Community Commentary Food, Restaurants & Dining Fara Illich February 25, 2014

El Chullo
In Peruvian Spanish, “el chullo” refers to a special type of hat worn in the Andes to protect against harsh winter temperatures. While the term may not be familiar, most people would likely recognize these hats with their earflaps and tassels. This kind of headgear may not be required for any winter here in the Valley; however, this season has brought a restaurant by the same name to the Downtown food scene.
Located on the northeast corner of Seventh Street and Virginia Avenue, El Chullo opened less than two months ago. Omar, a friendly and knowledgeable graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale, runs the restaurant with his younger brother and parents, who recently moved up from Lima, Peru. Together, they combine excellent traditional Peruvian cooking, personable service and a casual atmosphere that stand out among a handful of notable eateries located nearby.
My previous experience with Peruvian food had been at a high-caliber restaurant in Portland, Ore. called Andina; the food was superb, the atmosphere was electric and the bill was expensive. As soon as I sat down in the warm glow of El Chullo’s yellow walls and dark wood accents, I quickly scanned the menu for its price range. Most entrees fall between $10 and $15, and the portion sizes are generous. My date night rounded out to about $35 after tip.
We sat at the bar and were immediately served a small bowl of fried corn kernels and sample of “chicha,” a purple drink produced by boiling purple corn with pineapple juice and cinnamon. We perused the menu (pun intended) as Jose, our waitor, recommended a couple of appetizers to get us started. We chose the Yuca frita and papa rellena. Later, we split the aji de gallina, a chicken dish from the entrée menu.
Simply put, each dish was delicious. “Yuca frita” means fried Yucca root; the lightly fried slices of the root are served with two different creamy sauces, huancaina and ocopa, both made from a combination of chiles. I tasted the Yuca frita and knew that every penny would be well spent. The papa rellena was a savory dumpling style dish made from potato dough and pork. As we snacked on our appetizers, we chatted with the brothers about their experiences in Phoenix so far and ingredients of the dishes. The Friday night dinner crowd slowly trickled into the restaurant, and we watched the brothers serve each customer with the same warm enthusiasm.
Finally, our entree was placed before us. The aji de gallina combines shredded chicken and a creamy cheddar sauce over a layer of potatoes with a side of pyramid-shaped rice. All in all, the dish was simple but satisfying. Each flavor and texture worked well to provide a dense, savory taste. By the time we finished the dish, my date and I were both very full and happy with our choice. We finished our meal with a shot of mango juice and patron, the Peruvian equivalent of tequila according to Jose.
Talking with Omar, I mentioned my previous experience with Peruvian food. He quickly recognized the name and knew the cook.
“They offer a fusion of traditional Peruvian ingredients with a Spanish tapas style presentation,” he said. “When we were planning our menu, we decided to serve Peruvian dishes but incorporate more contemporary plating.”
For a new restaurant, El Chullo has their act together. Each element of an enjoyable dining experience is there: authentic food thoughtfully prepared, inviting and knowledgeable staff, and a relaxed atmosphere. Of my restaurant experiences in Phoenix over the last eight months, El Chullo ranks among my favorites. Plan your next night out to go enjoy every aspect of what this restaurant has added to Downtown’s cuisine offerings.