Dining With Denise Neil

Review: Tiny Wichita restaurant offers big Peruvian flavor

Our favorite dish at Gabby’s was the malaya dorado, a marinated skirt steak served with yuca fries on the side.
Our favorite dish at Gabby’s was the malaya dorado, a marinated skirt steak served with yuca fries on the side. The Wichita Eagle

With just three tables, Gabby’s Peruvian Restaurant in Delano is one of Wichita’s smallest restaurants.

But its menu packs some of Wichita’s biggest flavors, straight from Peru.

Friends and Peru natives Gabriela Cruzcam and Rosio Villanueva opened the restaurant early 2016 in the tiny space at 1713 W. Douglas that had previously held Wimpys Burgers. They wanted the building just as a home base for their year-old catering business, but since it had a dining room, they decided they might as well serve sandwiches and burgers during the day.

Just for fun, on the weekends only, they offered a menu of Peruvian favorites – arroz con pollo, chicharron, fried tilapia and the like.

But word quickly spread and demand quickly grew for the Gabby’s unique Peruvian specialties, which aren’t regularly available anywhere else in Wichita, and not long ago, the owners wisely tweaked the concept and started serving that menu every day they’re open. The also tweaked the name, and Gabby’s Catering became Gabby’s Peruvian Restaurant and Catering.

The flavorful, exotic dishes have become so popular, Cruzcam wants to move the restaurant to a bigger space – and she has one in mind. In the meantime, customers who want to try the food need to be willing to either wait for a seat or take the food to go.

▪ ON THE MENU: Gabby’s menu is full of dishes most of us have never tried, and that’s a good thing in Wichita, where new restaurants usually offer versions of the same-old, same-old. But Peruvian food is not so exotic that it will turn off cautious eaters. Most of the dishes are made with roasted beef, pork and chicken, potatoes and seafood.

Fans of Peruvian food will recognize the names of several dishes, including the chicharron sandwich, a beef stir fry known as lomo saltado, arroz con pollo and flan.

▪ DON’T-MISS DISHES: We sampled several dishes, and it was difficult to choose a favorite. But judging by the speed with which we made it disappear, our favorite had to have been the Malaya Dorada, an entree that featured skirt steak that had been boiled with vegetables, marinated then grilled. The dish featured a generous serving of the meat, which was fall-apart, fork tender and coated in a rub that was salty but robust. On the side were three big slices of fried yuca, a scoop of rice and a salad made of lettuce, sliced red onion, tomato and cilantro.

As good as the beef was, Gabby’s ceviche de pescado put up some tough competition. It was a generous serving of chopped tilapia, shrimp and calamari that had been cooked in the acid of its lime juice marinade and was mixed with garlic, red onions and cilantro. A slice of sweet potato and some crunchy fried bits of corn were served on the side. The fish was tender and had a mild flavor, but the dish itself was exploding with bright lime zing and instantly transported my palate to the beach.

We also tried the arroz con pollo, which featured two pieces of cilantro-marinated roasted chicken on top of a bed of rice that was spiked with peas and carrots. The chicken had an unusual green hue from its cilantro marinade, but the meat was tender and juicy. The rice itself was a bit bland, but the sliced cold sliced potatoes smothered in huancaina sauce on the side weren’t. The unusual dish is known as papa a la huancaina, and the bright yellow sauce is served cold and made by combining cream cheese and an aji amarillo pepper then blending until smooth.

The day we visited, Gabby was sending out appetizer servings of yuca frita: thick-cut slices of yuca root fried crisp and served with a side of the huancaina sauce for dipping. Fried yuca tastes just like fried potato, only the outside fries up crispier and the inside is even more dense. We’d happily have paid for that appetizer.

We did happily pay for the papa rellena appetizer, which was a fried potato croquette stuffed with ground beef, slices of hard boiled eggs and raisins. The appetizer portion includes one large croquette whose potato casing was fried until crispy and golden. The filling wasn’t as exotic as it sounds – I couldn’t even taste the raisins. But the ground beef was saucy with a mild spice. It was served with a side the cheese sauce and a green salsa. This appetizer is a must-try.

On Sunday mornings, Cruzcam also serves a Peruvian breakfast that comes with one Peruvian tamal, chicharron, sweet potato, bread and coffee.

▪ AMBIENCE: The dining room is so small and has room enough for one four-top and two two-tops. If you can get a seat, you can see Cruzcam and her cooks in the back preparing the dishes.

▪  PRICE RANGE: Sandwiches are $8. Appetizers are $5.50 to $7.50. Entrees are $8.50 to $15.99. Sunday breakfast is $12.99.

▪ SERVICE: Fast and friendly.

Ratings reflect the critic’s judgment of the food, service and atmosphere in relation to the price. If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.

Gabby’s Peruvian Restaurant

and a half out of four

Where: 1713 W. Douglas, 316-613-8050

Type of food: Peruvian

Alcohol: No

Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays; closed Mondays and Tuesdays

Website: www.gabbyscateringwichita.com/