If you were to compare Papa Llama to other area Peruvian restaurants based solely on their menus, you might conclude the new Curry Ford West restaurant was a little meagre in its offerings. Three small plates, or appetizers, and four main dishes isn’t exactly an abundancia of selections.
But just taste the avocado anticuchero with its sulky chili sauce or the arroz chaufa with chicken and overweight kernels of corn and you’ll wonder why the other restaurants bother with any other menu items.
Even the lomo saltado, which is something of a national dish and found on every Peruvian restaurant’s menu, is somehow more special here. Perhaps it’s because the menu is so uncluttered that the kitchen can give more attention to the quality of the few items it offers.
Whatever the reason, Papa Llama is a restaurant worth visiting, regardless of the specialized cuisine.
Papa Llama, which is owned by Kevin and Maria Ruiz, had previously existed as a pop-up entity. The announcement that they would set down in the former King’s Pizza space in a Winn-Dixie plaza on Curry Ford Road was made more than a year ago. But, you know, 2020.
The compact space glows through the storefront’s windows. The interior, by dap design, a lowercased Orlando architectural firm, is minimalistic but warm, with unadorned walls and three well-spaced block-wood tables with brown leather chairs across from the exposed kitchen workspace. It’s a testament to good lighting that the dining area can be so inviting next to the stainless steel-dominated kitchen.
With so few seats, Papa Llama emphasizes its curbside pickup program. More on that in a moment.
The food was all neatly packaged in recyclable/compostable cardboard containers and clearly labeled.
The box containing triangles of toasted sourdough bread, for example, bore a note that it was meant to be used with the avocado anticuchero, a half of a Haas, sliced and covered with a thick aji panca, or chili paste that had been livened with a blowtorch. The creamy avocado spread easily on the toast and the oily chili paste gave it an earthy note.
The papa rellena, another starter course, featured two large croquettes fashioned out of mashed potatoes with aji amarillo, a yellow pepper, and a filling of ground beef and softly boiled egg. I liked it with a creamy hot sauce that was provided in my takeout bag.
Arroz chaufa was a Peruvian version of fried rice that was influenced by Chinese immigrants. In fact, if you weren’t ordering it from a Peruvian menu you probably wouldn’t notice much difference. But there are subtleties, such as the inclusion of choclo, a giant Peruvian corn, and some more of that aji panca. The dish included sauteed bok choy and delicate mung bean sprouts.
The lomo – Papa Llama drops the saltado from the title – had tender tidbits of skirt steak stir fried with cherry tomatoes and red onions topped with fries and accompanied, in a separate container, by fluffy jasmine rice. Rice and fried potatoes – I love a double-starched entree. I’ve eaten many versions of this dish; this one was memorable.
Papa Llama has an online ordering system, on the Tock platform, but it was a bit wonky. I placed my order before the restaurant opened, but when I tried to choose a time for pickup, the form would only allow for 6 p.m., which is what time the restaurant opens. I would have preferred later but I agreed to the early pickup time. Tock also requires registration, which can be annoying, but it did allow me to prepay and leave a gratuity.
Arriving at the restaurant, I attempted to call but got a voice message telling me to send a text. Instead, I parked my car and waited outside the restaurant for another customer to leave. When she did, a young woman followed her out to get my name. In a couple of minutes, she returned with my bag and her thanks for my business.
Papa Llama joins the other independent restaurants that have brightened up this stretch of Curry Ford Road (and this somewhat dreary plaza in particular). They’re all helping to make this district one of the more interesting culinary destinations in town.