In Peru, the city of Caraz Dulzura occupies a mountainous region so idyllic some call it the Switzerland of the Andes. In Anaheim, Caraz Dulzura resides in somewhat grittier environs—across the street from Anaheim High School, close to an auto repair shop in a neighborhood long ago overtaken by Mexicans and Central Americans. The lack of a sizable South American community nearby explains why the restaurant owners advertise menudo, hamburgers and French fries mingled with hot dog slices as specials. But Caraz Dulzura also keeps an impressive Peruvian menu, one that thoroughly covers the country's multiethnic, multiregional platters.
Start with a tamale, made with corn like its Mesoamerican cousin but studded with peanuts and olives and paired with a side of chilled onions and tomatoes that adds a refreshing bite to what is usually a dense, filling meal. There are also garlicky anticuchos, big chunks of beef heart, fish fried in lard and a great version of papa a la huancaina, the Peruvian national appetizer which features potato slabs slathered with a chilled cheese sauce and topped with a hard-boiled egg.
Tamales and papa a la huancaina are prototypical pre-Columbian dishes—straightforward, hefty and prepared with indigenous products. But most of Caraz Dulzura's menu traces its origins to China. Latin America hosts a significant Asian minority, but Peru is where Asians have had the most influence in shaping national culture—remember that Alberto Fujimori was once president of the country. The arroz chaufa dishes are really glorified fried rice, here served with chunks of chicken or beef and with a bit more spice. The saltado platters, available as seafood or chicken, are soy-soaked stir-fries familiar to any lover of Cantonese food. And the long noodles called tallarín I've previously identified in this paper as a bastardized spaghetti? My bad—TheNew York Times recently revealed tallarín is really lo mein. In my defense, the prickly ají sauce in the tallarín verde is as creamy as Alfredo, and the handkerchief-sized breaded beef is straight from Milan.
Despite its location, Peruvian families from across North County haunt Caraz Dulzura during the weekend. Which explains the following recent scenario: a family roared in laughter as a man in a wedding gown did a jig with a dwarf on television. Other diners in the crowded Anaheim restaurant stared in bewilderment as an Inca in a knit cap chased after the terrified trannie. More chuckles from the family, more silence from everyone else. Judging by the Quechua spoken by the howling clan, they were Peruvian; everyone else—including me—was Mexican. Didn't matter—we all drank the same Inca Kola.
CARAZ DULZURA, 880 W. LINCOLN AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 808-8302.