The classic Limeño tavern reinvented
Claim to fame: Lima’s best escabeche–traditional fried fish served with a spicy onion and vinegar sauce
Reason to go: The atmosphere: like a long and animated Sunday lunch at grandma’s house
To look out for: Most dishes are big enough to share; ask for half portions in order to try more
The idea was very simple and straightforward: chef Jose del Castillo wanted to pay homage to his mother and the traditional Limeño cookbook. Although criollo cuisine, as the food from Lima is known, can be found all over the place, there are hundreds of classic, homestyle recipes that never made it into the mainstream canon; olluquito a la italiana (a tripe stew and distant cousin of the Italian trippa alla fiorentina) and calf’s brain omelet for instance, dishes that have fallen out of favor with younger generations. They used to be served at home, in Limeño taverns and old-style wine- and pisco bars where patrons also enjoyed homey preparations such as ham sanguches (Peruvian for sandwich). Some of those eateries still survive but most are long gone.
In order to pay his double tribute to mom and Limeño holes-in-the-wall, del Castillo set up shop in a beautiful old house in Barranco, one of Lima’s more traditional districts. The building was renovated without losing its soul and del Castillo’s mother’s recipes were cemented into the bedrock of the restaurant’s menu. And yes, of course it bears del Castillo’s mom’s name, Isolina.
It became an instant sensation and wild success, with a no-reservations policy that still sees long lines spilling out the door, especially during weekends. It would be easy to attribute this triumph to nostalgia, but one look at the dining room is enough to dismiss that notion. Generations of Limeños pile into this lively place to enjoy the almost forgotten dishes their grandmothers and great grandmothers used to cook, now recreated by one of Peru’s most talented chefs. The key here is not nostalgia but reconnecting and rediscovering our roots.