Review: Peruvian Restaurant Llama Kid Is an Eastside Oasis

Once a virtual concept, this modern take is really solid

Colorful entrance to Llama Kid (Photo by Lauren Johnson)

For a restaurant that started as a virtual brand in a ghost kitchen in September 2021, Llama Kid has had quite the glow-up, opening as a beautifully appointed brick-and-mortar on East Cesar Chavez just three months later. Situated on the site of a former Austin Daily Press sandwich stand, Austin's newest Peruvian restaurant is a chill oasis on the Eastside.

Situated on the western coastline of South America, Peru is the third-largest country in South America, with diverse geography and a multiethnic population informed by Indigenous folks and European, African, Chinese, and Japanese migrations. As such, Peruvian cuisine bears many cultural influences, blending indigenous ingredients like quinoa, potatoes, and various chiles with imported techniques and cuisines, particularly Chinese and Japanese.

Arroz chaufa (Photo by Melanie Haupt)

The menu at Llama Kid features primarily coastal cuisine, which is accessible and user-friendly. This includes a decent selection of ceviches showcasing an array of seafood, plus a vegan iteration. Of the six ceviches on offer, we tried the Nikkei and the vegan. Nikkei cuisine is a fusion of Japanese techniques with Peruvian ingredients. In this dish, that fusion looks like a mound of cubed ahi tuna in a pool of leche de tigre citrus marinade, mixed with matching cubes of cucumber and avocado, dressed with thin slices of radish and half-moons of red onion, and topped with a tangle of nori strips. It's light, delicate, and not as acidic as typical ceviche, but subtly delicious. The vegan ceviche, featuring cauliflower and pickled mushrooms, choclo (a large-kerneled Peruvian corn reminiscent of hominy), crunchy cancha corn, chunks of sweet potato, and a vegan leche de tigre marinade, is similarly light, but sadly bland and uninteresting.

The "Healthy Inca" portion of the menu is home to two very delicious salads, beet and quinoa. The beet salad features those earthy gems tucked into a heap of massaged kale and dressed with a light aji amarillo vinaigrette topped with queso serrano and cancha corn. It manages to be both hearty and light, with a pleasant textural interplay of crunchy, chewy, and tender. The quinoa salad masquerades as a green salad, the indigenous grain playing peek-a-boo from within mixed greens and tomatoes, with medallions of grilled cauliflower with a peppy anticucho glaze. It's big enough to enjoy as an entrée, but it's more fun to share with friends … until you're fighting over the last piece of utterly perfect and flavorful cauliflower.

Nikkei ceviche (Photo by Melanie Haupt)

Where Llama Kid really shines is with its large plates, which prominently feature dishes in the Chifa (Cantonese Peruvian) style, including lomo saltado and arroz chaufa. Saltado comprises tomatoes, onions, and potato wedges stir-fried with marinated protein (here, chicken, tenderloin, or cauliflower and mushrooms), soy sauce, and rice vinegar. It's served with white rice studded with choclo. We tried the chicken and vegan iterations and found both delicious and super fresh. While we were disappointed that the vegan ceviche and entrées all featured cauliflower as the "protein" (I think that cubes of firm tofu would really sing in all of these preparations), this was the most successful treatment of the brassica.

We also tried the beef arroz chaufa, a generous portion of fried rice speckled with scrambled egg and chiles. It was quite tasty, in the way that fried rice is tasty, but for $24, I wanted a bit more tenderloin (although it's possible that my spouse pilfered more than his fair share of meat while I was otherwise occupied). On a related note, the beef tenderloin anticucho skewer was tasty and tender, but the portion felt a little miserly. The rocoto lime pepper sauce that accompanied the beef was bright and kicky; I could imagine lots of uses for it beyond as a condiment for a small portion of grilled beef. Other classic Peruvian dishes here include the jalea mixta, a sampler of fried seafood showcasing the coastal bounty of the Pacific Ocean, and the aji de gallina, a creamy, spicy chicken stew served with a boiled egg and a side of rice.

Quinoa salad (Photo by Melanie Haupt)

I had hoped to be able to try the pollo a la brasa (Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken), but was foiled in my attempt. Happily, this gives me a reason for a return visit, perhaps when the weather is a bit cooler, or it feels safe to dine indoors again. (The indoor dining space at Llama Kid is quite lovely but very small, which is unappealing during yet another COVID spike.)

The desserts at Llama Kid lean more savory than sweet. The picarones, fried dumplings swimming in a syrup made from maple syrup, star anise, cinnamon, and other deep fall flavors, remind me of gulab jamun, only heavier and far less sweet. Perhaps the triple-digit temperatures affected my enjoyment, but I didn't love this dessert. I would have loved to see some alfajores, arroz con leche, or crema volteada (a caramel custard similar to flan) on offer; dessert is definitely an opportunity for growth on the Llama Kid menu.

However, my favorite item on the Llama Kid menu is the maracuya sour, a nonalcoholic passionfruit drink with lime and agave. The passionfruit is bright and tart, and is the perfect refresher on a brutal summer day. Order one at the end of your meal and you've got a puckery, just-sweet-enough dessert. The chicha morada is a traditional Peruvian drink, a purple-corn juice flavored with cinnamon and clove; I look forward to enjoying it in the fall, as it strongly reminds me of mulled wine.

Shaded outdoor seating (Photo by Lauren Johnson)

The vibes at Llama Kid are extremely relaxed, from the cheerfully appointed patio to the service, which is friendly and competent, if laissez-faire. We enjoyed our meals family-style, and every place setting has side plates for sharing, but the dishes don't come with any serving utensils, so we each sacrificed our spoons to the table for serving purposes. That worked in a pinch, but I'm not sure why such a tiny, obvious accommodation as providing a serving spoon isn't part of the service model.

The patio is beautifully appointed; chef/owner Diego Ysrael Sanchez, who emigrated from Peru in 1999 and worked at a Bahamian luxury resort before coming to Austin, has transformed the stark, somewhat drab lot into a homey private garden with fairy lights, plants, wall hangings, and (much-needed) misting fans. My only complaint is the seating: While the picnic tables on offer are lovely and high-quality, they are situated in such a way that anyone shorter than 5 feet, 10 inches will find their feet dangling over the crushed-rock "floor," unless they scooch all the way to the front of the (backless, ugh) seat. But this complaint is a minor blip in an otherwise enjoyable experience.

There are only a handful of Peruvian restaurants in Austin, including fast-casual Inka Chicken, the family-run Lima Criolla in the Linc complex, and tiny food cart Ceviche7. I'm not an expert on Peruvian food and therefore can't speak to where Llama Kid lands on the authenticity scale, but it feels like the upscale (and pricier) alternative to all of these offerings, and is a fitting destination for date nights, out-of-town visitors, or al fresco celebrations.

Llama Kid

4620 E. Cesar Chavez, 737/222-5200
Sun.-Wed., noon-10pm; Thu.-Sat., noon-11pm

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