AJ's Inca Peruvian Doesn't Limit Itself Ethnically
Kanny, Mark, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Hugo Colan opened his first Pittsburgh restaurant five years ago, serving burgers and Peruvian food in Oakland, across Fifth Avenue from UPMC.
This year, he moved AJ's Inca Peruvian Restaurant to Downtown with a new menu featuring a vastly expanded variety of Peruvian dishes and dropping the burgers in favor of hot dogs and Mexican grilled food (tacos, quesadilla and burritos).
Located just up from the McDonald's at Stanwix and Liberty avenues, Colan's new restaurant opened in January and is adorned with Peruvian-themed art. It offers a relaxed atmosphere in complete contrast with the jangled air of a fast-food place.
Colan learned cooking from his mother, Dora, who taught it professionally in Lima, where he grew up. Peruvian food draws upon many ethnic cuisines, including not only Inca and Spanish traditions but also African and Chinese influences.
Before Colan and his family moved to Pittsburgh, he traveled throughout Peru as a salesman of plastics products. The foodie in him savored the differences between the dishes he encountered in mountain regions and in coastal communities.
The Colans moved directly from Lima to Pittsburgh because they have family here. His wife, Isandra, has a brother and sister who are both on the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh. The restaurant's name is taken from their children, Ariam, 14, and Jhair, 12. Colan is a soccer fan and named them after two Brazilian stars of the sport.
The luncheon menu includes 22 meat, fish and vegetarian items, plus six Mexican grill options, salads and 17 side dishes. Peruvian rotisserie chicken, marinated overnight, can be ordered with side dishes, and also is an ingredient in many of the many of the menu choices.
Since Peruvian food is more a matter of inclusion than purity of style, Colan felt free to add pieces of hotdog to the Arroz Chaufa ($7. …