Ocopa: The tastes of Peru, from a chef who knows, come to H Street NE


Ocopa chef Carlos Delgado grew up in the Peruvian port city of Callao. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

The new Peruvian restaurant on H Street NE, Ocopa, set sail with two strengths.

One is a chef, Carlos Delgado, who knows whereof he cooks, having grown up in the port city of Callao, west of Lima. There, he indulged daily in fish with his late grandmother.

The other boon is the restaurant’s owner-investor. IS Enterprises, a construction and contracting firm, owns the building that houses Ocopa and created the rustic look that defines the narrow restaurant.

Recycled doors make up the counter of the open kitchen; recycled pallets warm up the walls. Chunky wooden tables for one, dressed with striped place mats and jewel-toned water glasses, face the cooks, giving diners a little show. Out of view is Ocopa’s hydroponic garden in the basement, where Delgado has planted some herbs, including huacatay, or black mint.


Glendon Hartley prepares a Pisco Sour at Ocopa. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

While you wait for your drink (and you will), someone drops off a bowl of corn nuts. Less filling than bread, they’re what Delgado, 24, says he snacked on as a kid in Peru. It doesn’t hurt that the salty nuts make customers thirsty, jokes the chef, who last cooked at Boveda in the West End. To the rescue: a signature drink swirled with pisco, mezcal, smoked pineapple juice and thyme.

Your next move should be to order a seviche, maybe the “clasico,” featuring rockfish or mahi-mahi. Delgado makes his raw fish dishes to order, which means you can still taste the featured attraction in its mix of lime, red onion, garlic and ginger. Another draw, papa con ocopa, is a salad of sliced white and purple fingerling potatoes and cooked quail eggs draped in a velvety cheese sauce. Ocopa takes its name from that sauce, which involves evaporated milk, queso fresco, huacatay and ají amarillo (chili peppers).

Peru’s history of Chinese immigration beginning in the late 19th century is retold in dishes such as chaufa, a stir-fry of rice and egg. Ocopa’s chaufa, sweet with lobster and countered with soy sauce, also incorporates quinoa, which Delgado thinks makes for a fluffier-textured meal.


Papa con ocopa features a sauce that gives the restaurant its name. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

Delgado makes the mahi-mahi and other seviches to order.

The kitchen’s lomo saltado is an effete version of the typically strapping crowd of beef tips, potatoes and tomatoes. When I tried the dish, it appeared the ingredients had just met and hadn’t had a chance to develop their relationship. The spuds were also overcooked. Another detail in need of fine-tuning is the service, friendly but pokey.

Ocopa is about to double in size. Expect a patio with a bar and a retractable roof sometime in September, says Delgado. With the addition of lunch hours on Aug. 25 comes another treat for diners: Peruvian rotisserie chicken, which will be sold at night only as carryout.

1324 H St. NE. 202-396-1814. www.ocopa.kitchen. Entrees, $10 to $22.

Correction: A previous version of this story provided an incorrect age for chef Carlos Delgado. He is 24.

Weaned on a beige buffet a la “Fargo” in Minnesota, Tom Sietsema is the food critic for The Washington Post. This is his second tour of duty at the Post. Sietsema got his first taste in the ‘80s, when he was hired by his predecessor to answer phones, write some, and test the bulk of the Food section’s recipes. That’s how he learned to clean squid, bake colonial cakes and distinguish between nutmeg and mace.

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