Probably one of the most unassuming but exceptional places you’ll have the pleasure of coming across in Lima has modestly arrived with but a whisper. Papi Carne, a new American-owned restaurant in Surquillo, is a fresh addition to the local food scene that the capital would be wise to embrace, and even clamor for.
At first glance, Papi Carne appears to be a joint simply shelling out American classics likes wings, burgers, and fries. Look a bit deeper however and you’ll note that there are a number of delightful touches that make Papi Carne’s menu not only distinctive but a pleasure to eat your way through.
Despite Papi Carne’s small space, the menu is anything but restrictive and the ambiance warm (Photos: Monique Loayza/Living in Peru)
After a soft opening in early January and weeks of experimentation, chef and owner L.J. Wiley has composed a menu that nods to his Texan roots, exemplifies his dedication to sourcing quality ingredients, and reflects his knowledge of international flavors – especially his respect for the Peruvian cuisine.
The concept of Papi Carne is brimming with character, despite the modest proportions of the restaurant. With only three tables on one end and a small open kitchen on the other, there is room for little else. Yet L.J. and his wife Brandy, both native Texans, have made the most of their minimal square footage, creating a warm and rustic environment. More importantly, there are no signs that it has limited what L.J. is able to execute in the kitchen.
I relished each juicy bite of the Papi Burger, featuring perfectly cooked coarse ground short rib beef adorned with house cured pickles, Cusqueña beer mustard, caramelized red onion mayo, iceberg lettuce, red onion, tomato, and served on a brioche bun. This, and dishes like their selection of wings, may seem simple at first but the attention to detail with every single ingredient makes what might normally be cast aside as ‘short order’ food really stand out.
Papi Buffalo Wings (Photo: Monique Loayza/Living in Peru)
The fries are a knockout to say the least. Classic Peruvian yellow potatoes are triple-cooked to produce a perfectly crunchy surface, while leaving a warm and fluffy interior that wouldn’t be unfamiliar to British chip lovers. Meanwhile, the wings, which come in a variety of flavors and heat levels to suit any palate, seem destined to produce endless rounds of finger-licking delight.
As much as I enjoyed these classic favorites, the Papi Papaya salad was a pleasant surprise, an elegant riff on Thai cuisine. Tender lomo, thinly sliced to expose the jewel-like pink interior, was layered atop chunks of ripe papaya, while cashews, candied ginger and a rocoto emulsion worked in unison to brighten the dish and add a pleasing textural component. Each element was purposeful, yielding a perfectly balanced dish in terms of flavors and appearance.
Pulpo a la plancha, a dish that deserves to become a regular on the menu (Photo: Monique Loayza/Living in Peru)
These winning dishes aside, there are also specials that allow L.J. to experiment and display his skills. There were hints of Mediterranean influences in a dish featuring tender grilled octopus (pulpo a la plancha). Served with creamy canary beans, it was kept light with a salad featuring tomatoes, eggplants, preserved citrus and salsa verde. While this isn’t meant to be part of the regular menu, I’m hoping it makes a return visit.
For the moment, desserts aren’t featured but that’s something they look to add soon. In the meantime, you wouldn’t be disappointed capping off your meal with a Vietnamese style iced coffee. Chilled and lightly sweetened, it’s a totally welcome refreshment in summertime, and probably difficult to track down anywhere else in Lima.
Lucuma Daiquiri, a Papi Carne experiment that you’ll have to cross your fingers is on the menu (Photo: Monique Loayza/Living in Peru)
From early on, Papi Carne accomplishes the dual task of presenting a roster of food that manages to be interesting and exciting, but also accessible and unassuming. Dishes are generously portioned and, more importantly, the prices reflect the high quality of the ingredients used, many of which are locally sourced from sustainable providers.
Lima’s food scene often presents the dilemma of having to pick between shelling out a hefty sum for a tasting menu to experience creative cuisine at a landmark restaurant, or enjoying the flavors of traditional Peruvian food in the city’s beloved low-key joints. These aren’t bad options to have, but it’s refreshing to see the scene being diversified with accessible and high-quality alternatives like Papi Carne.
Korean BBQ Sandwich (Photo: Monique Loayza/Living in Peru)
The menu is not the only point of distinction. By daring to establish itself outside the confines of Miraflores, San Isidro, and Barranco, on a nondescript street in Surquillo, Papi Carne is blazing new trails. With Mercado Surquillo already attracting more and more foot traffic, could this be the beginning of a renewed life for the neighborhood?
It’s perhaps ventures like Papi Carne that are what this city, already so well known for its native food, needs. While it would be ridiculous to question Lima’s position as a gastronomic capital, it can only be cemented with the addition of new cuisines and new players forcing diners outside of their comfort zones, both geographically and in terms of their palates. Papi Carne, modest and nimble, is a restaurant doing just that.
Jiron Dante 348, Surquillo
994 763 198
Appetizers and sides: S/ 6 – 13
Wings: S/13 (half a dozen); S/ 25 (full order, dozen)
Sandwiches: S/ 16 – 23
Monday-Thursday: 12 p.m-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 12 p.m.-11:30 p.m.