Mario’s vs. Inti: Donde Esta the Under $10 Peruvian Food in This Town?
Anybody who has ever lived on the West coast will tell you that there is no good Mexican food in New York City, but I have to say… while I did find a decent taco or two during my 5 years in Midtown, I *never* found any good Peruvian food. I had an ok plate of lomo saltado in Brooklyn once, and a Peruvian owned Cuban chain in Midtown served aji (the Peruvian “green sauce”) with everything. But it was nothing like what you can get here, and I have to say I really missed it.
So a few days after I moved in I started getting the itch for some saltado de mariscos.
Being from Miami (where Cuban food reigns supreme), I wasn’t even introduced to Peruvian food until I lived here. And it happened at the place where most out of town-ers who move to Hollywood are introduced to Peruvian food: the famous Mario’s Peruvian (5786 Melrose, on Vine). My favorite was their saltado de mariscos (seafood sauteed with french fries, onions, and tomatoes) topped with that addictive green sauce, and warm bread chaser. I knew in my heart of hearts that there was probably better, less well known Peruvian spots one could eat at in L.A. But the food internets weren’t what they are now, and none of my friends knew any other place. So Mario’s was our spot back then, and Mario’s is where I went this week to satisfy my craving…
Only one problem. I returned to Mario’s to discover that their dishes are all over $10! And the saltado de mariscos was almost $13! In other words… not a Midtown Lunch. Admittedly you could argue a bunch of things in their favor. First, the portions are huge… and some might say could be *gasp* shared. Screw that. I know there are ton of people in this city (non of whom are reading this site, I’m assuming) who are all about things like “reducing carbs” and “portion control” and “not dying of a heart attack at the age of 40″. But whatever. Get your hands off my saltado.
A second and more convincing argument would be that seafood is not something you want to get cheap with. True, but I’ve had some pretty great fish off a truck in NYC for under $5. I can’t help it. When it comes to lunch, I’m a cheap bastard. And, even the pollo saltado and lomo saltado are over $10. I love you Mario’s, and you’re delicious… but you’re not a Midtown Lunch.
Thankfully I noticed Inti, a Peruvian restaurant just a block west on Melrose. (I was super hungry, and wanted my saltado de mariscos!) And not only was everything on their menu a few bucks less than Mario’s, but the place is a lot sketchier… aka less appealing to white people… aka Midtown Lunch’ish. Sadly the saltado de mariscos was still over $10, but the lomo saltado was exactly $10- making it technically a Midtown Lunch.
Inti’s lomo saltado was better than any Peruvian food I ever found in NYC, and while most would probably say Mario’s is better- it’s not a complete and utter blow out- although I’d probably side with Mario’s if push came to shove. There weren’t really any tomatoes to speak of, and it had a much more pronounced soy sauce flavor (“saltado” is actually a Chinese influenced Peruvian dish, which probably explains why I love it so much.) Where Mario’s does blow Inti away is their green sauce. Inti’s version is more watery, and not nearly as spicy (i.e. you could actually dip your bread entirely into the sauce, and eat it without breaking a sweat.)
So while I liked Inti, and it’s totally worthwhile on those days when Mario’s is a madhouse (aka all the time), it’s not the ideal Midtown Lunch Peruvian spot. I know there’s better… and more importantly I know there’s cheaper. Got any suggestions? I’m willing to travel…
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- Good Peruvian food, and slightly cheaper than Mario’s!
- No wait (unlike Mario’s)
- I like my places to be slightly off the beaten path, and Mario’s is way to well known
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- It’s not as good as Mario’s, and I’d rather pay the extra $$ for the quality
- Inti’s green sauce is not nearly spicy enough… and kind of watery (and while we’re at it, their bread isn’t as good either)
- Too much soy sauce in the saltado, not enough tomatoes
- Sure, it’s cheaper… but the portions are smaller. So you get what you pay for!
Inti Peruvian Cuisine, 5870 Melrose Ave. (on Cahuenga), 323-962-2027