Peruvian cuisine is now available in the Central West End. Cocina Latina debuted with a soft opening in late February, featuring a variety of Latin American dishes from Peru, Cuba, Colombia and beyond.

The concept comes from Maritza Rios, a native of Peru who lived in New York – where she worked in restaurants specializing in everything from Japanese and Spanish to Italian cuisine – for 22 years before moving to the St. Louis area. Rios opened her first restaurant, El Paisano, in Jefferson County 18 years ago. Today, a separate location is still operating in south city.

“Being in New York and being exposed to so many different types of cuisines, you really just want to make everything,” Rios says. “Cocina Latina comes from my desire to share more than just one style of Latin food. We have different options including some of my family’s favorites.”

Cocina Latina fills an approximately 1,800-square-foot space with 50 seats. A year-long renovation and buildout resulted in a dining area outfitted with a new bar, booths and colorful paintings and upholstery by Jose Gomez, a local artist from Honduras. 

From the menu, choose from highlights such as jalea, a Peruvian appetizer featuring a mixture of deep-fried seafood with fried yuca and red onion salad. One of Rios’ personal favorite offerings, a Colombian-style empanada, features a savory fried pastry stuffed with beef and potato (a baked Peruvian-style option is also available).

According to Rios, ceviche is another must-try, featuring fish marinated in lime juice and seasoned with Peruvian aji limo (lemon drop) pepper, cilantro, garlic and red onion. Tostones, or fried plantain slices, are a fitting accompaniment to any meal, served with a tomato-based, salsa-like sauce.

Lomo saltado is another staple item, featuring sautéed marinated tenderloin steak with onions and tomatoes, served with fries and rice. Many dishes on the menu are prepared the way Rios’ grandmother used to make them, including Peruvian chicken tamales and papa rellena, a potato knish-like deep-fried dish made up of mashed potato, beef and onions. 

“We also have picarones, or Peruvian donuts. My grandma used to make them two or three times a year,” Rios says. “It’s made with sweet potato, squash and very little flour, deep fried and served with syrup. It’s all homemade.”

Additional dessert options include alfajores, or shortbread butter cookies filled with dulce de leche, as well as mazamorra, or Peruvian purple corn pudding. From the bar, choose from beverage options including Inca Kola, bottled beers, Pisco Sours, sangrias, Mojitos, Caipirinhas and more.

“I’m very excited to be here and very happy that I have the opportunity to open this tiny place that can offer a taste of South America,” Rios says. 

Cocina Latina is currently open daily for dinner from 5 to 10pm. Hours will tentatively expand at the end of the month to include lunch hours starting at 11am.

Cocina Latina, 508 N. Euclid, Central West End, St. Louis, Missouri, 314.696.2294, https://www.facebook.com/CocinasLatina/

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Mabel Suen is the St. Louis contributing editor for Feast.

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