The classic and for many ubiquitous Peruvian dish Lomo Saltado has a special place in my heart. It was the first "Peruvian" (the reason for the parenthesis later) dish that really drew my attention at El Rocoto Restaurant in Gardena. It made enough of an impression, that I headed off to the library (the internet really wasn't such a large part of our lives in '97) to try to find out what Peruvian cuisine was all about. There were many aspects of the dish that really resonated with me; the familiar flavors like soy sauce, cooking style, at heart the dish is a stir fry (saltado = to leap) , and yes, the carbs. Coming from Hawaii, many of my friends still say, "it ain't lunch unless it has at least two carbs!" So I found the combination of rice and papas fritas (french fries) enchanting...... Over the years I'd come to appreciate the history of the dish, a fusion of the cooking of the Chinese that settled in great numbers in Peru (Lima has the largest Chinatown in South America) Spanish (onions, garlic) and ethnic Peruvian (potatoes). Though most every version nowadays has french fries in it, I've read that the dish originally used boiled potatoes.... I've got to say that I'd probably prefer fried to boiled.
Anyway, a post comparing the lomo saltado available in San Diego has been a long time coming, so here it is:
Latin Chef ($11):
After a rather lengthy respite, I've been going back to Latin Chef quite a bit recently. So of course I was bound to have the lomo saltado again.....
Latin Chef used to have a prominent spot on our rotation, but for some reason we just kinda stopped going.
On my recent visits, it seems like the food had slipped a bit (I'll go into detail in the future post). The lomo saltado here is still my favorite in San Diego. The meat is the most tender, you can make out the soy, there's a slight tangy flavor, and the rice had always been cooked well. They seem to be depending a bit much on salt and the mild anise-mint flavor of Huacatay is missing. The papas fritas still have crunch which is a plus, as is the amount of sauce. There just seems to be something missing from this dish recently.
1142 Garnet Ave
San Diego, CA 92109
Nazca Grill ($10.95):
As the food at Latin Chef seems to be slipping, Nazca Grill seems to be slowly getting better:
4310 Genesee Ave
San Diego, CA 92117
Tropical Star ($8.50):
Over the years I've come to think of Tropical Star as sort of a Latin American mom-and-pop equivalent of those diners that try to make everything. The menu is vast and not everything is really worth a try. Still, in spite of all my visits to Tropical Star, I've always stopped short of ordering the lomo saltado.... there was an inner voice that told me not to "go there". But you know that I couldn't go all these years without trying it out. So recently, I finally ordered the lomo saltado, which was the cheapest of the three..... and holy-moley, it was also the largest portion.... of grayish looking meat.....
Really tough meat, full gristle, perhaps chuck.... it gives new meaning to "2 buck chuck (steak)". My feet also started swelling up pretty quickly as I ate this. I stared at the shelves looking for some kind of packaged lomo saltado mix, since there was a powderiness to the dish as well. Funny, as I walked out, I noticed several jars of Aji-no-moto (MSG) right next to the Aji Panca on one of the shelves..... There are several items that Troplical Star does reasonably welland the prices are just as reasonable. I'd pass on the lomo saltado though.....
6163 Balboa Ave
San Diego, CA 92111
Typing out this post makes me think we'll need to be heading back to Peru one of these days......