Going farther than I typically do, I went to San Mateo to explore the wonders of Latin cuisine at Mancora Cebicheria. Because it has such good reviews on Yelp, I decided to check it out. The first time driving past it, I almost missed it. It is a nondescript restaurant, blending in with the buildings next to it: not exactly “hole in the wall,” but just nondescript. Inside was the most organized scene of chaos I’ve seen. A stout, red-faced man ran from table to table making accommodations for the coming customers, and a waiter with greased hair ran around taking orders. There was a bit of a wait before I was seated since it was pretty packed.
The menu is a simple one, very similar to Heidi’s Pies’ menu: various items displayed along the sides and filled with color. When we sat down, a small tray of nuts, what appeared to be raisins, and a little cup of sauce was placed on our table. If you feel masochistic, or just love extremely spicy foods try the sauce; otherwise avoid it at all costs — I had to learn it the hard way.
To drink I had the ‘Maracuya’ which is Peruvian passion fruit juice. It was really good — it tasted naturally sweet, not like some chemical cocktail injected into a soda, but rather a genuine sweetness. It had a few of what seemed to be pineapple pieces in it, which were extremely flavorful after soaking up the passion fruit juice. The juice itself quite sweet (though not too much), and gave the illusion that it was syrupy, which was a cool feeling as it traveled down my esophagus.
The food was probably some of the best Peruvian food I’ve had for a while — I daresay even better than the Peruvian cuisine I had in San Francisco a while back. It had that earthy taste to it, reminiscent of the heavy use of ingredients like potatoes, which is traditionally used in the cuisine.
I also ate two anticuchos, which are Peruvian beef heart skewers. They were an enigma themselves, having a texture similar to that of chicken liver, which puzzled me. They were very rich for pieces of beef smaller than my palm — I began having a small sensation of fullness after being only halfway through the second one.
Avoid the sauce it comes with unless your tongue is a husk of burn resistant scar tissue; it left my mouth in a raging inferno until I drank a third of my maracuya juice. It had that aforementioned earthy taste and was heavily flavored. Also order a few of the skewers; one won’t be enough to fill you.
I also got a taste of the “Lomo Saltado,” a meal consisting of beef and potatoes but in this case french fries. The beef’s drippings were very tasty when slathered onto the antichuchos’ meat. The pieces of beef were extremely tender, and the french fries were drenched in the beef’s sauce. What a wonderful medley of flavors it was.
While it was far more diverse and colorful than the plain anticuchos, I did prefer the anticuchos over it, simply because the flavor and strength of it were far more apparent (I also have been dying to try them ever since I discovered Peruvian food).
Lastly, perhaps the most tantalizing item I tried that day was the dessert. It was a shame I couldn’t explore it earlier, because it was so beautiful — not only in the presentation sense but the way it exploded with deliciousness. First was the lucuma ice cream, made with lucuma, which is a fruit native to Peru and the Andean Valley. It is sometimes called “the hidden ice cream gem of South America,” and I definitely saw why.
It was a very light ice cream, almost the flavor of butterscotch, with a hint of coffee, but light enough that it isn’t overpowering like some ice creams. It was already good, but it got even better.
I also ate an alfajore, a traditional Peruvian cookie, topped with powdered sugar and filled with dulce de leche. This cookie was so good, an entire review on just this cookie could only be sufficient to describe it. I ate it together with the ice cream and was blown away by how good it was.
Two intersecting flavors: one light, one rich, one soft, one solid, and yet they ran parallel with their flavors. Simply spectacular are the only two words I could describe what it was like.
Definitely go here; now you can finally brag to your friends that you’ve had Latin food that isn’t from Chipotle. Tip: if you’re having trouble finding the restaurant, look for the yellow sign on the above the restaurant saying “Mancora” in large letters.