La Costeña: Lancaster’s Peruvian nook

By Cliff Lewis

Some might assume that all of the cultural hot spots of Downtown Lancaster exist within a few blocks of Penn Square—surely the culture ends by the time you hit Mulberry St, right? Wrong. Cozily tucked into an historic, 315 W King St, stone row home, La Costeña Restaurant prepares some of the most diverse and palate-expanding dishes that the city has to offer.

Before visitors place their order, the table is fixed with little bowls of canchita, salted puffs of corn that can best be described as “inverted popcorn.” (You won’t understand until you try it.) This free appetizer provides a good preface for the quality of La Costeña’s menu: It touches on American culinary expectations, but always pushes flavors into delightfully uncharted territory.

The selection of entrées deals significantly with seafood, or “mariscos.” One of these dishes is “Parihuela,” a wide bowl of talapia, scallops, shrimp, mussels, and lobster claws in a spicy broth of onions and Peruvian seasonings. The menu also provides a strong selection of chicken and steak items, most notable for the heavy and freshly spiced sauces used in their preparation.

What La Costeña offers is a rich and affectionately crafted cultural experience. One cannot enter this establishment without gathering the sense that a very unique heritage is being guarded behind these stony Lancaster walls. The Peruvian experience is well worth walking the extra blocks—and it sure beats buying a plane ticket.