Despite the cold pounding rain, Saturday evening in Old City bustles with activity. Passersby hurry along 2nd Street, clutching umbrellas, rushing to find refuge. Cars honk and accelerate down the wide cobblestone avenue, spraying the sidewalk. 

Tucked between bars, Vista Peru is easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. Step inside and look up, an undulating gold sculpture, evocative of mountains juts from the ceiling. Bright with white brick and pops of colorful Inca tiles adorned by gilded wallpaper, Vista Peru makes smart use of the narrow space, appearing spacious and elegant—cool and culturally–specific—without trying too hard. The restaurant is barely half full; understandable as it’s only 6:30 p.m., but we get relegated to the upstairs, a dark wood paneled space with reflective surfaces that felt more cold and utilitarian than the vibrant lower level. 

Vista Peru bills itself as a Pisco Bar offering a variety of cocktails based on the clear brandy from the Andes. To start, I opt for the Pisco sour: a classic Peruvian concoction of lemon juice, egg white, Pisco, and simple syrup. The Pisco sour arrives white and frothy, served in an elegant martini glass—one sip and I’m in love. The airy egg whites balance out the sweet, acidic Pisco for an almost creamy, tart experience, a margarita meets lemon–drop foam. Alongside, our server places a small bowl of cancha—warm and salty corn nuts that act as a perfect crunchy contrast to the syrupy cocktail.  


Photo: Ethan Wu

Camarones a la Plancha


Picking a dish is no easy task. The menu boasts Peruvian staples such as ceviche and lomo saltado, more than a handful of lobster specials, an intriguing goat stew, and various causas, or layered mashed potato dishes. Our attentive server recommends “Camarones a la Plancha,” a platter of grilled, butterflied shrimp large enough to share that came with two side dishes. We picked out maduros, fried sweet plantains, and for a touch of green, the salad—our first mistake. 

Within minutes, a large steaming platter emerges from the kitchen and overwhelms our cramped, square wooden table.  We rip the succulent buttery shrimp from their shells, dipping meaty morsels in tangy orange sauce. Whereas we all but devour the shrimp, the side dishes fall short. The maduros—thick, deep golden wedges of fried plantain—taste starchy, caramelized, and slightly smoky, but still disappointingly lukewarm. The salad, shredded romaine lettuce ringed by large slices of watery tomato that looked like they were picked off of a hamburger, failed to impress. Perhaps it’s unfair to judge a restaurant off their side salad offering—but it feels like a cheap afterthought. Upon further inspection, we find sharp, vinegar soaked carrot chunks beneath the underdressed lettuce leaves. A limp cauliflower sprig serves as platter centerpiece—appearing more of a careless throwaway than deliberate garnish. 

Overall, I would hesitate to go back. At this price point, something was lacking, an attention to detail or a complexity of flavor. The experience peaked with the Pisco sour, before the food even reached our table. 

TL;DR: Pop in for happy hour—sip Pisco and split some ceviche. Otherwise, your money is better spent elsewhere. 

Location: 20 S 2nd St.

Hours: Open Daily from 11 a.m.–2 a.m.

Price Range: $$


Comments

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.