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Review: Leon Valley spot shines with Peruvian staples

May 7, 2019

Note: This is a Just a Taste review, which the Express-News does soon after a restaurant or bar opens to give our first impressions.

Hidden among the busy stretch of strip malls along Bandera Road through Leon Valley lies an Andean retreat in the restaurant Machu Picchu Peruvian Grill.

The space has hosted the flavors of ceviche, anticuchos and lomo saltado for a few years now, formerly under the banner of Festejo Peruvian Grill. The new outfit, which debuted in April, features a similar menu of bold and robust classics.

Machu Picchu grabs customers at the door. The air inside, which makes an immediate impact, is heady with the appetizing aromas of onion, chile and beef. Take a seat, place an order and get ready for a satisfying dose of South America.

On the menu: Ceviche is widely considered the national dish of Peru, and it’s a good place to start at Machu Picchu. Its version, listed as Ceviche de Pescado ($15.99), features a chunky dice of tilapia marinated in lime juice, cilantro, limo chile and red onion, accessorized with corn kernels two ways — both tender and hominylike, and toasted into crunchy corn nuts.

And because they can, they add a couple slices of sweet potato for good measure. Tilapia will never be a showstopper of a fish, but Machu Picchu’s tastes fresh, has a good texture and is served in a generous quantity, which makes this order feel like a value.

Anticuchos ($6.99) are a great introduction to beef heart if you’re not a regular offal eater. Machu Picchu’s version is well marinated in a savory sauce spiked with panca chiles for a big beefy flavor with the tender chew of a good steak.

The Tamales de Guatemala ($5.99) were chubby, packed with tender roasted pork and wrapped in banana leaves. I found them to be a respectable diversion from the slim, sparsely filled and corn husk-wrapped variety more commonly found in San Antonio, especially with the briny pickled red onions served alongside.

Machu Picchu’s lomo saltado ($12.99) was a largely inelegant and unmemorable mound of tough hangar steak and coarsely chopped onions and tomatoes in a thin and salty brown sauce over soggy french fries.

The Cau-Cau ($12.99) and Aji de Gallina ($12.99) both proved more interesting. The former is a stew of tripe and chile with a mild barnyard funk that will appeal to any menudo lover. The latter is a tangle of shredded chicken in a silken sauce tasting of nuts, chile and and other spices. They’re both traditional comfort foods in Peru and are given a slightly upscale touch here.

Machu Picchu Peruvian Grill doesn’t serve alcohol, but diners are welcome to bring their own beer or wine.

Paul Stephen is a food and drink reporter and restaurant critic in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | pstephen@express-news.net | Twitter: @pjbites | Instagram: @pjstephen