♥ El Poderoso, a chicharron sandwich at La Llamita, with guanabana juice in a jar in the background.
When chefs start a new restaurant, they often undertake a years-long development process, testing recipes, looking for real estate, hiring architects and all the rest. Or they could follow the path of Keiko Vinatea Williams and Paola Irrarazabal, the Peruvian-American women behind a new Dallas sandwich shop.
In March, Vinatea Williams and Irrarazabal decided they wanted to start a casual Peruvian food business, selling street-style sandwiches. In June, La Llamita Sanguchera opened its door to the public.
“There are Peruvian restaurants here, but they have only dishes, plates,” Vinatea Williams says. It’s true; many of the area’s Peruvian restaurants specialize in big main courses like ceviches and lomo saltado. “We were looking for something like Peruvian street food.”
At first, the women went shopping for a food truck, but food trucks that match Dallas’ exacting inspection requirements are hard to find. Instead, they’re leasing a corner of a Mexican bakery, La Poblanita, a decade-old institution on Spring Valley Road in North Dallas. La Poblanita also bakes all of La Llamita’s bread loaves.
La Llamita Sanguchera has its own separate front door, and its own mascot — a cute little llama, of course. Right now, Vinatea Williams is cooking six sandwiches and baking alfajores (dulce de leche cookies) which are, surprise, in the shape of llamas (one for $2.50, three for $6.50; you’ll want more than one). Irrarazabal is the friendly face out front.
Owners Keiko Vinatea Williams (left) and Paola Irrarazabal (right) in front of La Llamita. courtesy Paola Irrarazabal
Deciding which sandwich to order is tough, and could get tougher as the menu gets longer. (Already it’s doubled in length from the original three items.)
I was tempted by butifarra, made with homemade ham, and the choripán, the iconic sandwich of Argentina and a favorite in Peru, too, with its simple combination of sausage and chimichurri.
“This is a homemade chimichurri,” Vinatea Williams says. “I tried to make it with Peruvian style, with some ingredients from Peru.” She makes mayonnaise for the chicken sandwich, too, and she assembles a vegetable club with three pieces of bread.
On my first visit, though, I tried the biggest sandwich of them all, El Poderoso ($8.55). It’s simple and effective: chicharrones, seared hard and extra juicy, with fried slices of sweet potato and a handful of salsa criolla, Peru’s red onion relish with a dash of citrus, salt and pepper. If the fatty pork, crisp onions and sweet starch aren’t enough, there’s a little dish of “spicy sauce” on the side — not that spicy, to be honest, but with plenty of garlic. I emptied the bowl.
The Mexican bakery’s bread is not exactly what you’d find in Peru, but it is still perfect for sandwich making. The loaves resemble short, chubby baguettes, and the outsides are medium crusty — you can’t poke a hole in them — but the insides are fluffy and malleable. When you take your first bite, the inside of the loaf collapses together, but the crust stays intact and keeps the filling from slipping out.
“Sanguchera” is a word that means someone who makes sandwiches and, colloquially, someone who likes to eat them, as well. Many sandwich lovers will be finding their way to this little kitchen, but don’t all go at once. There are only three tables at La Llamita. The co-founders are already thinking about finding a bigger restaurant space, but for now, this is a tiny slice of Peruvian street culture in North Dallas.
La Llamita Sanguchera, 7800 Spring Valley Road. Open 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday.
» Brian Reinhart has been the Dallas Observer’s food critic since spring 2016. In addition, he writes baseball analysis for the Hardball Times and covers classical music for the Observer and MusicWeb International.