The story: Pucquio is a Peruvian restaurant that was one of the original pop-up restaurants that circled in and out of the Guest Chef space on College Avenue in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood. When the Guest Chef concept ran its course, Pucquio became a permanent fixture, serving up what they call on its website as contemporary Peruvian street food.
Why I went: My nephew had just arrived in town and Pucquio is just a few minutes away from my Oakland apartment, so it was a convenient choice for dinner. I’d never visited before, but had heard about the chef’s authentic take on Peruvian cuisine. We went early and walked up and sat at the chef’s counter, watching Chef Carlos Moreira and his assistant at work.
The vibe: Not much has changed from the Guest Chef space, so there’s still a quiet vibe to the tiny space. Pucquio also has a feel of being undiscovered because it wasn’t bustling at the time, and the location is a bit away from everything even though it’s across the street from the Barrel Room and not too far from A16.
The menu: A cebiche section showcases about eight raw seafood plates, and we tried the Tradito a lo Calle Capon ($18) made with hamachi with an aji limo and sesame sauce that had an Asian touch. (The chef does an unusual practice of giving you the leftover cebiche juices from your plate to drink in a shot glass, which sounds like an interesting concept but it was like taking a shot of soy sauce.) The rest of the menu has a variety of Peruvian favorites, such as lomo saltado (the traditional beef stir-fry) and arroz con pollo (rice and chicken). But Moreira always puts a sophisticated twist to his dishes, presented like you’re dining at a four-star restaurant. I ended up trying the Pescado al Ajo, a daily fish that is fried whole. I had told the chef that I’m not a fan of deep-fried food but he insisted that his technique of doing a flash fry of the fish makes it less greasy, and he was right. It was very light and the fish’s flesh was moist.
The booze: The restaurant serves a variety of beer and wine. I passed on drinking but my nephew tried the only Peruvian beer offered on the menu, which he liked.
My favorite dish: I have to say even though it’s slightly fried, the pescado al ajo is a must order. Lightly fried and beautifully presented with the whole fish curving like it’s swimming at you, the dish is also served with a light garlic cream sauce and garlic chips. It was elegant and light.
Insider tip: Pucquio is not a place to have a quick bite, so be prepared to linger and enjoy your meal. The kitchen lovingly cooks all the food, so everything is done right but that does mean there’s a bit of a wait between courses. But sometimes good food should be enjoyed and not rushed, no?
The last bite: I was pleasantly surprised to discover the sophisticated dishes at Pucquio, and the chef is charming as he chats with you between cooking. Even though this feels like a little known neighborhood gem, Pucquio can easily compete with the other restaurants riding the Peruvian food trend around town.
The rating: 3 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Pucquio, 5337 College Ave., Oakland. PH: 510.658.7378. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Tuesday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. pucquio.com
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