Peruvian fare is a tasty surprise

October 25, 2001|By Robin Tunnicliff Reid | Robin Tunnicliff Reid,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

THE best things we tried at Hamilton's new Mexican restaurant weren't Mexican. They were Peruvian.

That's not to say that the Mexican food at Los Amigos wasn't good. It was fine. But none of the Mexican dishes consumed measured up to the Peruvian fare. For those dishes alone we would return.

They're on the menu undoubtedly because one of the owners, Rosa Feria, is Peruvian and the former owner of a Peruvian restaurant in Washington. She says she chose Mexican for her current venture for the simple reason that it sells.

Yet, clearly she's rooting for the food of her homeland in any contest. When we were deciding between huevos rancheros -- fried eggs served on top of fried beans and rice -- and lomo saltido, a Peruvian meat dish, Feria whispered, "The lomo is much better."

She was right. No egg nor fried bean stood a chance of competing with the platter of lean, tender steak slices, sauteed tomatoes, herbs and red onions served on a bed of fried potato wedges. The accompanying ball of rice was superfluous but came in handy for absorbing all traces of delicious juices from the meat and vegetables.

The ceviche de pescado was outstanding. Los Amigos' version of this classic raw-seafood dish is Peruvian, Feria told us. It featured a generous portion of sea trout chunks marinated in a fresh-tasting dressing of lemon juice, cilantro, chopped onions, celery and chili peppers, nestled in iceberg lettuce.

Had we not ordered the ceviche, the quesadilla con chorizo's thin layer of spicy sausage filling would have made that appetizer the group's favorite; it was much more pleasing than the bland guacamole and chips.

Of the Mexican entrees, we liked the camarones con arroz (shrimp with rice) best, because it had equal amounts of spicy, well-cooked shrimp, tomatoes, green peppers, onions and rice. Our enchilada sampler was filling, but not especially tasty.

Drinks and desserts weren't remarkable. A frozen margarita was watery. The flan was just OK, as was the cheesecake. The crispy little sopapillas would have been delightful drizzled with honey and butter only, but for some unexplained reason, ours came with swirls of chocolate sauce, which made things far too sweet.

The addition of the chocolate sauce may be indicative of a staff that's trying very hard to please. The moment we walked in, we were hailed as amigos and treated accordingly. Our water glasses stayed filled. Our food came on cue. Nobody rushed us. Granted, we were one of only three groups dining in the small, simply decorated dining room that night. But the warmth we felt during the meal was genuine.

As it is now, Los Amigos is a friendly neighborhood restaurant with standard, reasonably priced Mexican food. What sets it apart from other Mexican places in town are its Peruvian dishes. Clearly, Los Amigos can prepare them well. We're hopeful that the owners will consider adding a few more to the roster.

Los Amigos

5506 Harford Road

410-444-4220

Open: For lunch and dinner daily

Credit cards: AE, MC, V

Prices: Appetizers $2.45 to $8.50; entrees $3.95 to $12.75

Food: **1/2

Atmosphere: **

Service: ***

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