It’s been about eight months since my first encounter with Renzo Machiavello, the vivacious Peruvian who’s name graces this restaurant. It was my friend Mahesh who first brought me here and from that very first moment, I was enamored by this small, unassuming place, which has given me some of the tastiest food I’ve had.
I love Peruvian food and surprisingly there are quite a number of them in Orange County. I’ve tried a lot of it and have my favorite haunts AND favorite dishes. I’m a bit of a stickler when it comes to Peruvian and can’t seem to shake ordering lomo saltado every single time. It’s as if that’s my marker for any good Peruvian restaurant.
So it is with great shock when I am told that there is no lomo saltado on the menu. SAY WHAT? Nope. “We have an oven and a steamer, there is no way to have a wok in here needed to make lomo saltado”. I was bummed!
However, any skepticism was soon quashed when I tasted what there was on offer. Ceviche Mariscos, a seafood salad — completely up my alley because it was on the tart side — completely tantalized my tastebuds.
In fact, my mouth puckered up and I couldn’t get enough of this addicting mix of seafood to satiate my desire. A chunk of sweet potato and sweet corn kernels help balance the tartness with a touch of sweetness in between bites of seafood. Now I was ready to tackle the next dish.
Secco de carne — a Peruvian beef stew is often offered as the special of the day.
Tender chunks of beef in a rich, sultry sauce. So sexy I wanted more but there was none left after Mahesh and I battled who was getting the last remaining bit left behind.
Arroz con mariscos was thrown in for good measure and naturally, the seafood and rice combo tossed in a succulent sauce with diced peppers and parsley is enough for two, so if you’re not THAT hungry, you can save some for the next meal.
Needless to say, I’ve pretty much eaten everything off the menu after eight months and I have many favorite dishes. When I’m feeling like something healthy, I choose Pescado a lo Macho, a steamed fish entree topped with a luscious sauce.
If you are a fan of lamb, definitely go on a day when Seco de Cordero (braised lamb shanks) are on the menu. This is another favorite of mine served with rice, a side of beans and salad. The meat is so tender it falls apart at the touch of a fork and the flavors so rich and tantalizing.
Or when I’m feeling like something comforting, I like Arroz con Pollo, steam rice topped with saucy shredded chicken reminiscent of chicken curry but without the spices. This is the most popular dish on Renzo’s menu by the way.
Sandwiches are also outstanding here because Renzo roasts the meats himself. Turkey, pork, beef, no matter which sandwich you choose, each and every one of them is packed with the best ingredients. My son loves the roasted pork sandwich with garlic aioli.
There is even a seared ahi tuna sandwich which is named after Phil, a regular, and every time I’ve seen him at Renzo’s he’s ordered this item, and he was really sweet to let me photograph his lunch to show everyone.
There are salads as well, but I don’t come here for those. If I wanted a salad, I’ll do it myself, what’s the point? I come here for things I can’t make myself. For instance, the piping hot Aguaditos de Pollo, or chicken and cilantro soup, perfect on a cold wet day! This has got to be my favorite soup here! Chunks of chicken immersed in a beautifully hearty broth with fragrant cilantro and rice. Nothing’s better than this for comfort.
And when you’re finished, don’t leave without trying some alfajorres made by Renzo’s wife Dawn. He calls them La Gringa Alfajorres but I like them better than some of the traditional ones I’ve had. These bite-sized cookies are buttery, delicate and has a caramel filling. They are then dusted with powdered sugar. Simply delicious.
I’ve been back countless times and it’s like visiting an old friend whenever I step inside the restaurant. I am greeted with the heartiest welcome — a huge bear hug from the man himself — and all the latest gossip of kids, family etc, whenever time allows. These days, it is rare that the restaurant is empty, but Renzo will always make time for his customers whether it is their first visit, or familiar faces. It is his energy which makes Renzo’s A Taste of Peru what it is.
You might arrive at Renzo’s a stranger, but when you leave, you feel like a part of something, and it makes you want to come back again. And you do. I did! Now, I feel like I’m a part of Renzo’s family whenever I step through the door!
Renzo’s A Taste of Peru
2222 Michelson Drive
Irvine, CA 92612