When a friend told me about a Peruvian restaurant opening up in Red Bank, I almost fell off my chair with excitement. A Peruvian restaurant? I mean, this is the doorway to eating more exotic cuisines in our own state. We have plenty of Mexican (which I love), a lot of Portguese, Italian, and even Cuban restaurants, so when a a country that isn’t prevalent in the taste region is expected to open, I’m there.
One month ago, right across from Count Basie Theater, Runa Peruvian Cuisine opened its doors. Before I even go into how amazing the food is, I want to share what it took for Chef Marita Lynn to open this restaurant (check out her Kickstarter campaign, which I wrote about over the summer). As a successful caterer, Lynn’s dream was always to open a restaurant featuring the food she loved from her country. For years, she attempted to open a restaurant, until finally she got a break and found a vacancy at 110 Monmouth Street in Red Bank.
Lynn still runs Marita Lynn Catering, but is looking forward to expanding Runa with its own catering business, hosting parties at the restaurant, and running community events such as cooking classes down the road. But, before all that, we need to talk about the food.
There’s something on the menu for everyone, whether you’re a vegetarian or follow a gluten-free diet (many of the dishes use quinoa, a Peruvian staple). The menu is smaller, which Lynn notes is intentional, to keep her ingredients as fresh as possible. She also tries to use as many organic and local ingredients as possible.
I had the good fortune of trying a few foods with Chef Marita Lynn to try some of her dishes and found the food to be an experience of different flavors that were familiar, but had a welcoming edge. First up on the menu was one of Runa’s house favorites, the Pollo a la Brasa, where a local organic chicken is marinated in Peruvian spices, then roasted and served with aji sauce made of cilantro, tomatoes, onions and an aji pepper. I actually texted a good foodie friend of mine while I was eating to tell him that I had found the best roasted chicken ever.
Next up on my tasting menu was the Aguadito soup, which tasted, to me, like the Peruvian version of classic chicken and rice soup, but instead of a chicken broth, it’s in a warm and bright cilantro-based broth. With that, I moved on to the vegetarian Runa Hamburgesa Sliders, featuring red and white quinoa, lentils, and a spicy peach relish. I’d never had a quinoa burger with spicy peach relish before, and now I don’t think I ever want a quinoa burger without it.
I was full at that point, but will be heading back very soon for the classic ceviche which won Lynn the Judge’s Choice Award at the Ceviche vs. Tiradito competition in NYC this past month. I’m also looking forward to trying the quinoa flan made with quinoa cream custard, dark sugar cane, and shaved coconut.
Runa is a BYOB, so feel free to get into the spirit and bring your own Peruvian wine to the table. And even if you bring along some alcoholic beverages, be sure to order the Chicha Morada, a traditional Peruvian drink made out of purple corn and pineapple or the herbal water, both made in house. It’s slightly sweet and suprisingly not tart.
Join Runa for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Sunday. Lynn just added lunch specials and weekly dinner specials. If you’re looking to add some South American flair to your life, Runa is the place to go. Not only will you feel good about the food, but you might not want to leave the cozy dining room.
Runa Peruvian Cuisine
110 Monmouth Street
Melissa Beveridge is a freelance journalist and editor, focusing on great food, healthy living, and wellness. Her passion for eating and living well embodies her writing. A lover of all things Jersey, she is also an avid traveler, always looking to discover those hidden culinary gems everywhere she goes. Her musings can be found on her blog mbeewell.wordpress.com.