728 Henry St., Alexandria 548-0468 Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. Prices: Soups and appetizers $2.25 to $4.95; entrees $1.75 to $10.95. Cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Choice. No nonsmoking section.
There are ever-increasing opportunities in Northern Virginia for hyphenated eating: Thai-Cambodian, Mexican-Italian, even Indian-German. At Tio Pedro, however, one hyphen isn't enough. The new menu is Tex-Mex-Peruvian-Spanish, and, for added variety, there's also western North Carolina pork barbecue.
It is as if the new Peruvian owners, brothers Pedro and Fidel Espinosa, decided to hedge their bets by flying the culinary banners of at least four countries on three continents.
A little background: The brothers still own El Chalan, the Peruvian restaurant in the District, but branched out to this location, which used to be a Tex-Mex restaurant, six months ago. While retaining most of the old menu, they grafted on Spanish and Peruvian specialties. The modestly priced results are generally pleasing, with some occasional standouts.
For starters, along with the complimentary basket of usually warm chips and a mildly spicy salsa, try the delicious guacamole infused with garlic and studded with chunks of tomatoes and onions. A typical Spanish appetizer, shrimp sauteed with toasted garlic, was terrific. Although it was listed as a special one evening, it's usually available upon request.
Also delicious was a homey Peruvian chicken soup ($2.25) containing a tangle of spaghetti and a whole chicken breast in a rich broth perfumed with cumin.
Among the entrees, another Peruvian dish, lomo saltado ($7.95), scored high with tender strips of seared beef tossed with sweet onion slices, fried potatoes and fresh tomatoes over rice.
The best Tex-Mex dish is the chile relleno ($5.95) filled with a wonderful blend of ground meat, raisins, almonds, green olives and a few slivers of hot green pepper. I'd order it again even though the batter coating was flimsy and the accompanying beans and rice forgettable.
Other Tex-Mex offerings, such as a beef burrito, chicken enchilada with green sauce, and beef taco, are ordinary.
According to Pedro Espinosas' description, a dish called "calendario" sounds intriguing -- an assortment of seven foods arranged in the circular pattern of the Aztec calendar stone. Unfortunately, the example that arrived at my table -- only five clumsily arranged selections -- must have represented a shortened week. Of the five, two got thumbs up -- the dense beef tamale and a dish of guacamole -- and two thumbs down -- the refried beans and the quesadilla, a folded flour tortilla pasted closed with melted cheese. The fifth selection, ceviche, a generous serving of lime-marinated fish, reminiscent of herring, was unpleasantly fishy.
Another disappointment was the paella valenciana, with overcooked seafood and no evidence of chicken.
The Texas and Cincinnati chilis are decent, though the spicy Texas style, which tends to be salty, is better when cut with beans and spaghetti as in the chili mac version.
Flan has recently been added to the menu, but the only dessert available on my visits was an acceptable sopaipilla served with a choice of honey or strawberries.
There is a back room, larger than the main dining room, where entertainment is usually scheduled on Friday and Saturday nights.
Though not everything is terrific, Tio Pedro is worth a visit for the best of its moderately priced dishes.