Saturday, February 09, 2008

Lima City - Irvine

Irvine's got its share of office park food courts. If you are a fellow cubicle drone like me, you've been to one. And if you're apt to avoid the usual standbys of the Panda Express clones, you also know which of these food courts actually have something special.

No doubt, by now, you've heard of Franco's Pasta Cucina for those obsession-worthy, made-to-order creations of noodles, sauce and meat, sold cheaply by a man so irascible that in hushed circles he's lovingly referred to as "The Pasta Nazi".

But did you know that there's a Peruvian place inside another food court mere blocks away? That's right. Peruvian. If you've paid attention to Gustavo Arellano and other foodies, you would've known about Lima City*.

It's been years since I returned (thanks partly to Franco). The first time around, I wasn't entirely impressed with a dish of saltado I had there -- too soggy. But yesterday, I tried something else called "Chicken with Mushrooms" and it was terrific.


Despite the fact that there were other interesting items around it also vying for my attention, I immediately locked onto the dish as it gurgled in a metal chafing dish. The cost was $4.99, which is the standard fee for a 1-item meal served with either rice or noodles.

I chose rice and on top of it, the substance was poured. It was a thick gravy as silky as cream, with chunks of butter-soft dark-meat chicken, cubed potatoes, and sliced mushrooms. A tiny container of aji is also included in every order. As I ate, I dunked each forkful of chicken into this spicy, green puree of herbs and chili, taking great care in my portion control so that no morsel goes into my mouth without it.

Next time, I'm buying an extra container of that "green sauce" for $0.35.

But even eaten alone, the dish was exactly the type that aims for my comfort food sensibilities. It reminded me of an Indonesian dish called "opor ayam" that I grew up with, similar to Thai yellow curry. All of them have something in common: rice doused in a flavorful milky-rich liquid, and braised poultry.

But that gravy is key. It unites rice and protein to become a singular entity -- a meal to be scooped in hearty spoonfuls. But in Lima City's case, it also does double duty: since their rice is inordinately dry, the sauce acts to moisten and revive. Those unlucky grains which don't get completely drenched are, in turn, unworthy of consumption.

Lima City also offers other traditional Peruvian items. Some are ready-made, but most, like the mountain of fried seafood called "jalea", have to be cooked-to-order. But who are you kidding. The reason you're at a food court in the first place is to stuff your face within the lunch hour you are allotted. At least with Lima City's chicken and mushrooms, you can come back to the drudgery of your cube, full, happy, and on time.

Lima City
(949) 553-1401
2540 Main St # J
Irvine, CA 92614

*Update (June 30, 2008): A few weeks ago, Lima City changed ownership. This review is for the last incarnation of the place.

*Update (July 27, 2008): New signs identified the new occupants as Fountain Valley's own Peruvian Kitchen. Read a review of their lomo saltado here.

24 Comments:

At 11:18 AM, Anonymous james said...

Oh, gravy, is there no limit to your power?

Great review. I still haven't made it to Franco's, but I'll be sure to try Lima City the next time I'm in Irvine!

 
At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Gustavo Arellano said...

Whoever reads this: get the tamales!!!

 
At 7:31 PM, Blogger ::Alejandro:: said...

I have to make it past the Orange Curtain, after all, I was raised there! Great post...

 
At 9:26 PM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hey Elmo - Interesting...I've got to check it out.

 
At 8:44 PM, Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

Hey! I ate Peruvian on Friday too! :P

 
At 5:49 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

I've never had Peruvian food before, but what you had sounds good.
The photos of the Indonesian dish you mentioned really made my mouth water, though. Meet Dave, the boys and I for some Indonesian next time we are in Irvine, okay?

 
At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Marvin said...

Very true about foodcourts. Their convenience exists solely so we can get back in time for the cracking whip of The Man.

 
At 11:27 AM, Blogger wonginator71 said...

Gravy on rice is heavenly, as evidenced by the Hawaiian loco moco, which is assisted by a fried egg on top. :-)

I've never eaten at Lima City, despite the fact that I visit that food court at least twice a month, and I always go to Chicago's Best, which is just two stalls next to it.

Just went to Peruvian Kitchen in Fountain Valley last week, and I'm really starting to enjoy Peruvian food more, after having a couple of bad experiences at a nearby Inka Grill.

I will have to try Lima City sometime soon, if I can convince myself not to go to Chicago's Best the next time I visit.

 
At 9:52 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

James,

You said brother! Gravy aims to make everything right. Franco's also has gravy in his pastas, but it's made of butter!

Gustavo,

I'm reading, and I will!

Alejandro,

Thanks. There are lots of other worthy Peruvian places in OC, but if you're in a hurry, and just happen to be in Irvine, definitely stop by.

Kirk,

If you are here on a weekday, it'll be open. Not sure about the weekend though.

WC,

I think there must have been a cosmic sync of food blogger craving that day.

Juliet,

It's a great fusion of Latin American flavors and Asian and who knows what else...And absolutely! Ring me up when you're in Irvine, I'll take you to Toko Rame in Bellflower for Indo food.

Marvin,

It's surprising that most food courts actually have something worthwhile in it...I guess that is a good trend.

Wonginator,

I almost ate at Chicago's Best, but decided to give Lima City another shot...especially since I've never written about them before. Glad I did!

 
At 7:16 AM, Blogger The Home Cook said...

Mmmmm.....gravy. *drool* I absolutely love this kind of meal. Do you know more about what's in the green sauce? I'd love to try recreating this meal at home (or at least some version of it).

 
At 8:50 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

The Home Cook,

Wandering Chopsticks has the recipe for this sauce, and to quote her when I asked whether it tasted like the ones served at Peruvian restaurants, she said:

"I thought I nailed the recipe."

 
At 1:19 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

As far as I'm concerned, more Peruvian places in Irvine can only be a good thing. This is a great find.

 
At 1:22 PM, Blogger The Home Cook said...

Thanks!!

 
At 10:00 AM, Anonymous JB said...

Who would've thought a place named "Lima City" would have a great 'Chinese' dish like CHICKEN WITH MUSHROOMS - LOL

P.S. - if you're in the mood for Lomo Saltado...or excellent ceviche...Peruvian Kitchen, which I first raved about in 2006, is the place to go. Last time I was there was May 2007, and it was still aight. Wonginator seems to still think so, too! The next warm Friday or Saturday evening, it would be an excellent, affordable choice for dinner!!

 
At 10:44 PM, Blogger Bill said...

I've been to this food court several time and I don't recall this place at all. Parking at this food court during rush hour is horrible. Geesh now I really have to stop by Inka Mamma for some aji de gallina.

 
At 7:06 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

CP,

You're right about that. If I'm not mistaken there's only one other Peruvian place in Irvine. The other, called Inka Mama's (?) is also not too bad.

The Home Cook,

You're welcome!

JB,

Peruvian Kitchen is one of the places I always say I'm going to try, but always forget about. Thanks for the reminder. I remember Wonginator's first review on the place. And I just saw his update!

Bill,

The parking really sucks there come noon. Which is why I came at 11:00!

 
At 11:55 AM, Blogger wonginator71 said...

Yeah, agree on the parking at noon at this food court, it is horrendous. I tend to show up around 11:30am to beat the lunch crowd, or show up after 12:45pm just as most people are leaving.

Have Inka Mama's on my list, but haven't been yet as I'm not in the Foothill Ranch area much.

I likely will hit Lima City on my next visit, as I've done Italian beef sandwiches on my last Chicago's Best visit (and Portillo's recently, too). The couple that sat next to me ordered some stuff from Lima City, and I was intrigued by some of the dishes they ordered.

 
At 3:45 AM, Blogger Sanford Woo, CSP said...

Again I envy the large selection and seemingly bargain options you have out on the West Coast.

What are the characteristics of a Peruvian dish. I've had some before but I can't tell what makes a Peruvian food Peruvian.

 
At 6:39 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Wonginator,

Speaking of Chicago's Best, I have a question for you...I seem to recall either you or someone else mentioning that they did pizza. I checked them out the other day and they didn't have pizza on the menu. Is it a special order thing?

Sanford,

Wow. That's a good question. Well Peruvian is influenced by a lot of world cuisines. There's commonalities with Chinese in dishes like Lomo Saltado (a beef stir fry with onions and potatoes, served with rice), but others have a Spanish touch, like ceviche...and then there are indigenous flavors of roasted guinea pig...that's a whole other post! HA!

 
At 11:30 AM, Blogger wonginator71 said...

Elmomonster,

Wasn't me who mentioned Chicago's Best having pizza. I haven't seen it on their menu either.

 
At 1:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn't see tamales on their menu. Even though it has a sign 'authentic peruvian', I really didn't see a lot of the 'authentic' peruvian specials that gustavo alleano wrote about. It had ceviche, but mostly it has stuff like hot dog.

 
At 7:49 PM, Anonymous josh said...

I've been there a couple of times, and its okay...

The ceviche's one-note is sourness, but the corn with the ceviche is tasteless.

For the lunch specials, I get the grilled beef which is tasty but I'm not sure you'd need to go a Peruvian place for that flavor.

And, I've never seen the tamales and specifically asked the blond Peruvian cashier today about it when I passed by and she said they don't sell tamales.

 
At 9:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Franco's and Lima City are my favorites! I guess it's not much of a secret.

If you like the mushroom chicken on rice, try it on the noodles. It's even better!

My favorite combo is a 2 item, rice and noodles. Spicy chicken on the rice and the mushroom chicken on the noodles.

The saltado is good, but it takes a lot of time. The combos are great if you're in a rush.

 
At 3:18 PM, Blogger DirtyPanda said...

ate there a few times. last time i went (and i do mean the last time ever), there was a cockroach cooked into my food. i returned the food and was kindly offered a replacement, to which i declined. was given a full refund with no issues. food was good until my experience. will never go back to that entire center ever again.

 

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