Mex Peru Gipsy
The face of Los Angeles is always getting some kind of makeover. Every weekend, new shops and restaurants replace the old ones, sometimes overnight. But there’s one restaurant right by Santee Alley that has weathered all the development storms for three decades. Welcome to Mex Peru Gipsy.
“By the grace of God and our hard work we’re still here after 34 years,” says Mex Peru Gipsy’s owner Juan Alfaro in Spanish. Alfaro was born in Peru and came to Los Angeles to work in kitchens. Then, in 1982, he got the opportunity to become the owner of a coffee shop, where he served the deal-hunting swarms from Santee Alley quick bites like donuts, tacos, and burritos. But his customers wanted more. “As society changed, we had to change as well,” Alfaro says of the time when he started noticing that the crowds wanted bigger Mexican dishes. So Alfaro started composing more complete meals like the carne asada, done his way and topped with mushrooms and onions.
Today, the name of the tiny, studio apartmentsized restaurant let’s you in on the kind of food you can get here: Mexican, Peruvian, and Gypsy. You would think tackling three different palates under one roof would be tough to nail down, but Alfaro and his crew do it so well that this place is packed when lunch rolls around. Customers quickly flock to the small counter that snakes around the open kitchen. Before you know it, they’re handing back their once packed plates practically licked clean — pretty much the only restaurant review that counts.
Alfaro’s bestseller is — no surprise — his Peruvian lomo saltado. If you’re Peruvian, you’ll know that the lomo saltado here is legit and possibly the best in the city. If you’re not, well, you’re welcome. You just found your new favorite thing to eat. Just make sure to pour some of the green aji sauce on it. It will pump up the flavors waiting to be unleashed in this marinated meat and french fries stir-fry. The other things your mouth deserves to try here are the fresh ceviche (perfect on a hot day), the chicken sandwich and the Gypsy dish Alfaro recommends to lovers of spicy food: the pork chop with spicy mole. Have your Inca Cola on standby — you’ll need it.
“I like hole-in-the-walls, those are the gems in the city. And I like that guy, he’s just so genuine. It’s from the heart,” says Elaine Dunton, a secondtime customer who brought her girlfriends this time around. Alfaro’s passion for feeding people shows, and it’s why he’s seen generations roll through his restaurant. The little kids that once used to get dragged in by their parents are now coming back to check in on Alfaro by choice, sometimes with kids of their own. Alfaro is always smiling and treats everyone like family, especially his small crew of workers.
“I see my business like a soccer team, I run with them,” Alfaro says. That means he’s sweeping, cleaning, and helping wherever he can, working with his team “shoulder to shoulder.” At the age when most people are slowly retiring, Alfaro instead is grateful that he still has the health and strength to serve you the best of three cultures.
Written by Linda Hosmer
Photographed by Kort Havens
Videography by Kort Havens