Mango Peruvian Cuisine (1101 Lucas Avenue, 314-621-9993)
The Hours: Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m., and late-night happy hour Monday through Thursday from 9 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. and Friday and Saturday from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.
The Deal: $5 margaritas, martinis and wines, $3 premium drafts, $16 pitchers of sangria and $5 select small-plate dishes.
The Scene: Mango is a hip little Peruvian restaurant and bar located a brief walk away from Washington Avenue in the heart of downtown St. Louis. The restaurant is touted as "the only Peruvian restaurant in St. Louis," and as far as we know, that's accurate. If your idea of Peru involves Machu Picchu and free-roaming llamas, then check yourself at the door -- Mango is a very classy, modern space with an upscale, yet exotic menu. The dim lighting gives the restaurant an air of affluence -- we feared we were about to spend our life savings to wine and dine. But the food is not so expensive, and it's made even more affordable during happy hour.
Gut Check tried one of the small plates on special, the beef anticuchos, which are beef skewers served with chunky Andean corn. For the more adventurous, there's the option of trying the anticuchos de corazón -- those of you who speak Spanish know this means that these skewers are made using beef heart. Notably absent (perhaps for the best) from the menu was cuy, an Andean delicacy made of roasted guinea pig, which Gut Check has had the pleasure (misfortune?) of trying on a visit to Peru. The rest of the menu is very authentic and true to Peruvian form. Native Peruano, head chef and owner Jorge Calvo brought an all-Peruvian culinary team to cook at his restaurant, and the menu reflects that authenticity.
The $5 margaritas, martinis and wines are also worth mentioning. Made with quality ingredients, like Grey Goose vodka and pomegranate liqueur, these drinks normally run between $8 and $10. Pace yourself -- the martinis are sweet, but surprisingly stiff.
Why You'll Go Back: Mango's take on chips and salsa was so addictive we may have to enter rehab. Instead of the classic tortilla chips and tomato salsa combo, Mango serves complimentary plantain chips with a cool lime salsa that was simply out of this world. If it alone doesn't make you want to revisit Mango, that's fine. More for us.
The Verdict: Mango is an affordable, adventurous option on Wash. Ave. It might be your only chance to try Peruvian food in St. Louis, so if Imo's Pizza or T-ravs (or T-ravs at Imo's) ever get old (yeah, yeah), try the empanadas or fried yucca at Mango.