Situated at the end of a charming corner in Northern Liberties, Chalaco’s Ceviche and Pisco Bar instantly gives off an inviting sense of newness. Its sleek storefront rests in harmony with the lived–in patchwork streets of the surrounding neighborhood—modern but not out of place. Upon entering the roomy main dining area, the first thing we notice are the sounds of Latin American music and lively conversation that enliven the dimly–lit interior. In the relative darkness, the the bar glows green, giving the space a fitting underwater feel.
The dining area adjacent to the bar is composed of an array of small tables and booths, whereas around the corner, under a light blue ceiling fixture depicting a school of fish, larger party–sized tables are teeming with life. Between the music and the activity, Chalaco’s is as fresh and lively as the ceviche it serves.
Israel, the manager, seats us in a booth in the brightest part of the establishment. He talks us through the menu, a relatively short but ever–so–tempting selection of Peruvian and fusion dishes. Chalaco’s specializes in seafood, of which it boasts an impressive variety. The menu covers all the necessary bases–from calamari and octopus to salmon and shrimp, prepared in both traditional and innovative ways. In addition to a wide range of ceviche choices, Chalaco’s also specializes in Pisco, a distinctly Peruvian brandy.
After settling on a tasting of the establishment’s most popular dishes, we await their arrival, sipping on minty mojitos and enjoying the lively atmosphere. When the meal arrives, the incredible vibrancy of the food itself is a feast for the eyes before we even dig in.
We begin with the causa tasting trio, a potato–based dish dressed with elaborate toppings and colorful sauces. The first of three features a tart mixture of shrimp and green apple. It has an acidic bite to it, but blends well with the gentle flavor of the potato and avocado aioli. Next is the chicken quinoa, which is milder than the shrimp. And finally, the octopus, which is prepared with mushroom and a purple dressing. It’s most flavorful of the three, which makes the side mashed potato a handy—though still flavorful—palate cleanser.
Ready to dive into a larger plate, we move onto one of Chalaco’s most popular dishes, the ceviche mixto. The base is sashimi–cut tilapia, cooked in lime and seasoned to perfection. Calamari, octopus, and shrimp are also incorporated into the dish, and with every bite, the freshness of the seafood, acidity of the citrus, and heat of the spices combine harmoniously. Cholco—a Peruvian corn—and crunchy corn nuts diversify the texture profile of the dish, while tender sweet potatoes help cool the heat of the dish. The layered flavors made the ceviche mixto a stand out and a definite must–try for any seafood lover dining at Chalaco’s.
The most elegant dish of the evening is the pulpo anticuchero—grilled octopus tentacles served with the same unique, gorgeously–colored sauces that complemented the causa appetizer. On a broad black slab, the perfectly browned octopus lays surrounded by dots of aji and botija olive sauces. Typically, octopus has quite a tough, chewy bite, but the pulpo anticuchero is tender, bursting with flavor, both on its own and dipped into the accompanying sauces. Bright, aromatic, and fresh, Chalaco’s grilled octopus held its own alongside the excellent ceviche.
The quaint neighborhood, ample outdoor seating, and exciting array of Peruvian seafood make Chalaco’s a perfect spot for warm–weather dining. Indoors, the energy is perfect for groups, with lively music that matches the buzz of friendly chatter. At Chalaco’s, a phenomenal meal is served in a cozy atmosphere, bringing people together as they delight in a Peruvian smorgasboard.
TL;DR: A lively atmosphere and bright, exciting seafood await you at Chalaco’s.
Location: 1030 N 2nd St.
Sun: 11: 30 a.m.—9 p.m.
Mon–Thurs: 11:30 a.m.—10 p.m.
Fri: 11:30 a.m.—11 p.m.
Sat: 11:30 a.m.—12 a.m.