Amid the vast sprawl of shopping centers in Roseville, it’s easy to miss La Huaca, which serves fine Peruvian food. Tucked between a fitness club and a Goodwill Industries store in a mid-2000s cookie-cutter plaza, the restaurant is named after a Quechua (indigenous South American) word that describes revered spiritual objects. Fittingly, a few visits here by this SN&R reviewer are near-spiritual ventures into the nation’s cuisine. This eatery offers an experience that’s decidedly upscale in every way: décor, art, lighting, presentation, price and—most importantly—taste.
Peruvian restaurants are rare in the Central Valley: The other Peruvian restaurant in Sacramento, Koricancha, doubles as Waffle King. And a bit farther away is the Pan-American (but heavy on Peruvian food) Bistro Sabor in Napa. So, it’s nice that La Huaca, which opened in 2012, focuses solely on Peruvian cooking and highlights the diversity of dishes found in Peru.
The national dish is ceviche, which is seafood cured in lime, salt and chili, and it’s a must-have starter at La Huaca. During my first visit, I sampled the mixto version, which features fish, shrimp, octopus and calamari. On the second, I tried the spicier ceviche de aji amarillo, which translates to “ceviche with yellow pepper.” Both were exceptionally piquant and hearty. Even the octopus was tender and flavorful after getting the ceviche treatment, a rare feat for generally the chewiest seafood around.
The other type of appetizer La Huaca serves is called “causa,” which the menu says is “the most popular plate to export in all Peruvian cuisine.” Basically, it’s a cold square of yellow mashed potatoes topped with various chilled toppings (chicken, shrimp, octopus, vegetables). While visually stunning, they lacked the intensity and complexity of the ceviche.
La Huaca’s dinner entrees, on the other hand, were hefty, flavorful and well-balanced. All four plates ordered at my family’s table (perhaps due to earlier overindulging on ceviche de aji amarillo) required boxes for leftovers: arroz chaufa (fried rice), lomo saltado (beef tenderloin with fried potatoes and rice), arroz con pato (cilantro-flavored rice with duck), and medallón de lomo con salsa de champiñones y pastel de papa (filet mignon with mushroom sauce and potato cake).
Nevertheless, each one exceeded expectations and featured subtle touches that made the dishes shine. The arroz chaufa, a result of Chinese immigrants influencing Peruvian cuisine, came with shrimp and crispy fried pork. Aji amarillo paste was the perfect condiment to kick the spice up a notch.
The lomo saltado oozed with an incredibly smoky flavor—apparently the result of cooking the beef in pisco, a type of brandy popular in Peru. The star of the arroz con pato wasn’t the duck or the rice—which were both good—but rather a house-made salsa criolla, a Peruvian salsa consisting of pickled onion and cilantro. And while the filet mignon in the medallón de lomo con salsa de champiñones y pastel de papa was a little bit too well-done, it was still tender. Additionally, the richness of the mushroom sauce and potato cake more than made up for the slightly overcooked meat.
Dessert was another opportunity for the restaurant to show off ingredients native to and popular in Peru. The tres leches cake was soaked in pisco, and the ice cream was made out of Peruvian lúcuma, a fruit that resembles and tastes like acorn squash. Passion fruit, or maracuyaacute;, common in Peruvian desserts, found its way into the flan here, as well as a fruit-juice drink; and both popped with fresh-from-the-tropics passion-fruit flavor.
The restaurant’s attention to detail makes La Huaca the perfect place to introduce the complexity found in Peruvian cuisine—a style that blends culinary traditions of indigenous South American people and Peru’s European and Asian immigrants—to Sacramento-area diners.
My prediction: It won’t be long before most Sacramentans start to worship La Huaca.