La Chaparrita

Worthy ceviche from a mall food court? Trust us.

Rediscovering Highland Mall Food Court
Photo by John Anderson

La Chaparrita

6001 Airport, second floor, 323-5404
Monday-Saturday, 10am-9pm; Sunday, noon-6pm
www.lachaparritaaustin.com

It is a rare occasion when we recommend mall food-court chow; most of it is chain-related or a bad local copy of a chain. Not so for Lima, Peru, native Susana Osorio's La Chaparrita, which opened last December, just before Macy's and Dillard's bailed out and Austin Community College decided that a less than frisky mall might make a good campus. Her sparkling walk-up counter is now the main attraction of a half-occupied food court; a recent lunch visit saw her getting the vast majority of the food court's business.

Rediscovering Highland Mall Food Court
Photo by John Anderson

We started with a couple of appetizers. Papa a la huancaína ($3.99) is excellent potato salad composed of tender sliced potatoes on a lettuce bed, covered with a creamy cheese and yellow aji chile sauce, topped with hard-boiled egg and black olives. Ceviche ($7.99, and well worth it) is a traditional Peruvian dish, prepared here with fresh and firm tilapia in a zippy leche de tigre (lime and rocoto chile marinade), served with luscious sweet potato, corn on the cob, and crunchy cancha – the original corn nut. It is part aphrodisiac, part hangover cure, and all delicious. Do not pass on the crunchy, mild, pickled red onions on your plate; they make everything taste better.

The arroz con pollo ($5.99) is a platter of moist chicken with crisp skin resting on a bed of rich, chickeny rice flavored with onion, cilantro, peas, and red pepper. Definitely pour on the piquant and creamy green chile sauce offered to take it up a notch. Ají de gallina ($5.99) is delectable shredded chicken breast in a seductive sauce of peanuts, milk, and cheeses, reminiscent of a North Indian korma sauce.

Two other dishes reflect the so-called Chifa Chinese immigrant influence found in Peru's cuisine. Lomo sal­tado ($6.99) is a lean beef stir-fry of tomato, garlic, onion, and cilantro, loaded with flavor. It rests atop a mound of excellent fried potatoes: crispy on the outside and moist and luscious inside. The Peruvi­ans practically invented the potato, and all of these effete local burger joints that think they know how to make french fries are encouraged to drop by La Chaparrita for a lesson in humility. Arroz chaufa ($6.99) is wonderful fried rice, loaded with bits of crunchy pork and chicken; seasoned with beaten eggs, green onion, and soy sauce; and topped with shrimp. It is old-school, not clumpy in the least, and very satisfying.

If any powdery white cookie sandwiches are available, grab a couple for after dinner. They're called alfajores – crunchy shortbread cookies enclosing a manjar blanco (reduced condensed milk) not-too-sweet filling, dusted with powdered sugar. Won­der­ful stuff. Likewise for the chicha morada, that famous anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-reducing purple corn drink made with cinnamon. It makes a nice digestif.

Highland Mall might not spring to mind when you think Peruvian food, but it really should.

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