Delicias Peruanas' Great Chicken Salad?
You know what is the most overlooked city in Orange County? Lake Forest. It's a seeming no-man's-land between North and South County, a place where the politics are dirty, the people are nice, and the buildings a mix of tired tract housing and strip malls from the 1960s and '70s and gleaming new tract housing and shopping plazas from the past decade. But as a food city, it's in the top tier of the county's dining towns thanks to such high-concept places as Brü Grill and its many multicultural holes-in-the-wall. This is probably the only 'burb in Southern California with two Afghan restaurants—in a county with but three total.
But for the past year, Lake Forest's favorite dive not named Albatros has been Delicias Peruanas, a tiny spot near an Avila's El Ranchito. Seemingly all locals go in for a bite during the week: office drones on a lunch break, Latino families looking to see their soccer club on ESPN Deportes, Middle Eastern women sporting sweats and Gucci, regular 'mericans who have learned to love a good saltado after eating at Nory's for the past decade. At times, the service is sporadic because running the scene is a Peruvian man and his family (don't be surprised when you hear a kid you think is Asian speak in fluent Spanish—Chinese and Japanese have been migrating to Peru for centuries).
The entrées are tried-but-true standards—tallarines, saltados, ceviches and the like—that are priced a bit high. But trust in this bright spot. Though the family is always busy, they never stop with the smiles or smart advice, explaining meals for the clueless or recommending certain dishes based on personal taste. Though the price might make you wince, the orders are the largest you'll get outside of a Shakey's Bunch of Lunch: An order of milanesa, crunchy and buttery, is as wide as an old Rolling Stone, its gnarled crust featuring the hammer marks of Delicias' owner having pounded the piece of meat into shape just minutes earlier. Whether soups, tallarines or chaufas, all the foodstuffs are similarly epic, but don't think the food is just slopped on; the sides of rice are shaped into a pyramid, suggesting care worthy of a resort.
The most telling item on Delicias Peruanas' menu is the causa limeña, the greatest chicken salad in the world. Puréed russet potatoes around a ball of cold chicken, peas and olives? As epic as one of Machu Picchu's 50-ton stones.
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