepper. The pepper adds a bit of heat, making the ceviche zesty, and fresh. It’s served with the big, fluffy Peruvian corn kernels on the side.
Campos suggests ordering the lomo saltado – “tenderloin stirfry” – as the main dish: angus beef marinated in Peruvian spices and sautéed – a technique borrowed from Asian cooking – with tomato, onion, and parsley. The tender slices of beef are piled on a bed of steak fries and next to a pyramid of jasmine rice that soaks up the juices. It’s savory and comforting, like a home cooked meal.
For guests with dietary preferences or restrictions, substitutions are available so whether vegetarian or gluten free, guests should feel at home. Quinoa, tofu, beans, or steamed vegetables can replace meat. Gluten free soy sauce can be used in dishes like Pollo a la brasa – rotisserie roast chicken – to cater to gluten-free or Celiac guests.
Campos still goes to visit Peru with his family and finds that the culinary scene in Peru currently has two main paths: authentic and experimental. Inca’s is more along the lines of the authentic, making traditional and popular dishes. But there are new flavors and influences being introduced in Peru today.
“It’s rapidly expanding,” Campos said of the food scene in Peru. “and there is a big international influence. One person said they had the best Chinese food in Peru, or the best Italian food. It’s becoming an international place.”
That doesn’t mean they’ll be making any big changes to their menu, however. Campos is happy with Inca’s offerings, although he does hope to open more locations in the future and see the restaurant grow.
The goal of Inca’s Peruvian Cuisine is to share all of the different flavors of Peru, from Peruvian corn to lucuma and chicha morada. Whether it means enlisting the skills of a chef with world-class training in Peruvian cuisine or importing ingredients directly from Peru, Inca’s is dedicated to their vision.
“Tucson recently became a city of gastronomy,” Campos said. “so, we are a famous cuisine in an emerging place. It makes us culinarily distinctive, a rich culture. We’re happy to be a part of the city gastronomy, and to help Tucson grow even more.”
Inca’s Peruvian Cuisine is located at 6878 E. Sunrise Dr. For menu, hours, and more, visit incasperuviancuisine.com. (And you might be able to find the Inca’s Peruvian Cuisine segment on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives)