You know Inka Cantina means business when you tell your server you’ve never tried chicha morada or maracuya. Whereas most Peruvian-restaurant waiters will offer a smile, a description, then suggest Sprite, the waiters here go behind the bar, grab two small crystal stemware glasses better suited for sipping amaro at a Tuscan castle, and pour a shot of each agua fresca into them. It’s a small gesture, but an important one: It says that not only does this Fountain Valley restaurant want to make you comfortable, whether you’re a first-timer or have spent nights stranded at the Terminal Terrestre in Cusco, but it’s also going to treat you with class.
And class Inka Cantina has un chingo. Booths and tables are gleaming; paintings of Peruvians fishing in Lake Titicaca and shopping in town plazas line one wall, with alcoves featuring statues of Incan gods lining the other. Soothing charango and flute music provide the soundtrack for some of the better Peruvian cuisine around, an encyclopedic journey through northern and coastal Peru that includes the known (epic tallarines, delicious lomo saltados), the mostly unknown (anticuchos, the beef heart skewers that are the most savory kebabs you can imagine, the Andean chicken soup called aguadito) and the unicorns: You rarely see col de carne, Peru’s version of a stir-fry complete with soy sauce, in Orange County, or a lamb stew so soft it’s almost putty. Even rarer is asado de la abuela—Grandma’s roast, which is really just beef, mashed potatoes, green beans and gravy, a dish that could play in Leisure World but whose savoriness is at home here. And in every dish, again, is class: an order of causa, the archetypical Peruvian chicken salad, comes prepared so intricately it resembles a French pastry (most Peruvian eateries slop it onto the plate as if it were, well, chicken salad).
Fountain Valley doesn’t have too many Peruvians (OC’s not-small population mostly lives in South County and Yorba Linda), so it’s great that Inka Cantina isn’t afraid to specialize in rarities. And best of all? You can drink maracuya and chicha by the pitcher—salud!
Inka Cantina, 18279 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 965-4600; inkacantina.com.