PORTAGE PARK — A father and daughter have opened a Peruvian restaurant in Six Corners, realizing a longtime dream and filling a void left by a restaurant that closed during the pandemic.
Peru Criollo, 3938 N. Cicero Ave., offers authentic soul food from the Latin American country. The restaurant, which opened on April 1, took over the space of the Shilas restaurant. It features Peruvian murals painted by co-owner Diana Hoxsas and her brother, a well-known graffiti artist in New York known as T-KID.
Hoxsas, who has decades of experience in the industry and previously worked at a foodservice management company, said leaving her company job was “like rolling the dice” but has proved worthwhile. She enjoys working with her father, William Hoxsas, she said.
“Because of the demise of all these restaurants over these two years, there was an opportunity to see some sort of predictable future in the industry,” Diana Hoxsas said. “It seems fruitful. It’s a lot of work, but I’m happy.”
Diana Hoxsas said her father came up with the restaurant name Criollo (pronounced creo-yo), which means soul food.
“We want to stick to tradition,” said Hoxsas.
Peru Criollo offers meat and seafood dishes like ceviche, green pasta and steak, Peruvian paella, and cilantro beef stew. Other items include a fried potato ball with ground beef, raisins, olives and hard-boiled egg; stuffed avocados with a creamy chicken filling; Mussels with vegetable relish and purple corn pudding.
At the forefront of these dishes is 80-year-old chef Violetta Luz Caseres, who moved to Chicago from Peru in 1980. She has almost 40 years of cooking experience, having worked at Peruvian restaurants El Rinconcito Sudamerica in Logan Square and Taste of Peru in Rogers Park.
Luz Caseres ran a Peruvian restaurant with her nephew for four years and met William Hoxsas through business circles. He told her about his vision for a Peruvian restaurant on the Northwest Side – and that he wanted her to be his chef.
“At first I thought he was crazy,” said Luz Caseres in Spanish. “But then he found a seat and said, ‘Violetta, come and see what you think.'”
The team has spent the last few months renovating the site and painting the murals, which are inspired by Peruvian culture, Diana Hoxsas said. She plans to add more art to the entire back wall.
Luz Caseres said she is thrilled to be cooking her home country’s food for the community. Her favorite menu item might be lomo saltado, which is roasted flank steak or chicken with potatoes, onions and tomatoes in an Asian sauce, served with rice, she said.
“Lomo Saltado is the hallmark of our country… and I also love Peruvian ceviche,” she said.
Diana Hoxsas’ husband also helps out at the restaurant, with the team being close-knit, fun and supportive, she said.
In the future, Hoxsas hopes to invite local musicians to play on the weekends and host community events like football watch parties.
“I’ve seen a lot of families come over and they’re very open to new foods and their kids are open too,” Hoxsas said. “A lot of kids are picky eaters, but I’ve seen the opposite of that and that’s a big deal for me. … It’s like you’re making a difference.”
Peru Criollo is open Wednesday to Friday from 4pm to 10pm, Saturday from 2pm to 10pm and Sunday from 2pm to 9pm.
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