Image / Yelp
Carlos Miyahira began working at Mi Lindo Perú, his father’s restaurant in Bernal Heights, upon its 1996 opening just to pay his bills. He was plotting his next career move and figuring out life in ways any other 24-year old would. And he didn’t know what would come next.
Soon after purchasing Mi Lindo Perú from his father, Miyahira did what few restaurants have done when passing down ownership from one generation to the next – change.
Instead of caving to Americanized trends of fusion restaurants that dominate the San Francisco food scene, Miyahira preserved his family’s Peruvian roots. Despite forces like gentrification allowing whitewashed Latinx restaurants to bubble around the city, the new owner never felt pressure to turn Mi Lindo Perú into something it wasn’t.
The proof is in the lomo saltado – Mi Lindo Perú executes what is arguably Perú’s most revered dish to near perfection. The stir fry is sautéed with marinated strips of sirloin with sliced onions, tomatoes, french fries, herbs, and white rice. He uses the same ingredients as his mother in her Christmas Day lomo saltado. But he swaps her stove for a flame-throwing grill that adds more flavor without sacrificing the cultural fabric behind the meal.
And that’s only the beginning. Despite looking like fried chicken, the pescado al ajo is a fillet topped with a buttery garlic sauce and a splash of white wine – it’s served with seasoned rice and sliced potato. The picante de mariscos—a mixed concoction of fish, squid, clams, and mussels cooked—is soaked by medium Andean yellow chili and a touch of milk. Plus, the tamal de pollo doesn’t come tied together like other tamales throughout Latin America, yet it sticks with the help of an egg layering. It looks like a pastry to an American—and it also contains chicken, peanut, and olive—adding a wonderfully savory touch to your lunch or dinner.
Mi Lindo Perú stuck to the script, and its concept aged like malbec. Miyahira acknowledged that the restaurant’s most successful years were 2017 and 2018, as the restaurant was striking a balance between long-loyal and new customers. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Mi Lindo Perú lost touch with both at first.
On March 16, Miyahira temporarily closed Mi Lindo Perú once San Francisco’s stay at home order went into effect. Miyahira was forced to let go of half his staff right after. And there was no certainty as to what the restaurant’s future would look like. A family institution that never took shortcuts was in jeopardy.
Five days later, Mi Lindo Perú reopened its doors. However, San Franciscans were scared to go outside and patronize local businesses in the earliest, darkest stages of the coronavirus pandemic. So Miyahira called his most loyal customers one-by-one in hopes of keeping the lights on.
Of course, 24 years later, the same people who had come through for the restaurant before it became a Yelp favorite were the same ones that helped keep it alive.
Since then, things have only looked up for Mi Lindo Perú. The establishment was one of the few restaurants to receive a PPP loan, allowing him to cover employees’ wages. Miyahira also secured a city permit to start serving patrons outside for the first time ever. Nevertheless, he knows he could have ended up like friends who lost their businesses due to COVID-19, and he embraces this puzzling moment we live in.