WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – A week after trying out a lovely Latin-oriented restaurant downtown, I decided it would be twice as nice to stay in that same vein of flavor. But instead of sticking around the heart of Wilmington, I went to the other side of town to check out an eatery that I’ve heard about for years.
Aromas of Peru is unassuming and one of several other restaurants tucked inside a shopping plaza on South College Road. But let this article serve as notice that it stands on its own, and you need to get here as soon as possible.
Part restaurant, part traditional Peruvian market, complete with everything from various grains and snacks to colas and pudding mixes. Owner and Chef Julian Herrera takes great pride in being the only authentic Peruvian restaurant in town and having these various offerings on hand makes it seem even more legitimate than what it already is. While people certainly come here for the hard-to-find dry goods, it’s what is whipped up in the kitchen that has kept locals and visitors coming back since 2018.
I brought my neighbors along for the culinary journey, and upon walking in we noticed a birthday dinner was taking place. Usually that doesn’t mean anything special (I remember having several birthday parties as a child at the play area of McDonald’s) but this was small, it was intimate, and it spoke volumes that the young lady chose this place, of all the restaurants in town, to celebrate her special day.
Little did we know we were in for a present of our own.
Our waiter, Carlos, greeted us, and pointed out some traditional appetizers and drinks to start our evening. I personally love when someone takes the time to explain the food of their homeland. Latin food is romantic, as Chef Herrera says it’s something you fall in love with. And taking just that extra minute or so to talk about a menu item’s origins brings that dose of romanticism.
After taste testing the various refreshments, we ordered some glasses of the “Chicha Morada,” think of a holiday-mulled cider but not nearly as spicy. It’s a thirst-quenching treat and a good choice to get you in the mood to try something different.
As for the appetizers, we chose the Calamari, made “the Peruvian way,” which came fresh and crispy, with fried yucca and a lovely red onion relish.
Next was the Anticuchos, a nicely marinated, thinly-sliced grilled veal heart served over fried potato slices. It was melt-in-your-mouth good, and even better when tried with the various sauces on hand (including that magical green sauce).
Our last warm-up plate was the Papa a La Huancaina, which is sliced boiled potatoes, smothered in a Peruvian cheese sauce. The sauce had a little bit of a kick, but the soft potatoes and melted cheese screamed South American comfort food. It was flat out tasty.
Aromas of Peru has a hefty entree menu, ranging from house made ceviches, Peruvian-style paella, various steak options and of course, its famous charcoal rotisserie chicken (served in quarters, halves or whole).
We decided to get the best of both the land and the sea, and went with the Parrillada… a meal fit for a king with all his knights at court. The plate was loaded with grilled chicken, steak, shrimp skewer, sausage links, grilled jalapeños, fried sweet plantains, salad and sides of white rice and Peruvian beans.
The feast commenced as if none of us had just devoured three appetizers. Each bite, perfectly tender, expertly seasoned and completely satisfying. Be sure to mix in some of the sauces, try a bite of the pepper, finish the plate with the plantain. There were leftovers a plenty, and I would pay to see the brave soul that apparently took down this plate by themselves (as legend has it says Carlos).
Luckily I scoped out the dessert menu beforehand, and made sure we all made room for something sweet. From a puff pastry layered with dulce de leche, to a Peruvian-style creme brûlée…to the coveted Tres Leches, each offering is mouthwatering.
On this visit we snagged the Tres Leches, with a cup of coconut ice cream. Some foods are difficult to explain the flavors, the sensations, the experience…but I can assure you these were very easy. They were simply outstanding. The ice cream tasted like a frozen coconut cream cake, the Tres Leches, a hefty, rich, indulgent stroke of pure genius that worth the trip alone.
After losing a second Aromas of Peru during the start of the pandemic, all of Chef Herrera’s and his family’s efforts are put into this location and you can tell. The staff is so welcoming and friendly, the food is simple, but flavorful and made with care. The prices are more than fair and the portions are enormous. Herrera knows he wouldn’t be here without his customers, and after this meal, he has some new faithful followers…for many more years to come.
1) Save room for dessert. While the appetizers and entrees are more than enough to satisfy, Aromas of Peru has some of the best sweets around. Each item is worthy of your attention and it’s the ice cream and the cake that had the group talking long after we left.
2) Pack your patience. While the restaurant wasn’t busy when were there late on a Thursday, Chef Herrera says things can really get going on the weekend. His employees are excellent, and couldn’t be any more nice, but he admits they are understaffed (like everyone else) and it’s worth getting a cool drink and check out the market items while you wait on your food.
IF YOU GO:
Aromas of Peru is located at: 417 S College Rd #23, Wilmington, NC 28403
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