Way South of the Border

Delicious Peruvian food has come to Tucson's southside via Rocky Point

The southside is a sea of Mexican-food restaurants, both good and bad—and the recent addition of a true transplant from Mexico is adding a little South American flavor to the mix.

Don Pedro's Peruvian Bistro, recently relocated from its original home in Rocky Point to a shopping center at Sixth Avenue and 44th Street, is serving up heaping plates of traditional Peruvian dishes.

Inside, the restaurant is deceptively large and sparkling clean, with plenty of seating and a bright, modern décor; all that was missing on both of our visits were customers. However, the setup of the restaurant was a bit awkward; it seems like you would order at the counter, considering the presence of a large menu board and cash registers, but on each visit, our server greeted us with menus and sat us at a table.

Don Pedro's front-of-the-house employees were some of the friendliest that I've encountered, offering helpful menu suggestions and small samples of chicha morada and maracuya ($2.50 individual, $7.95 family size), two Peruvian beverages that aren't widely available. I opted for the maracuya, a sweet passion-fruit drink, and Ted went for the chicha morada, a sweet traditional drink made from purple corn and various spices.

All of the food on our weeknight dinner visit was wonderful. On the recommendation of our server, we started off with antichuchos ($5.99), skewered beef heart served with potatoes, a variety of giant corn and a thick, super-spicy dipping sauce. The thinly sliced beef heart was tender and moist, with a beautifully charred exterior and a nice medium-rare center. The appetizer would have been enough for a reasonably sized lunch entrée.

Our server delivered our steaming-hot entrées very quickly, and refilled our drinks. I took her recommendation on the entrée as well, ordering the beef lomo saltado ($10.95), a stir-fry-style dish with thin-sliced beef, french fries, onions, tomatoes and green onions, served with a heaping pile of buttery, steamed white rice. The fries managed to retain their crispiness and added an interesting element to the overall dish. Ted's ceviche mixto ($14.99) was a generous portion of lightly marinated flounder and shrimp, with sweet yam and corn. The marinade was citrusy and light, without the intense tanginess that many ceviche dishes have.

We planned to stop by for an afternoon lunch during the following week, but we were running late and just missed the lunch specials, which go until 2 p.m. on weekdays. (The menu at Don Pedro's is the same for breakfast and lunch.) This time, we had a different but equally friendly server, and we started out with a papa rellena appetizer ($5.99). This is one of my favorite Peruvian dishes—potato stuffed with beef, onions, hard-boiled egg and raisins. It can be served either hot or cold, and I prefer it served hot, so I was pleased when it came out steaming—that is, until I cut into it, and the center was ice-cold. The flavors were good, but the combination of the hot potato and the cold filling wasn't appetizing.

Ted's chaufa entrée, a Peruvian-style fried rice ($5.99 to $9.99, depending on choice of meats) was the highlight of the meal and was chock-full of mixed vegetables, chicken and beef chunks, and a handful of large shrimp. My arroz con pollo ($9.99), on the other hand, was bland and quite flavorless, and looked nothing like the photo on the menu. Two chicken thighs were smothered in an unappetizing-looking pea-green sauce and were accompanied by cilantro rice that bordered on greasy.

Thankfully, desserts ended the meal on a positive note. The bright orange lucuma ice cream ($4.99) was creamy and not too sweet, and the mild, almost-caramel-like taste of the fruit wasn't overpowered. The flan ($4.95), swimming in its own sticky-sweet caramel sauce, had a lovely cinnamon note and a creamy consistency.

Don Pedro's mild and delicate flavors are a welcome addition to the sea of Mexican food that exists south of 22nd Street, although a bit more food-prep consistency would be welcome—as would some more customers.