Updated: November 27, 2022
Some of Peru’s best flavors are firing up Pāʻia town, thanks to new restaurant Lima Cocina and Cantina.
The eatery — a mix of classic Peru cuisine and modern Maui foods — is the only spot for Peruvian dining in Maui County.
It opened recently to a warm reception from residents and visitors, according to owner Xavier Val Valcarcel of Haiku.
“It’s going good,” he said Thursday. “Even though we’ve only been open for three weeks, we are getting a lot of regulars. That’s a good sign.”
Valcarcel and Lima co-owner Jessica Everett are known for their successful Wailuku bar, Esters Fair Prospect, popular among residents for pau hana and happy hour. Lima is also owned by Dustin Dyer and Alen Avaizan.
Located at 71 Baldwin Ave., Lima was buzzing with activity Wednesday night. Designed with an outdoor aesthetic and paintings by Maui artists, the restaurant holds a full bar and has an adjoining VIP room for private parties and karaoke. A neon sign that reads, “Bad decisions make better stories,” has been circulating in social media posts for weeks.
Peru is known for Machu Picchu, the Incan ruins, and its food, according to Valcarcel. In fact, the Latin American country repeatedly won best culinary destination in the world from World Travel Awards.
Valcarcel, who is from Peru, said it’s been a lifelong dream to open a Peruvian restaurant. He moved to Los Angeles at age 7 and spent every couple years back in Peru up until high school.
“I’ve always wanted to do a Peruvian restaurant,” he said. “I cook a lot at home. My grandma has tons of recipes. . . . When I moved here, I saw that there are no Peruvian restaurants here. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s interesting because there are so many on the Mainland.’”
Valcarcel’s passion about Peru’s food and drinks seems palpable. He has a story behind every dish.
Lima’s Causa Limeña Trio starter comprises cooked, kneaded and molded potatoes, topped with ahi causa, chicken causa and shrimp causa.
When Peru was seeking independence from Spain, people on the corners would sell causa, which is stuffed with chicken, shrimp or crab, and all the proceeds would go to the army, Valcarcel said.
“And so ‘causa’ means ’cause,’” he said. “You’d say, ‘I’m eating this for the cause.’”
The owner said Lomo Saltado, tenderloin marinated in Peruvian spices and served over a bed of fried potatoes and a side of rice, is a popular entrée. Ceviche – an appetizer or main course dish made from raw fish – has its own menu section, with six different options.
A lot of Peruvian cooking has Asian influences, where food is laced with shoyu and cooked in woks, Valcarcel added.
When it comes to drinks, an array of cocktails use pisco. The owner said pisco is the Peruvian equivalent of tequila, a “very pure liquor” made from grapes.
Wailuku resident Everett, who is known for her hand-crafted cocktails at Esters, created Lima’s Latin-infused drink menu. Pisco Sour, a blend of pisco, lime and gum that’s topped with a light, egg white foam, along with Cucurrucucu Paloma, a mix of tequila, grapefruit, pacharan, falernum, orgeat, lime and absinthe, are staples.
Starting tonight, Lima will be open Fridays and Saturdays until midnight, with a “secret menu” of street food starting at 9 p.m.
Lima aims to feature live music, with salsa and merengue nights, by the end of the summer. Eventually, owners hope Lima can spark the return of Pāʻia’s nightlife, which was anchored by now-closed Charley’s Restaurant and Saloon off Hana Highway.
“We’re pushing the envelope a little bit,” Valcarcel said. “Pāʻia has been sleepy, where everyone is going home by 9 p.m. We’re trying to get it back to how it used to be.”
Lima Cocina and Cantina is open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 7 p.m. Sundays, with the exception of late-night hours launching tonight and Saturday. The restaurant is closed Mondays. For information, visit its website.