Twelve years ago, if you searched online for Peruvian restaurants in Anaheim, you wouldn't have haunted Yelp but rather the old Chowhound message boards, where posters debated the merits of Nory's and El Pollo Inka. The discussions revolved around whose ají sauce had more kick and which kitchen produced the most consistent saltado. The Peruvian restaurant you ultimately picked depended on which Chowhound poster was more convincing. I was firmly in the El Pollo Inka camp, even as it broke off from the original South Bay-based chain and started calling itself Inka Anaheim. But I liked Nory's, too. They were both on Euclid Street, within two blocks of each other, competing like old fogeys playing chess in the park.
Alas, 12 years is a lifetime for a restaurant. Inka Anaheim shuttered a while ago. Then, last year, Nory's also bit the dust, along with the legendary El Misti Picantería Arequipeña. Now the space that used to be Nory's has risen again as La Pollada Peruvian Grill.
I don't remember Nory's much, but La Pollada has seemingly pushed the reset button on Anaheim's once-nascent Peruvian scene. For now, La Pollada is stripped down to the essentials. No barrier exists between the staging area and the dining room. Save for a few tiny tchotchkes and a small token photograph of Machu Picchu, nothing else hangs on the walls. Go on a Saturday night, and the television mounted at the back is tuned to Sabado Gigante with the sound turned off. For music, a muscular boombox plays cumbias.
The most important sound comes from the unseen kitchen. It's the clang of woks, the clamor of steel-on-steel, the sizzle of something being quickly seared over a high-BTU burner. These would be their saltados, the beautiful bastard child of Chinese technique and Incan ingredients consisting of meat, red onions, tomato wedges, cilantro and crispy French fries all wok-tossed with garlic, soy sauce and a whiff of cumin. It's what everyone who comes to La Pollada orders the first time around, and you should, too. La Pollada's saltado possesses the requisite smoky wok imprint and comes served with a scrumptious dome of steamed rice redolent of chicken. The saltado exists in only two varieties here: either with strips of steak, or with chicken for a dollar less. Both are part of a current special that tops out at $9.50 and includes a bowl of homemade aguadito, a rice-and-chicken soup flavored with pulverized cilantro that's worth the sticker price.
Also on special right now: tallarines that feature linguine stir-fried with the saltado ingredients, coated in the same wok-forged alchemy that transforms the warmth of cumin and the umami of soy sauce into the best chow mein you've never had. The tallarines are, by the way, the most popular dish at La Pollada. You see table after table of people twirling the noodles up with a fork as though it were Saturday-night spaghetti at the Olive Garden. The dish is even more in demand than the pollada, the restaurant's signature $6.99 plate of a flattened chicken filet brushed with a spicy glaze akin to enchilada red sauce and served with rice, a shredded lettuce salad and the cheese-sauce-smothered boiled potatoes the Peruvians call papa huancaina.
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In fact, it's rare for anyone to flip the single sheet menu and explore the regularly priced entrées on the other side. But you must. The chaufa here--Chinese fried rice as seen through a Peruvian lens--is wonderful. Interlaced with egg and cooked with either chicken or seafood, the rice exists as fried rice always should: each grain separate and slicked with flavor but never oily. One order of chaufa easily feeds two, but so do the soups. Between the chupe de camarones and the parihuela, choose the chupe, a concoction that eats like at least three meals because it includes rice, large chewy kernels of choclo, about 20 shrimp, and a whole egg cracked into it. It's all drowned in a thick, orange-hued broth made by extracting all the sweet goodness of the shells and enriching it with milk and cheese. Though the consistency lies somewhere between Thai tom kha gai and lobster bisque, this soup is all Peruvian.
Save the bistec a lo pobre, a massive plate of fries, rice, fried plantains and a butter-soft garlic-marinated steak for your third visit. Then try the exceeding great ceviche de pescado that comes with a whole fried yucca log and a hunk of sweet potato on your fourth trip. For your fifth trek, bring at least four friends to help you scale the jalea, an Andean mountain range of fried seafood. Then, tell them, as I told mine, that there was once a great Peruvian restaurant legacy here on Euclid Street, and it begins again here, with La Pollada.
La Pollada Peruvian Grill, 933 S. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 600-0730. Call for hours. Dinner for two, $20-$40, food only. No alcohol.