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Welcome to Spice Route, in which writer Warren Rojas connects diners to the most fiery and flavorful dishes in area restaurants.
Location: China Chilcano, 418 7th St. NW; (202) 783-0941; chinachilcano.com
Vision: Washingtonians have been privy to Peruvian hospitality for decades, savoring frothy pisco sours at subterranean haven El Chalan and countless insanely juicy birds at the rotisserie chicken joints that dot the local landscape. China Chilcano, the culinary melting pot restaurateur José Andrés planted in Penn Quarter a few years back, stands out for its focus on the Peruvian-Chinese cooking known as “chifa.”
Today, Chef Carlos Delgado celebrates the interwoven Chinese and Peruvian flavors he first experienced in his native Lima by preparing dishes ranging from steamy pork-filled dumplings steeped in vibrant Sichuan chili oil to a seafood feast that floods the senses with spiciness.
Execution: The stir-fried Tam Tam noodle dish is both the hottest thing on the menu and one of Delgado’s personal favorites. ”I add rocoto sauce and criolla onion sauce to kick the spice up a notch,” he says of the complementary heating agents. But the Maine lobster “a lo macho” ($35) has performed well over the past year.
“It’s a very popular dish for larger groups to share,” he says. The one-and-a-quarter-pound crustacean is bathed in a fragrant white wine reduction.
The seductive sauce is laced with two Peruvian chile peppers: The versatile, brightly colored aji amarillo lends a dash of heat to the mix, while the typically dried aji panca conveys some smokiness. Garlic and herbs round out a medley that adds bite to every morsel of luscious lobster meat, tender purple potatoes, piquant spring onions, and ripe tomatoes. The generous platter is reminiscent of a New England clambake—by way of the Andes mountains.
Intensity (out of five): Two sirens