Polished Peruvian 

Fresh, Focused Peruvian at Las Primas

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It was news to me that Asian flavors occasionally inform Peruvian cuisine—but ever since Andy Rooney died, I take my facts where I can get them. In this case, it was at the restaurant Las Primas Peruvian Kitchen, a polished, casual eatery in a rectilinear but welcoming new space on North Williams. The won ton skins on the menu prompted a guarded probing of the cashier—guarded because I was fearful that nearby Chef Catalina Acuña, hair up and buttoned down in her spotless professional whites, would overhear the alarming breadth of my ignorance and wonder when I was going to start ordering Crunchwrap Supremes.

Indeed, subtly integrated hints of China can be found on Las Primas' diverse menu of sandwiches and sides. In a nationally celebrated Chinese-Peruvian fusion cuisine known as chifa, soy sauce-marinated meats often feature in aromatic stir-fries, and the emblematic roasted pollo a la brasa takes its character from the same. Aside from chifa inflections, other defining characteristics of Ms. Acuña's fully realized dishes are a quiet but steady spice that never crescendos, boldly seasoned meats brightened with fresh, cool, familiar vegetables, and an appearance of slapdash bounty that is designed well enough to eat cleanly. It is an approachable encapsulation of a playful cuisine, true to itself while highly accessible to an unfamiliar palate.

Indispensable on the appetizer menu are the alitas, soy-marinated chicken wings roasted until golden and barbecue-tender, and dressed with the ubiquitous aji de mesa, a mild chile sauce. Thin, light blonde papas fritas, somewhere between a shoestring and a fast food french fry, are worth ordering on their own despite their inclusion with all sandwiches. The tequeños, won ton skins filled with a light queso fresco and deep-fried, are served with a cool guacamole-like crema de palta, but for all their novelty they are an unremarkable flat note on an otherwise robust roster.

Noteworthy in all the sandwiches is a custom roll that should be the federally mandated standard, regardless of nationality. Strong and chewy yet tender and light, with a thick, perfectly baked crust for which a pizzaiolo napoletano would give his wooden hand, they are an oven-scorched plinth for the hearty ingredients within. Created in exacting consultancy with Fleur de Lis Bakery, they are delivered fresh daily, and this investment is beautifully apparent.

Upon this worthy base are piled a wide variety of grilled, stir-fried, and roasted meats. The lomo saltado—an exemplary chifa stir-fry of springy, delicate, soy-marinated sirloin and onions—is topped with the papas and comes to the table bursting from its bread, but eats neatly. Vying for top spot with the lomo is the choripan, a sandwich of house-made, gently spicy chorizo and papitas (here, somewhere between a shoestring fry and a potato chip). The pan-roasted tilapia in the refreshing pescado a la plancha is surprisingly flavorful for this typically blank little fish, and the cool lettuce, onion, and crema de aji outfit it completely.

Perfectly serviceable sides round out the menu. The sopa del momento, which on our visits was a bacon and pinto bean soup in a light, tomato-sweetened brown broth, is generous, healthful, and well priced at $5. Peruvian corn—a hominy-size, potato-like kernel—adds interest to the creamy, queso fresco- and avocado-fortified ensalada delicia. A soft portobello empanada, though enjoyed by some, seemed to want to please all manner of restricted diets and ended up tasting like a steamed Cole Haan. This was made up for by the churro, a crisp funnel cake dusted with a cinnamon-coconut sugar, which revealed a game-changing tunnel of goat's milk caramel.

The unusual Inca Kola, which tastes of pink bubble gum and cream soda, is a palate-washing Peruvian import that complements the rich, lingering food. For cocktails, try the Inca Borracho, a deceptively light, tightly focused rum and Inca Kola punch.

After departing one evening, a fellow diner succinctly described Las Primas as, "modest ambitions, fresh ingredients, and well-executed dishes." Here's my attempt at an equally helpful summary: choripan, alitas, and rum punches on an open tab.

Open Tuesday-Sunday, 11 am to 9 pm. Immaculate, spacious, and family friendly. Sandwiches $8.50, cocktails $5-6.50, and beer and wine.

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