It wouldn't be fair to say Hollywood's 2-month-old La Huaca Peruvian Cuisine is hidden; it's just a bit off the beaten path. Sitting at Harrison Street and South 20th Avenue, one block south of Hollywood Boulevard, the new Peruvian eatery is really just steps from the clustered chaos of the city's restaurant row.
The name, according to owner Ynes Sona, can be interpreted as "hidden treasure" -- a nod to the shrines found throughout the Inca territory from Ecuador to Chile believed to house spiritual beings. For her, the place is a diamond in the rough, an escape from the often-traditional approach to Peruvian cuisine.
See also: La Huaca in Hollywood (Photos)
Unlike many casual South Florida Latin eateries, La Huaca doesn't fit into the typical format -- all those small, unassuming spots tucked into strip malls with order counters, plastic-covered menus, and fading photos of the Andean landscape.
Instead, the newly renovated space, which took the place of Sage French Café, has been transformed into an elegant affair. Two spacious dining areas -- one looking out onto South 20th Avenue with floor-to-ceiling windows and another more secluded private room -- can accommodate up to 180 people. The restaurant also boasts an upscale touch with a glass-encased wine storage room and a large marble bar at the front.
Peruvian-born Ynes and her husband, Tunisian-born Maher Sona, moved to the U.S. in 1997. Together, they enjoy a broad range of cuisine. Maher is a classically trained chef who prefers the tastes of France and Spain. Ynes grew up in her family's restaurants in Peru and continues to harbor love for the meats and seafood of her homeland. Their first restaurant together was in Fort Lauderdale and rested on Maher's specialty: a small bistro serving French and Italian, called Bon Moments. When Maher decided in 2007 to retire from the kitchen, Ynes says she was already dreaming of opening her own Peruvian establishment.
For Ynes, La Huaca is a passion project with purpose: to represent the gastronomy of her country in a contemporary light, with a modern take on Peru's coastal cuisine.
"There is nothing like this here. No good Peruvian food," says Ynes. And location was important."I wanted a place to go that wasn't as far as Miami."
Despite its upscale ambiance and cultural mission, if all you're hankering for is a good ceviche or tiridito, rest assured, you'll still find every solid Peruvian dish you've come to expect at La Huaca: traditional starters like Papa a la Huancaína, boiled potatoes served with a smooth, dense sauce of cheese; parihuela, a chili-intensive seafood stew; and rotisserie-style pollo a la brasa, moist and full of flavor.
The real hidden treasure at La Huaca, however, isn't the traditional fare. It's the modern, fresh approach to Peru's coastal cuisine. To bring the concept to life, Ynes has enlisted the help of executive chef Daniel Huambachano, a Lima native who comes from Miami's Peruvian restaurant Francesco. His specialties include a number of traditional Peruvian dishes, each given a new touch.
This is where La Huaca is most successful, with its own creations -- modern dishes that combine offbeat ingredients, from the organic chaufa de quinoa (traditionally a rice dish) to a hearty, risotto-based lomo saltado.
Like all Peruvian fare, the menu is riddled with the country's native aji de amarillo, the spicy bright pepper that is the building block of so many of the country's dishes. It's also the key to preparing lasagna con aji de gallina, Ynes' own soft-shredded chicken lasagna served with a creamy yellow pepper sauce.
A new take on anticucho -- Peruvian-style grilled meat skewers -- comes in the form of octopus with pulpo anticuchado, a simple dish that comes in both an appetizer- and entrée-sized portions. Buttery soft, the tentacles deliver a smooth, creamy texture, a pleasant departure from the charcoal-heavy flavor used in other cuisines. The dish is served with a scattering of choclo (large gummy-like kernels of Peruvian corn) and bathed in an intensely tart panca sauce made from a mild and smoky red pepper and fresh lime juice.
Though not altogether standard, the causa pescado de nikkei -- dubbed a chef's specialty -- is presented in a traditional manner: a teetering tower of tempura-fried white fish sandwiched between layers of macerated avocado and velvety mashed yellow potatoes. The contrasting texture makes this dish a delight to eat, each bite flavored with a homemade, red-pepper-flecked spicy mayonnaise.
The Chinese-Peruvian stir-fry dish limo saltado here takes an Italian twist with the use of risotto. The short-grain, starchy rice keeps the dish from being overly pinguid -- and soaks up the dense, creamy aji sauce like a sponge. It's the perfect accompaniment to the thick cuts of steak and tender slices of onion and tomato.
Despite a full bar, the cocktail program isn't as robust or forward-thinking as the food. Your best bet for a drink with dinner is a Peruvian beer like Cusquena or Cristal or a pert, citrusy pisco sour -- the country's potent grape brandy -- mixed with fresh mango or passion fruit. For a refreshing change, a glass of magenta-hued chichi, produced from fermented maize, is robustly sweet.
Don't miss one of the homemade desserts, a sweet counterpoint to Peru's love affair with spicy sauces. If you're staying the nontraditional course, try the quinoa crème brûlée. The small, tricolor seeds produce a slightly nutty flavor that adds depth to the custard and offers a play of texture with crunchy quinoa to supple-smooth cream.
A swanky new spot, La Huaca is a welcome addition to Hollywood's downtown neighborhood, where only a handful of upscale dining options exist. With its far-reaching menu, it shows even the most knowledgeable gastronome what next-generation "coastal" Peru tastes like, even if the traditional cuisine already has a lot to offer.
"More than any other country, Peru offers so many global influences through our food," says Ynes. "From China and Japan to Africa and Italy, you see the influences in our fish, pastas, and rice. That versatility makes it easy to be innovative, creative, and exciting."
Causa de pescado nikkei $11.99
Pulpo anticuchado $12.99
Lasagna con aji de gallina $13.99
Lomo saltado con risotto $16.99
Quinoa crème brûlée $4.99
La Huaca Peruvian Cuisine is located at 2000 Harrison St., Hollywood. Open Tuesday through Sunday 4 to 11 p.m. Call 954-239-8722, or visit lahuacaperuviancuisine.com.
Nicole Danna is a food blogger covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on Clean Plate's Instagram.