Step Into Peru in Uptown Long Beach
By TASHA W. HUNTER
The memory is very clear.
It was on a “California cold” Monday night in January when I received a reminder text that the Deforest Park Neighborhood Association was having their Dine-Out 90805 event at El Pollo Imperial. Judging by the name, you may assume the restaurant is all about chicken, but you’d be proven wrong.
Upon entering the location, you’re greeted with the aromatic fragrance of bold spices, onion and sheer deliciousness, usually followed by a warm welcome from the owner Oscar Ramirez, and some familiar locals.
The walls stand adorned with relics and cultural pieces – photos of Machu Pacchu, and newspaper clippings that submerge you into Peru, juxtaposed with red booths, tables, chairs and a menu filled with delicious food for everyone to enjoy, including vegetarians, pescatarians and meat eaters, too.
El Pollo Imperial first opened its doors in April 2010.
“This is our first of many locations to come,” Ramirez says. “We chose to open our restaurant in North Long Beach because there were no other Peruvian restaurants in the area, and we love the city and the people here.”
Alicia Cortez, the wife of business partner Carlos Cortez, is the mastermind in the kitchen.
“This restaurant is special because our food is like grandma’s,” she says. “It’s authentic, it’s healthy and flavorful. We have a drive-through, but we are not fast food. We take our time to make good food.”
“We are a casual-fusion restaurant.” Ramirez adds. “Peru has many people from all over the world and it is represented in the food.”
He mentioned that Peru is heavily influenced by Chinese, Spanish, French and African cuisine. Hence the variation of spices, rice dishes mixed with french fries, vegetables, and more.
Some of their traditional dishes also include Cordero (lamb).
Pop into El Pollo Imperial during their bustling lunch hours and you’ll find a crowd as diverse as the food; filled with educators, construction workers, artists, executives, locals, and you may even run into local City Council members or even Mayor Robert Garcia.
The lunch specials are full-size meals at a fraction of the price and each comes with homemade bread and chicken soup or a salad.
No meal would be complete without the proper beverage, which, of course, are authentic and traditional Peruvian beverages – Inka Cola, Chicha Morada (purple corn punch), Maracuya (passion fruit juice), along with coffee, tea, and traditional American sodas – for the less adventurous.
One of the many highlights of El Pollo Imperial is the Aji Verde sauce, perfect for any palate that enjoys a little spice. Each table gets a squeeze jar filled with this thick and delicious cilantro-based condiment that is good on practically anything, from the bread to the salad to the yucca frita, plantains and saltado camerones.
Too bad this masterfully crafted recipe will remain a house secret… For now.
However, we can give you a recipe for Arroz Verde – a green cilantro rice.
El Pollo Imperial is conveniently located in Uptown Long Beach at 5991 Atlantic Ave., close to both the 91 and 710 freeways. They are open seven days a week: Monday – Friday 10:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sundays 9:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. for dine in or takeout.
Arroz Verde (Green Rice or Cilantro Rice)
1/2 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro sprigs (about 1/2 oz.)
1 cup tightly packed fresh stemmed spinach leaves (about 1-1/2 oz.)
1-1/4 cups milk
1-1/4 cups chicken broth (can be substituted with Vegetable broth)
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. olive oil
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups long-grain rice
1/4 cup minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
Place the cilantro, spinach, and broth in a blender and blend until the vegetables are puréed. Next add the milk and salt and blend until it is well mixed.
In a medium saucepan, over medium heat, heat the olive oil and butter. When the butter is melted, add the rice and sauté, stir every 30 seconds, until it begins to turn brown, (approx.. 3 to 4 minutes). Add the onion and garlic and cook 1 minute, stir constantly. Add the contents of the blender, stir well, then turn the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Cover the pan, turn the heat to low, and cook for 20 minutes. Stir the rice carefully to avoid crushing it, cover, and cook another 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let the rice steam in the covered pot for another 10 minutes. Serve hot.