Carlo Chalisea grew up splitting his time between Seattle and Peru, but whether as a young boy in the U.S. or a teen in South America, he remembers one thing remaining constant: the food coming out of the kitchen. “My mom cooked every day, always making Peruvian food,” the 33-year-old explains. And when he was living in Peru with his aunts, they’d be cooking nonstop, inviting him to join them in the kitchen as they prepared traditional dishes like aji de gallina, which he describes as “a Peruvian chicken curry.”
Now as an adult in Seattle, Chalisea has been disappointed by the lack of Peruvian restaurants, surprising since it’s considered a hot cuisine in cities such as New York and San Francisco. With years of helping in the family kitchen and a bit of culinary school behind him, he looked for the easiest, most marketable way to bring Peru’s cuisine to the city. He wasn’t sure a straightforward Peruvian restaurant would work, but he did know that Seattleites love sandwiches. So, in 2013, he bought a cart, took a page from one of his favorite shops—acclaimed Caribbean sandwich shack Paseo—and modified the foods of his heritage to be eaten on a roll.
Now, with a truck as well as the cart, Don Lucho’s offers a rotating cast of sandwiches, which include Inca chicken (chicken thighs marinated in aji amarillo, a Peruvian pepper that shows up in almost every dish), a vegetarian option with yuca patties, and the chicharrón, featuring fried pork shoulder. But the best-selling star of his menu—and of Peruvian cuisine—is the lomo saltado. Even though it’s served in a bun, the heart of this steak dish is the same as it is in kitchens around Peru: simple griddled steak dressed in a soy-based sauce. The dish embodies the Chinese and Japanese influences on Peruvian cuisine, using a mix of oyster and soy sauces over the strips of cumin-seasoned meat. The Peruvian touch, explains Chalisea, comes from the aji amarillo and the addition of french fries—which are served on top in Peru, but on the side at Don Lucho’s.
Chalisea knows that with a bit more space, he could do more. He hopes to expand the business to a storefront, where he could serve all of his sandwiches every day and add a few more sides, helping him to further achieve one of his original goals for the business: giving Seattleites a sense of just what they’ve been missing when it comes to Peruvian food.
Mobile food truck; donluchosinseattle.com
Recipe: Lomo Saltado
1 1/2 tablespoons crushed garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin (or other tender steak), cut into strips
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 medium onions, cut into strips
1 tomato, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Mix all marinade ingredients together and pour over steak. Let sit for one hour before cooking.
Heat the oil over high heat. Brown the steak well, about 2–3 minutes. Add the onions and let them soften, another 2 minutes or so, then add the tomatoes for a final minute with a touch of soy sauce. (Note: When cooking, you may want to do this in two batches—or more, if the pan is really small—as it will steam instead of brown if the pan is too crowded.) Garnish with cilantro.
While Chalisea serves this dish on bread at the Don Lucho’s truck, in Peru it usually comes over rice and topped with fried potatoes. Use some aji amarillo to spice it up, if desired!
While Peruvian restaurants are a rare sight in these parts, astute diners will find Peruvian flavors popping up on menus all over town. Aji amarillo recently showed up at The White Swan Public House paired with spring halibut; at Manolin with mussels and cilantro; and at Lark, Blueacre Seafood and Nue. Or cook with it yourself; find it at Latin American markets such as El Mercado Latino at Pike Place Market.