Restaurant Review: Isolina Taberna Peruana

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Over the course of the past two months, I have read numerous glowing reviews and articles about Isolina,  extolling its criollo cuisine.

This type of traditional cuisine was prepared mostly in homes, thus when served today is food reminiscent of what mothers and grandmothers prepared many years ago. Isolina has managed to resurrect these old traditional family recipes which were fading a bit.

They are not reinventing these criollo dishes, but reaching down into the roots of this cuisine and serving simple and delicious dishes. You will not find fusion cooking here. Hopping on the bandwagon, I can say that I really and truly enjoy the food – even food that might have made me cringe in the past.

isolina
(Photo: Carsten Korch/Peru this Week)

Isolina is named in honor of José del Castillo’s mother, Isolina Vargas. There is something to be said about a man that names his restaurant in honor of his mother. Just another reason to like this restaurant. Content diners have been enjoying Isolina Vargas’ popular cebicheria, La Red, for decades now. La Red was opened by Isolina Vargas over 30 years ago and years later her son, José del Castillo, took over the reins.

Isolina was a four-year project in the making, mostly due to the extensive renovations that took place inside this 1906 historical grand home along with all the paperwork, rules, regulations and licenses necessary in the process of opening a restaurant of this magnitude.

isolina
(Photo: Carsten Korch/Peru this Week)

The two-story interior evokes a rustic charm, with high ceilings, lots of vintage and charming whimsical touches throughout (such as wire whisk lighting fixtures, just to name one), finished and unfinished woodwork everywhere you look, including a few areas which have intentionally exposed quincha. The natural lighting throughout the restaurant is fabulous as well. You have the option of either sitting at the tall tables with high stools or the standard tables and chairs with a back, all depending on your comfort level. (I go for the standard table and chairs since I feel more comfortable eating with my feet touching the ground. I am not a fan of stools.) There is also a semi-private seating area located on the second level with space for six to 10 people.

My new favorite cocktail of this summer was the pisco tonic. I ordered one for the first time at Isolina at the beginning of February and have been hooked ever since. It is the perfect refreshing summer cocktail. Isolina uses Pisco Huamani in all of their pisco concoctions.

I also enjoyed their pejerrey sandwich during my first visit as well as one of my favorite dishes they serve, higado encebollado con tacu tacu de frejoles negros: fried liver with plenty of sautéed onions, slices of tomatoes and slivers of _ají amarillo_ served atop a glorious mixture of tacu tacu prepared with black beans and rice. This is just one of the many popular dishes at Isolina.

ceviche
Cebiche accompanied by pieces of fried octopus (Photo: Carsten Korch/Peru this Week)

My second visit to Isolina took place in March. The restaurant was packed on a Thursday that I visited with Peru This Week team. We commenced our meal with the cebiche de chicharrón de pulpo, a generous portion of corvina ceviche alongside crunchy, fried octopus. There was plenty for the three of us to share.

Once again I was very pleased when they brought the pan con pejerrey to our table. I have a couple favorite places in Lima where I go for this sandwich, but Isolina most definitely serves one of the best. They use an excellent quality pan francés and the pejerrey has the right amount of crunchy texture and a perfect amount of salsa criollo. This pejerrey sandwich is a must!

sandwich
A delectably crunchy sandwich (Photo: Carsten Korch/Peru this Week)

Isolina’s version of escabeche de bonito was also very popular at our table. It is prepared with the stronger bonito fish (originates from the tuna family) which handles the pickling process very well. The fish is cooked first and then marinated in a mixture of olive oil, vinegar, onions and other spices. The sauce from this escabeche was so flavorful that we requested bread to soak it up so as not to waste a drop.

Isolina serves a Cau Cau con Sangrecita dish on their menu. Typically I am not a fan of cau cau (tripe), yet I found Isolina’s version to be quite flavorful and tender, not the overly chewy texture that I have had at other restaurants. Sangrecita is an acquired taste for some, but I have always enjoyed this mixture of beef blood prepared with onions, green onions, bell pepper, and cumin, as well as other spices and seasonings. It is a cross between pudding and a ground sausage texture.

caucau
Spices and seasonings of the cau cau dish form a tasty combination (Photo: Carsten Korch/Peru this Week)

The Tortilla de sesos de antaño arrived at our table. This was the first time that I ever tried this dish. I was told that the sesos used in this tortilla were cow brains. The brains were incorporated into this mild egg tortilla and accompanied by a salsa of finely chopped onions and peppers. At first, I was a bit skeptical about eating brains, but I found this dish to be quite pleasant and mild. Not everyone at my table enjoyed this dish as much as me, but I truly think you need to get over food phobias and at least try to be experimental occasionally with food. Many people are quite leery about eating innards, however, I definitely would try this dish again.

tortilla
Tortilla de sesos (Photo: Carsten Korch/Peru this Week)

The table favorite most definitely had to be the seco de asado de tira con frejoles y arroz; so tender you only need the fork, no knife required. The meat (tender short ribs) was extremely tender and succulent. It was a rich dish full of incredible flavor from the cilantro and other ingredients used in the sauce of the seco. Accompanied by rice and beans, we managed to polish off this plate rapidly.

seco
A juicy plate of perfectly cooked seco (Photo: Carsten Korch/Peru this Week)

I may not be a native Peruvian, but I am married to one. His eyes lit up when I began to name all of the dishes on Isolina’s menu such as patitas, rinoncitos al vino (kidneys in wine sauce), olluquito con charqui, estofado (stew), pepian de choclo and mondonguito a la italiana to name a few. My husband told me these dishes were from a somewhat bygone era of cuisine, dishes mostly prepared in the home. Now many of these dishes can be found at Isolina.

The reasonable prices, portions and incredible flavors of the food served at Isolina are reasons enough to return. It is a perfect place to go with a group of friends or family. This food was meant to be shared. If I did not live all the way in La Punta, I could easily picture myself eating on a weekly basis at Isolina.

Isolina Taberna Peruana
Calle Domeyer 202 (corner with Av. San Martin)
Barranco
Phone: 247-5075
Open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-1 a.m., Sunday and Monday 12 p.m.-5 p.m.
Reservations accepted
No valet parking
Limited street parking available

Starters: S/. 15-60
Main Dishes: S/. 35-70
Bar: S/. 18-35
Beer: S/. 9 (domestic), S/. 20 (artisanal)
Non-alcoholic beverages: S/. 5-20

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Sheila Christensen Jeanneau

Sheila was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She spent several years in Denver, Colorado at Regis University and lived eleven years in Fort Lauderdale, Florida before moving with her Peruvian husband to live full-time in Peru in 2007. An epicurean at heart, Sheila first became inspired about food and cooking through the fantastic cooks in her Danish family. In her free time, Sheila is a volunteer at an orphanage, is involved in sports, including tennis and spinning, and loves exploring Peru’s incredible cuisine.