Peruvian, in the purest tradition
Juana Paz dishes up South American classics at her bright Van Nuys Restaurant.
The restaurant brightens up its nondescript block with a cheery red sign and smart logo of an Incan cook. Sitting across from Q Bargain Swap Meet around the corner from the utilitarian Elks club building, the rejuvenated former taco shop welcomes patrons with a spotless interior, cloth-covered tables and a sophisticated color scheme of hunter green and pale peach.
Before Puro Sabor’s opening, Paz had already collected a loyal following from her six-year tenure at another Peruvian spot, Las Quenas. A former bank teller and accountant in Peru, she started out as a dishwasher and cook’s assistant soon after arriving in L.A., eventually working her way up to chef and manager. Her daughter, Johanna Santolalla, who occasionally helps out waiting tables, says Paz was so dedicated to the idea of coming to the States that she enrolled her kids in English classes in Peru long before she acquired immigration papers.
Her own boss
Managing A restaurant was a great way to learn the ins and outs of the business. But Paz wanted to cook and have complete control of a kitchen — particularly over the selection and quality of ingredients — and so with two partners she finally struck out on her own.
Every detail of the food seems to have passed the rigorous Paz test. The aji — that mint-green condiment in a plastic squirt bottle — is her carefully developed blend of the Peruvian black mint, huacatay, and Peruvian yellow chiles swirled together with milk and fresh cheese — blazing heat and creaminess in well-calibrated balance.
The Peruvian love for seafood has a lot to do with its long dramatic coastline and proximity to the Humboldt and El Nino currents. No surprise then that seafood abounds at Puro Sabor: hot, cold, fried, dosed with cream or enlivened with peppery spices — ready to take your palate on a wild ride.