Katie Brown photo
Ignore the name and the logo. Because the reality of this quick-service Peruvian joint is completely different from the cheesy image I had in my head. Having never eaten Peruvian food before, I don't know how authentic it is, but the place was packed with Spanish-speaking patrons on a recent Saturday night.
The interior is spacious and clean, with an impressive open kitchen. A large, flat-screen TV on the far wall was airing the Hispanic version of Dancing With the Stars, which meant a hostess who looked like Charo, scandalous costumes loaded with sequins and routines that stunned my children a little. Hey, it was a total-immersion experience. At the counter, the friendly cashier poured samples of chicha morada for us. A beautiful aubergine color, this Peruvian beverage is made from purple corn and has an undercurrent of cloves. It was delicious. I opted for the horchata, a rice-milk drink served cold and sprinkled with cinnamon.
Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken is the specialty at Chicken Mania, so we ordered half of a chicken. Halle was thrilled that yucca fries were one of the side options. These didn't excite me nearly as much as they did her, but the queso dipping sauce jazzed up the starchy side. Cary wasn't thrilled with her chicken wings, and I was underwhelmed with my order, so we ended up devouring Halle's truly outstanding chicken (shown). Marinated with a combination of spices — cumin and lemon being the dominant flavors I noticed — there was enough going on to make it deliciously interesting, but not too much to scare the kids.
My dinner choice, jalea mixta, was a golden mound of fried shrimp, calamari and a mild, white, sweet fish called swai covered with vinegary marinated red onions. The relish-like topping was a nice counter to the fried food, but the seafood wasn't hot and crispy enough to wow me. I returned to the chicken. The other home run was dessert. We tried the tres leches cake. Soaked with a mixture of three types of dairy — evaporated and condensed milks plus heavy cream — and topped with a thin layer of icing, it was the perfect finale to a virtual visit to Peru.
7524 Forest Hill Ave., 267-3340
Prices: Appetizers $5 to $6; sandwiches and specialties $6 to $15; desserts $2.75 to $3.25.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.