Mexican foods and restaurants have overshadowed most Latin American dishes for quite some time, at least it seems like in it Texas. However, the more information about Peruvian foods becomes more available and popular, I know in time it will be the front runner of unique specialty dishes to look out for. You must have an open mind when exploring authentic Peruvian cuisine made from scratch, using a lot of fresh ingredients. It not only opens up your senses, but it opens up taste buds that you never knew you had. Peruvian foods have explosive flavors that made me aware of how I was guilty of playing it safe when I ate out. It would be my first time tasting a Peruvian meal. Of course, I would have to trust my friend, Talia Mendizabal de Jimeno. Talia grew up in Trujillo, Peru with her parents Hugo and Margarita Mendiazabal. For political reasons, they decided to leave Peru while she was in high school. Together, with her Tía Mara they all helped keep the Lemon Tree running since September 6, 2004. Her Father, Hugo Mendiazabal is the head chef at Lemon Tree. His wife, Margarita stays busy with details behind the scenes and with the task of catering for company parties. The Lemon Tree is hidden and tucked in West Houston. I actually grew up in the area and even I had a difficult time finding it because you just wouldn’t know it was there. The Lemon Tree literally grew from word of mouth. Luckily the family is so well-loved by other Peruvian and Latin American families that it helped this family business grow for 15 years and counting. Little did I know what I was in store just behind these unassuming doors.
My eyes were immediately met with lots of yellows. This color not only brightens up the restaurant but it also perked me up. The place alone heighten my senses, the color was bright, the aroma of the smells that filled the room, and the sounds of music from one of my favorite musical artists, Juan Gabriel. Talia welcomed me with her warm smile and hug, and I immediately felt at ease. Looking at The Lemon Tree, I noticed how petite and neat everything was. The entire restaurant had an easy flow and colorful theme to it. There is so much family involvement with The Lemon Tree that even her uncle, who the family brought from Perú was the one who decorated the inside of the family-owned establishment. From his design and color coordination came the name, The Lemon Tree. For a while the restaurant had no name, the name eventually developed later on because their mail orders needed a name to ship to, thus The Lemon Tree name was born.
As I looked about, my eyes were immediately drawn to their dessert case!! Oh boy!! I could easily just go in for their desserts. Talia was proud to point out that all the desserts are handmade in the restaurant. Her most popular and demanding dessert is her mom’s Tres Leches! The Lemon Tree also had flan, mousse maracuyá, and suspiro. On top of her display case, were Christmas boxes filled with small alfajors. Those are to die for and I will discuss those later on.
After scanning over the menu, I knew there was no way I could ever decide, there were too many dishes to choose from. Talia took charge and ordered for me. I was actually nervous however in an excited kind of way. I noticed more and more people were coming in for lunch. I quickly found a table and made myself at home. Meanwhile, Talia brought over a well-known drink from Peru called Diet Inca Kola!! She described it as sweet as bubblegum. I couldn’t get over how yellow it was. Ohhhh, I see what she did there!! Yes, it was nothing as I had ever had. It was very refreshing! I enjoyed the yellow color and the bubbles from the carbonation. It is not overly strong of sweet like Coke. I haven’t had Coke or any type of cola in at least 20 years. This was worth trying out for sure!
Only after a few minutes, this huge appetizer came out. I’m pretty sure my eyes bulged out of my head!! I have never seen such a beautiful display of seafood. This impressive plate is called Piqueo Lemon Tree Dish. This amazing dish you see here includes four different appetizers. I will start with my favorite! My favorite of the four is on the spoons. It is called Choros a la Chalaca. These spoons are filled with mussels, and marinated with lemon juice, onions, and corn. Now, I normally avoid onions because it upsets my stomach, however, I ate this and it didn’t upset my system at all!!! I just couldn’t resist! The second it hit my tongue it gave it a jolt of freshness and tartness. Just writing about it all over again makes my mouth water. If you love lemons this is your plate!! Talia also ate with me and there was one spoon left. I had to ask if I could have the last one lol! It was that amazing!! The appetizer to the right of the spoons is called the ceviche mixto. This included raw fish, shrimp, mussels, and calamari with onions, with lemon juice, and served with Peruvian corn and sweet potatoes. This one I highly enjoyed next and yes with the same explosive flavor of lemon and flavors of seafood!! The ceviche mixto was my second favorite. The third one I ate a lot of was Tiradito de Rocoto. This appetizer was above the spoons and it had raw fish cut into strips and marinated with lemon juice in ceviche. The last one on the plate I could barely eat because at this point Talia ordered the main dish, and I was starting to feel full. However, I tasted the Jalea de Pescado. This included pieces of fried crispy fish served with onion sauce and fried yucca. All four were nothing short of spectacular. This could easily feed 3-4 people for sure!
The main entrée that was brought over was called Pescado a lo Macho. This was steamed fish and it was covered in an amazing seafood sauce served with rice. The seafood sauce had shrimp and mussels. It had the best flavor within the broth! There were times I forgot I was in a restaurant since I was there with Talia. It literally felt like I was at my friend’s house for dinner and her parents cooked!
After having a full-filling, yet flavorful meal, I really wanted dessert. If the food was this wonderfully delicious, I can’t imagine their desserts! Talia was thoughtful to bring an Alfajor. An Alfajor is like a shortbread-type cookie with dulce de leche. I call it shortbread but it’s on another level because it’s better than that. It’s the closest thing that I could describe it as. It was dusted with powdered sugar. I think I had an out-of-body experience because I remember the first couple of bites and that’s it. I don’t remember even taking the pictures, all I remember is pure bliss as I ate the cookie. I had to ask if I could take one home for my son. He loves cookies much more than I do. Since I finished it and didn’t save any for him, guilt crept over me. He loved it as much as I did, in fact, when his dad came home, he ran away with the cookie because he was in no mood to share! LOL! The Lemon Tree sells the cookies bite-sized for the holidays complete inside of a Christmas box. There are 30 mini-cookies per container. My son and I debated for ten minutes what would be better, a mini-sized cookie or a whole one. LOL! Yes, it is that delish!
If you want to try something extraordinary and have the best foodie experience try Peruvian cuisine at The Lemon Tree. You will leave there ultra satisfied and wanting more at the same time.