Carrollton, TX 75007 (972) 323-4968
Candy Vera wants you to understand something – it’s not really a secret she wants to share; consider it a bit of insight learned through personal experience in South America. Candy Vera wants you to know this:
Mexican food and Peruvian food are not the same thing.
“You know, we’ve had people who were expecting to find Mexican or Tex-Mex come in here, take a look at our menu, and then try to walk out because they couldn’t find tacos or something like that,” she says of her restaurant, Inca’s Cafe in Carrollton. “But when we catch them in time, we have them try our food and we know they’ll come back.”
Inca’s, which serves more than 60 different offerings centered around a Peruvian influence, has for the past seven years been convincing its customers, both skeptical and willing, about the unique and varied offerings the Western South American country has to offer. From seafood to beef to chicken and even goat, Vera presents her customers with all aspects of the cuisine of her heritage.
“Basically, we’re trying to introduce Peruvian food into a not-so-Peruvian culture,” she says. “We still have a lot of the same Latin influence, like the rice and the beans, and while we’ve got a little bit of everything, there’s a much larger focus on the seafood.”
Ceviche is unquestionably the most well-known seafood dish to have originated in Peru, and while almost every South American country serves a particular kind of ceviche (Equador even serves theirs with a tomato-based sauce) Peru holds ultimate claim to the dish. Made with fish that has been ‘cooked’ in the acidic juice of limes or lemons, Peruvian ceviche is simple (and can be spicy) and easy, and a dish reflective of the country’s geography, which has a 1,500-mile coastline that makes up its Western border. It is clear that Inca’s takes their ceviches – they serve three different kinds – seriously.
“It’s just tangy, fresh, and a little spicy,” Vera says. “It’s an explosion of flavors, and we don’t serve it with crackers or tostadas, just a little bit of yams, so if it gets too spicy, you take a bite of something sweet and it goes away.”
It’s understandable that any Peruvian restaurant would have ceviche as a featured item on its menu, but Inca’s also has a goat dish (seco de cabrito) that has been awarded by the Dallas Observer as the best goat dish in their coverage area, and Vera suggests that the leche asada with purple corn pudding makes a nice dessert. And if you don’t feel like goat is your thing, there’s rotisserie chicken, bistec encebollado (steak topped with sauteed onions), or any other number of entrees and meats to choose from. There are so many choices, in fact, that it sometimes presents customers with a bit of a problem.
“A lot of people don’t know what to order from the menu because they want to get some of everything,” Vera says. “So we try to narrow it down by finding what their mood is: chicken, steak, seafood, or something else. Then we go from there.”
And whatever the main meal is, odds are it will go well with one of Inca’s pisco sours, a drink containing brandy, lemon or lime juice, egg whites and bitters, among a few other ingredients. It is, according to Vera, the Peruvian version of the Mexican margarita. It’s sharp and crisp, and lacks the acidic attack a margarita can sometimes carry. And if you have a few of them on Tuesdays, you might even get any courage you need to participate in Inca’s salsa-dancing lessons.
It may not be what you’d expect to find in a restaurant in a Carrollton strip mall, but the salsa dances are indicative of what goes on inside Inca’s doorway. It’s a celebration, really, and not just of Peruvian culture but extending to South American culture (and Cuban, where Salsa dancing was popularized) as a whole. The dancing and the food are about getting out and trying something a little different, a little spicier, a little fresher.
Maybe even a little less Mexican.