Through an unmarked door and up a flight of battered stairs in one of the shabbiest parts of town – Santa Ifigênia, in deepest darkest Centro – this simple-as-possible Peruvian restaurant has become a word-of-mouth sensation over the past year or so. It’s a million miles, in more ways than one, from the handful of swish Peruvian and Peruvian fusion restaurants that have opened in 2013 – think Osaka and Maremotto – and from upscale La Mar in Itaim, brainchild of the celebrity Peruvian chef Gastón Acurio, whose Lima restaurant Astrid & Gastón, picked up Restaurant magazine’s Best Latin American Restaurant award in September 2013.
Rinconcito Peruano is all about cheap, cheerful, deftly cooked food in no-frills surroundings, and it does absolute justice, with its blend of utter simplicity and more complex flavour combinations, to Peru’s magnificent national cuisine. And if you’ve already acquired a taste for ceviche – fresh raw fish and seafood, ‘cooked’ in a lemon/lime marinade – then get ready to be ecstatic. The ceviche here is fresh, firm, generously proportioned and served the traditional Peruvian way – with ají chilli, red onion and toasted corn, on a bed of potato and sweet potato.
|Chaufa de mariscos (seafood fried rice)
Start with a cold bottle of beer and a fresh, tender pile of the fishy speciality: we ordered a family-sized portion (RS$98) last time we went, and excellent as it was, it was way too much for four. A small or medium-sized serving (RS$27, RS$52) will do nicely, especially since it’ll leave room for some of the menu’s other delights: classic ‘lombo saltado’ (R$17), a jumble of flash-fried strips of tender beef, peppers, crunchy onion and fat potato chips, served with rice; Peruvian-style breaded, fried chicken (‘pollo broaster’, R$14, with fries); or just a heap of simple but delicious chaufa rice – egg-fried rice with your choice of slivers of meat, chicken or seafood (shrimp, octopus and squid, R$17).
Of the filling soups, the Minuta (R$12), is our top tip: a subtly savoury, soul-warming broth enriched with milk, harbouring a tangle of angel-hair pasta at the bottom of the bowl. Just for fun, finish up with one of the colourful, children’s-party-style desserts, which are of the wobbly, jelly-and-custard variety: vanilla blancmange with jelly (gelatina com flan de baunilha, R$3), or jelly with a milk mousse (mousse de leite, R$3).
Night-time in this area is far from salubrious – in fact, it’s not recommended at all. These are mean streets often haunted by crack-smokers, and night-times round here are a queasy blend of deserted roads and very unsavoury characters. Come in the daytime, when the area is busier (but with your wits about you arriving and leaving), and find yourself a table on Rinconcito Peruano’s breezy, open-air mezzanine floor upstairs, for a long lunch featuring some of the finest, best-value food you can get in São Paulo. We like it that much.