Though Asheville has seen an uptick in Peruvian cuisine — courtesy of pop-ups led by chefs Caro Gutiérrez Paz of Ayni51 and Santiago Vargas of Mikasa AVL — our food scene has long wanted for a less ephemeral option.
Come December, this wish will come true as The S&W Market welcomes Mikasa Criolla as its newest food vendor. The restaurant will replace current tenant Peace Love Tacos, which will depart at the end of October.
Led by Chef Santiago and his business partner Ana Austin, Mikasa Criolla will offer a trim menu of authentic Peruvian dishes with a decidedly Spanish twist. The empanada, for instance, which originally hails from Spain, is given a Peruvian spin.
“We make a special version using pastry dough, queso fresco, and a Peruvian corn,” Santiago explains.
Expect empanada fillings to rotate every four months, with options including beef with chopped olive and boiled egg as well as white chicken chili.
The menu will also offer paninis, salads, ají de gallina (a traditional chicken stew), and classic Peruvian cocktails like the Pisco sour. For dessert, another highlight is the unbaked “Chicha Morada” cheesecake, which uses purple Peruvian corn.
And for anyone who wistfully remembers Santiago’s now-shuttered food truck Out of the Blue, we’ve got good news. The chef plans to bring back a few dishes from the menu, including the beloved “Pig in a Poncho,” a decadent sandwich piled with slow-roasted pork, sweet potatoes, and pickled onions. Three of his most popular sauces — the mustard, green cilantro, and aioli — will also be on offer.
Santiago and Ana’s vision is that their new downtown location will help raise the profile of Peruvian food in Western North Carolina.
“Peru is a country of foodies and a very important destination for people who want to eat well,” Ana says. “We want to reflect the wide variety of Peruvian food that exists.”