By Dan Lieberman, @LiebermanTweets
I had a Peruvian coworker back in the day that clearly missed home, given how often she talked about it. Most of this decade-old small talk has escaped me, but one thing stuck out; Peru, thanks to the wide range of elevations throughout the country, can grow food from anywhere in the world. That’s reflected in the cuisine, with Peruvian menus often containing empanadas, pasta and soy sauce-based stir fries all at once. Thankfully, Peruvian food is fairly well-represented on the Peninsula, and I was able to rally my coworkers on a quiet Friday to ride Caltrain north to Burlingame so we could give Limon a shot.
Limon is located right on the corner of Burlingame and California avenues, just across the street from the historic and charming Burlingame Caltrain Station. The interior was bright thanks to the massive windows on two sides of the restaurant, which showed off the open kitchen and upscale, yet rustic feel. More importantly, the wonderful smell of roast chicken permeated the building to the point where I could have floated into the kitchen if I didn’t stop myself. We ordered the chicken (obviously), the ceviche mixto (also obviously), a mix of empanadas (never met a dumpling I didn’t like), the green beans (because I’m health conscious) and some rice and beans (because rice and beans is awesome, don’t @ me), after which I leaned back, took a sip of my mango lemonade and tried to pretend that I wasn’t on the edge of a chicken-induced hunger meltdown.
A flurry of plates later, we had a full spread before us. I went for the ceviche first, finding a strong acidic hit of citrus right off the bat, only slightly spicy and well-balanced by a little raw onion, some corn nuts and that distinctively Peruvian choclo. I descended onto the chicken, slathering it with the aji amarillo huacatay sauce that I would be willing to do shots of at the slightest urging. The chicken was juicy and well-seasoned, but the sauce was a wonderful balance of spice, fatty richness and garlic that elevated the chicken to a magical place. A roast chicken remains one of those things that appear easy to do, until you realize there’s an infinite amount of room past “good.”
The trio of empanadas appeared to be fried, not greasy, but with a skin looking bubbly and blistered to a point of beauty. The veggie version tasted wonderfully green, with the peas providing a nice sweet pop while the chicken was minced finely into almost a meatloaf along with carrots and parsley, tasting lovely as well. The beef empanadas reigned supreme however, with the ground meat redolent with cumin and a few raisins mixed throughout, adding sweetness without ruining the party (Sorry raisins, I still don’t forgive you for looking like chocolate chips in cookies). The sides stood up as well, with the green beans having a nice blister on them, accompanied by some sweet onions and held together by flavors of lemon and ginger (and I could have sworn a little horseradish). As for the ever humble rice and beans, the utility player of so many cuisines, they were blended together into something nearing a paste, but flavorful and filling and just what I needed to round out the meal.
San Francisco holds a vaunted place as far as foodie cities go. I can admit that, even though I’m too old and rooted in dadhood to take advantage of it like I could in my younger days. Thankfully, some of those restaurants that require lining up well in advance in the Mission can be strolled into for a breezy lunch right here in Burlingame. So whether you’re Pachacuti’s great grandson or you don’t know a thing about Peru you didn’t learn from watching The Emperor’s New Groove (underrated), Limon offers a good opportunity to eat something that’s familiar while also exotic, worldly without pretension and, most importantly, is damn tasty.
Chew Chew Train is a monthly blog feature highlighting places to eat along the Caltrain line. If you have a suggestion for a future restaurant, please email Public Affairs Specialist Dan Lieberman at email@example.com.