When I told our Trendzilla columnist I was dining in her hometown, “Marie Callender's is hopping” was Lindsey's response. See, “Peruvian food” and “Yorba Linda” seem as apt a pairing as “ethics” and “Mike Carona,” so it's understandable why a learned visitor might expect a disaster at Andes Peruvian Grill. Complex dishes such as tallarín and arroz chaufa are reduced to bowls, the better to entice the city's bro crowd. Chicha morada and maracuya are praised not for their flavor, but rather for their anti-oxidant ingredients. The kebabs aren't anticuchos, but rather . . . kebabs. And the design of the place is as inoffensively ethnic as a Chipotle outlet.
But despite this masquerade, the restaurant is a beaut, selling food worthy of a charanga (even if the music veers more toward Brazilian). Knowing its core customer base, the focus is on the pastas, rice dishes and meat entrées that need only a friendly push from the owners for Reaganites and Bushians to learn to love them. The pollo saltado is juicy and smoky; seco de norte is braised beef par excellence. The ceviche might not sting as much as it should, but it still pleases. And while Andes' menu might not be as extensive as those at other Peruvian spots in OC, there's enough refinement in each dish to make it worth the drive—Saint Martin de Porres across the street in his namesake church finally has something to remind him of home.
And that's the wonderful thing about this place: Despite its setting, the flavors never get compromised. The empanadas are unapologetically flaky, and the hot sauce that comes with them burns with the spice only a rocoto pepper offers. The tableside ají has the same garlicky charm and slight burn everyone loves. And even when the daughter of the owner tells you, no, she can't give you bread for free, and yes, she likes to eat bread smeared with ají as well, but she still can't give you any, you'll learn to love Andes Peruvian Grill—Yorba Linda setting and limits be damned.