Exploring Cincinnati's restaurants, one bite at a time.

Cincinnati Bites
Banh Mi from Pho Lang Thang

Posted Monday, July 11, 2016

Cincinnati cuisine gets an undeserved bad rap for not offering enough variety. Yet, if we just took the time to scratch under the shallow subsoil of hipster burger joints and cheese coneys and chili parlors, we'd see a rich, thriving wellspring of diversity that's been here for decades. And it's growing.

Sure, there are cynical, narrow-minded naysayers out there who'd rather we food writers just shut up and "stick to coneys and pizza," but where's the excitement in that?

One of the biggest shifts in population here has come thanks to a healthy influx of Latinos, who have brought not just their rich culture but a wealth of culinary expertise spanning many generations. Who knew, for example, that there'd come a day in which a Cincinnatian could sit down to enjoy the same kinds of dishes eaten thousands of miles away, in Peru?

And yet, with Sabor Peruano, located in Fairfield, one can do just that. The Peruvian restaurant had actually been open for business for more than a decade off Dixie Highway, before a kitchen fire tragically burned the original corner location to the ground in November, 2014.

sabor peruano fire Sabor Peruano fire in November, 2014

But the owners regrouped and soon reopened just a couple blocks from their original location, housed in the same mostly vacant Woodridge Plaza Shopping Center that also hosts the Ohio Valley Antique Mall. The new restaurant is cavernous and unfortunately lacks a lot of personality: it could easily double as a wedding reception event center. Despite sporting a no-frills ambiance and remaining relatively unknown to most area gringos, Sabor Peruano still belts out authentic Peruvian delights to a bustling and mostly latino customer base.

My girlfriend and I have visited Sabor Peruano several times over the years, including a stop shortly before our trip to Peru. We then followed up with our most recent dinner there last month. After all this exposure, you'd think I'd be able to effortlessly describe Peruvian cuisine. Alas, due to it's multicultural origins, it's not very easily categorized. It's very unlike Mexican food, very unlike Spanish cuisine.

We can at least confirm the cuisine's heavy emphasis on potatoes. After all, nearly all forms of potatoes are genetically linked back to southern Peru and Northern Bolivia. The multitudinal varieties of the starchy vegetable there are dizzying. Chicken, beef and fish are also Peruvian mainstays (not to mention guinea pig, or "cuy"), with ceviche being particularly popular along the coastal towns. Peruvian cuisine can be both simple and clean in one location, yet rich and complex in the next. Its diversity matches the country's varying elevations and marriage of Incan and European cultures.

Nothing on Sabor Peruano's menu attempts to Americanize the dining experience: what you've got here is very faithful to the the dishes we marveled over in Lima, Cusco, Puno and other cities. Still, there's a lot for even the pickiest of eaters to enjoy.

I started off with one of my favorite Peruvian non-alcoholic drinks: chicha morada. This purple corn-based concoction is extremely sweet and spicy, with heavy notes of cinnamon and clove.

aji de gallina Aji de Gallina
lomo saldado Lomo Saltado

My tried-and-true carnivore-friendly dish is Lomo Saltado, with marinated strips of sirloin stir-fried with onions and tomatoes soaking a bed of french fries and a side of white rice. A chicken version is also available.

My girlfriend opted for the Aji de Gallina, a mildly spicy creamed chicken dish with potatoes made an electric yellow from the Peruvian aji peppers. It's topped with a hard-boiled egg wedge, a black olive and served with a side of white rice.

Arriving just prior to our entrees was a small container of extremely spicy, verdant green aji pepper sauce, which in the United States is made typically with jalapeno peppers, onion and cilantro. Add just a dab to any entree for an extra spicy kick, but be warned: a little goes a long way.

Both dishes arrived piping hot with a striking presentation and generous portions. While my french fry-steak dish was best eaten immediately, the Aji de Gallina actually gets better as morning leftovers.

Sabor Peruano is a Cincinnati institution to be cherished as much as we do our LaRosas' and Skylines. Kick your trepidation squarely in the nuts and give this place a try.

Sabor Peruano Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sabor Peruano

Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)
Service: Good
Rating: 3.5 out of 43.5 stars

Other Recent Reviews

  1. A Very 90s Lunch: Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop
    -posted Sunday, November 19, 2017
  2. No-Nonsense Italian: The Spinning Fork
    -posted Monday, October 16, 2017
  3. A Mediocre Lunch at Firehouse Grill
    -posted Sunday, October 8, 2017
  4. Southern Indian Impressions: Udupi Cafe
    -posted Saturday, September 23, 2017
  5. New Downtown Korean Restaurant: Haru
    -posted Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
  • From Cincinnati Bites about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    Thanks for writing, Heather. I definitely like their other restaurants. Lalo's pazole and fish taco are better than Mazunte's, I think. But I agree they are definitely hit-or-miss. I'm still rooting for them, though. There's talent there. :)

    posted: Mon., Nov 20th, 2017 @ 1:30 PM
  • From Heather JOhnson about Dope! Noodle and Dumpling Shop:
    I tried Huit & Lalo and they were both expensive and so mixed - one thing great - another thing barely mediocre. More of the same it sounds like - hits and misses for a really expensive lunch. Nope on Dope.
    posted: Sun., Nov 19th, 2017 @ 12:41 PM
  • From TJ Jackson about Udupi Cafe:
    I do not know if it is truly a match for the product you remember, but Frostop Root Beer is sold at Jungle Jims and is a personal favorite of mine.
    posted: Fri., Sep 29th, 2017 @ 6:00 PM
  • From Jones about Haru Korean Restaurant:
    As a long time reader, I found this review to be one of your loveliest and most enthusiastically vivid. I can't wait to try this place!
    posted: Tue., Aug 29th, 2017 @ 9:48 AM
  • From Jordan about Grand Central Delicatessen:
    posted: Sat., Jun 3rd, 2017 @ 12:16 PM
  • From Tabitha about Tickle Pickle:
    Haha, love your comment: " If you were deemed "different" in high school, dressed "weird" or regularly got beat up only to go on to have a decidedly higher net worth and confidence level than the rest of your abusive, judgmental peers, Northside is your home away from home." I know I saw a Groupon for Tickle Pickle recently - might have to check if that's still available!
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:33 PM
  • From Tabitha about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    This is definitely going on the list. Thanks for posting. Do they also have margaritas?
    posted: Fri., Apr 14th, 2017 @ 12:23 PM
  • From holly may about Urban Grill on Main:
    This is Israeli couscous, the super tiny stuff is Moroccan. I personally prefer the Israeli (also known as "pearl".)
    posted: Fri., Mar 24th, 2017 @ 4:28 AM
  • From Sommer about Chilango Fresh Mexican:
    We really love having Chilango so close to us in the Kings area!!! We have gone a few times and you are right - the Chicken Tinga is the best chicken taco you can get in Cincinnati!!! Thanks for reviewing this little neighborhood gem!
    posted: Tue., Mar 21st, 2017 @ 9:12 AM
  • From Tabitha about Lalo:
    But...do they have margaritas?
    posted: Thu., Jan 12th, 2017 @ 12:32 PM
Where The Locals Eat featured blog
Cincinnati Web Design | Cincinnati Mobile Web Design