For an upbeat date night, it’s hard to top a Latin American scene. Vibrant music, refreshing drinks, and plenty of flavors are the hallmarks, and you’ll find them all on a visit to Peruvian restaurant Pio Pio. There are Pio Pios all around New York City, but for date night, you want the sceney Hell’s Kitchen location. Step inside and your significant other will wonder if you’ve made a mistake: all you see is a small marble table that seems more like an office reception area than a hostess stand. Don’t worry. A few steps in and you’ll be greeted by a buzzy bar area, where midtown locals knock back pisco cocktails made with marinated fruits and fresh juices.
Follow the narrow corridor down and suddenly the floor falls away into a huge, mysterious space, its walls made up of thousands of interwoven branches. Candles and dangling exposed bulbs cast you both in a flattering light as you scan the menu. The food here is authentic, and you’ll be intrigued by the unfamiliar offerings. Start off with a classic Peruvian ceviche, maybe a Nikkei, with a Japanese influence in its deft blend of tuna, soy, and sesame. For entrées, there’s a tender lomo saltado, which also uses soy, in a savory sauce that soaks down into tomatoes, peppers, and French fries. For a lighter touch, opt for camarones Cuzco, shrimp in a vibrant white wine and yellow pepper sauce. You could also split Pio Pio’s famous Juanita’s Chicken, a golden roasted bird marinated for half a day in spices and Peruvian beer. It’s juicy, popping with flavor, and an unexpected bargain. When the bill comes, snatch it up quickly. Your date doesn’t need to know how affordable this all is. A night like this feels like a million bucks, regardless of the actual price.
Photograph by Renato Ganoza