WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) – A week after trying a lovely downtown Latin restaurant, I decided it would be twice as nice to stay in the same vein of flavor. But instead of staying in the heart of Wilmington, I went across town to find a restaurant I’ve been hearing about for years.
Peruvian aromas is unpretentious and one of many other restaurants tucked away in a mall on South College Road. But let this article serve as a notice that it stands on its own, and you need to get here ASAP.
Part restaurant, part traditional Peruvian market, with everything from cereals and various snacks to colas and pudding mixes. Owner and chef Julian Herrera takes great pride in being the only authentic Peruvian restaurant in town and having these various offerings at your fingertips makes it even more legitimate than it already is. While people certainly come here for the hard-to-find dry goods, it’s what’s cooked up in the kitchen that has kept locals and visitors coming back since 2018.
I took my neighbors on the culinary trip, and upon entering we noticed that a birthday dinner was taking place. Usually that doesn’t mean anything special (I remember having several birthday parties as a kid at the McDonald’s playground) but it was small, it was intimate and it said a lot that the young woman chose this place, of all the restaurants in town, to celebrate her special day.
We didn’t know we were going to have our own gift.
Our waiter, Carlos, greeted us and showed us some traditional appetizers and drinks to start our evening. Personally, I love it when someone takes the time to explain the food from their home country. Latin cuisine is romantic, as Chef Herrera says, it’s something you fall in love with. And taking just a minute longer to talk about the origins of a menu item adds that dose of romance.
After tasting the different refreshments, we ordered glasses of the “Chicha Morada”, think of a hot holiday cider but not so spicy. It’s a thirst-quenching treat and a good choice to get you in the mood to try something different.
As for the starters, we chose the squid, “Peruvian”, fresh and crisp, accompanied by fried yucca and a delicious red onion relish.
Next come the Anticuchos, a finely marinated and sliced grilled veal heart served on slices of fried potatoes. It was good melt in the mouth, and even better when tried with the different sauces on hand (including that magical green sauce).
Our last warming plate was Papa a La Huancaina, which consists of slices of boiled potatoes, topped with a Peruvian cheese sauce. The sauce had a bit of heat, but the soft potatoes and melted cheese screamed South American comfort food. It was downright tasty.
Aromas of Peru has a hearty starter menu, ranging from homemade ceviches, Peruvian-style paella, various steak options and of course, its famous charcoal roast chicken (served in quarters, halves or whole) .
We decided to make the most of the land and the sea and opted for the Parrillada… a meal fit for a king with all his knights at court. The plate was stocked with grilled chicken, steak, shrimp skewer, sausage, grilled jalapeños, fried sweet plantains, salad, and side dishes of white rice and Peruvian beans.
The feast began as if neither of us had just devoured three appetizers. Every bite, perfectly tender, expertly seasoned and completely satisfying. Make sure to mix some of the sauces, try a bite of pepper, finish the plate with the plantain. There was a lot of leftovers, and I would pay to see the brave soul who apparently took this plate on their own (as legend Carlos says).
Luckily, I set the dessert menu in advance and made sure we all made room for something sweet. From a puff pastry covered with dulce de leche to a Peruvian crème brûlée … including the coveted Tres Leches, each offer is tempting.
On this visit, we grabbed the Tres Leches, with a cup of coconut ice cream. Some foods are difficult to explain the flavors, the sensations, the experience… but I can assure you that these were very easy. They were simply exceptional. The ice cream tasted like a coconut cream frozen cake, the Tres Leches, a pure and hearty, rich and indulgent stroke of genius that is worth the trip on its own.
After losing a second Aromas of Peru at the start of the pandemic, all of Chief Herrera and his family’s efforts are focused on this place and it shows. The staff are very welcoming and friendly, the food is simple, yet tasty and carefully prepared. The prices are more than fair and the portions are huge. Herrera knows he wouldn’t be here without his customers, and after that meal he has new followers… for many years to come.
1) Save room for dessert. While appetizers and entrees are more than enough to satisfy, Aromas of Peru has some of the best candy on the market. Every element deserves your attention and it was the ice cream and the cake that kept the group talking long after we left.
2) Pack your patience. While the restaurant was not busy when we were there late on a Thursday, Chef Herrera says things can really kick off on the weekends. His staff are excellent and couldn’t be nicer, but he admits they are understaffed (like everyone else) and it’s worth grabbing a cold drink and checking out the market items while you wait for your food.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO:
Aromas of Peru is located at: 417 S College Rd # 23, Wilmington, NC 28403
Do you recommend a restaurant? Or do you know a best kept secret that you want the rest of Cape Fear to know? Email me at [email protected] and I would love to present your selection. Cheers!
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