One no longer has to board a plane to experience the unparalleled excellence of the Peruvian table. The owners of newly opened Ñusta’s Cafe, Cesar Melendez and Eliseo Figueroa, hail from Lima, Peru, and their mission is simple: to introduce guests to purely Peruvian food, no corners cut. Since “Ñusta” means princess or queen, the Divas were excited to be dining like royalty.
“It’s nice,” Rebecca commented. “I couldn’t believe it when I came in.” There’s low lighting, with ceiling tiles that glow with Incan words, and you might even spot a Peruvian princess decked out in traditional princess garb if you’re lucky. Owner Eliseo Figueroa greeted us and throughout the meal provided the rich stories behind the food we were enjoying.
From Street Food to Ceviche
Our first appetizer was Causa Crocante ($6.99), whipped potato that is fried and served with shrimp sauce. It was mouthwatering.
Colbea went for seconds. “The outside reminds me of a fancy corn dog. There’s a nice texture difference, a crispy outside and a soft inside.”
The Divas were surprised to hear that Peruvian food actually has hints of Asian influence due to mass immigration to Peru from Asia in the 19th century. Our next dish, Ceviche ($13.99), had a distinct Japanese flair: swai fish—a flaky fish in the shark family—that is marinated for just 10 minutes in fresh lime and spices and served with fresh ginger, Peruvian peppers and Canchita corn.
“The tartness hits you immediately. It woke me up,” Alex joked.
Barbara savored it before commenting, “The fish has a nice mild but sweet flavor to it … the spice might be from serrano chiles.”
After the Ceviche, the Divas tried Anticuchos ($6.99), grilled skewers inspired by food carts of Peru. Potatoes and corn accompany skewers of meat seasoned with Peruvian sun-dried peppers.
Alex was particularly impressed. “I can see how it’s street food. I can taste the smokiness, the strong flavor.” She and Colbea also noticed a citrusy sweetness while Barbara raved about the potatoes and noted that the gaminess of the meat was indicative of the street food style.
Drinks, drinks, drinks
Our drinks course was the perfect remedy for boiling summer heat. First, we tried Chica Morada, a classic Peruvian drink made with purple corn, pineapple, passion fruit and lots of cinnamon, served refreshingly cold with a sprig of mint. It was followed by fantastic cocktails like Chilanco, a tart and simple mix of pisco, lime, cilantro and ginger simple syrup that briefly stunned Colbea into silence.
“It’s got a nice undertone of sweetness with a hint of cilantro for a kick,” she said and went back for more.
On the other end of the spectrum came the Maracuya Sour, passion fruit puree and pisco, whipped and served in a martini glass.
“I love how it’s whipped which makes it really fluffy, before you get hit by this heady sweetness,” Alex said.
The final drink was a bold Mojito in a mason jar with drowned herbs swirling in the ice and a fantastic garnish. “That is real sugar cane,” Rebecca pointed out. “You don’t see that often.”
Spice and style
Our first entree, Jalea ($17.99) was an impressive platter of assorted fried seafood including calamari, shrimp, clams and scallops, paired with yucca, salsa criolla (a popular sauce with fresh onions and lime), Peruvian corn and a creamy housemade aioli.
“The scallops are my favorite; they have such a fresh citrus flavor,” Alex said, digging a clam shell out of the pile while Rebecca was particularly head over heels for the fried yucca, a root vegetable starchier than potatoes.
“I thought, looking at the dish, that it was going to be all breading and tough,” Barbara commented. “But the seafood is very, very tender and flavorful.”
Next, the Divas were truly treated with Pachamanca ($25), a rare special that you’ll only find at Ñusta’s Cafe on weekends. Served in a large pot, it’s full of potatoes, pork, beef, chicken and tamales. The meat has been marinated in Peruvian beer and cooked in hard-to-find spices for three hours.
“Everybody has to try these tamales,” Rebecca exclaimed after one delighted bite.
The Divas discovered another Asian influence in a wok stir fry with beef tenderloin, onions and tomatoes, seasoned with soy sauce and a hint of red wine. Lomo Saltado ($16.99) also featured homemade fries, which the Divas discovered in nearly all the dishes.
Rebecca, our potato connoisseur, loved it: “It’s like fajitas but better because it has potatoes.”
Alex agreed, “We’ve really had potatoes every way you can have them.”
Barbara particularly loved the balance of flavors in this dish. “This is one of my favorites. It’s like an Asian stir fry but not as heavy. It’s delicious.”
Finishing with flair
We were spoiled with the grande finale, a plate of three desserts.
First was Alfajores ($3.99), little cookies generously dusted in powdered sugar, simple and delightful. Next, we had a warm parfait-like dessert starring traditional mazamorra morada, and topped with Peruvian rice pudding, Clasico Arroz con Leche y Mazamorra Morada ($5.99), popular on cooler days.
“It’s like a warm blackberry pie with texture,” Colbea concluded. “But without the breading. It saves on calories!”
Flan with Chocolate Cake ($6.99), served with whipped cream and a cherry, really stole the show. Even Barbara, Plano Profile’s savvy Food Editor, hadn’t ever seen anything quite like it before.
“It makes sense,” Alex reasoned. “I’ve never had flan on top of cake before. But they’re both delicious, so why not?”
Barbara was particularly intrigued by the possibilities of these two different desserts served together. “There’s such an interesting contrast in texture. It’s very good.” Needless to say, the cake was the first to vanish from our plates.
Pure Peruvian food is impossible to find anywhere else in Plano. The Divas left Ñusta’s Cafe feeling very spoiled, with a new appreciation for a new cuisine. The commitment to fresh ingredients and bold flavors found at Ñusta’s Cafe means the Divas fully intend to be back for more.
Ñusta’s Cafe | 621 W. Plano Pkwy. Suite 247 Plano, TX 75075 | 469.814.9514 | nustascafe.com