Miriam DesHarnais on Panka’s Peruvian Cuisine

A few years ago there weren’t so many Peruvian restaurants in Baltimore. Now Chicken Rico has been joined by the likes of Grille Twelve 24, El Gran Pollo, Primo Chicken, Lima’s Chicken, Pollo Amigo, Peru a la Brasa and the more upscale Puerto 511, among others. I can’t claim to have done an exhaustive comparison of which place is best, but I’m partial to Panka’s Peruvian Cuisine in Cockeysville.

Panka’s is a great example of the value triangle (convenience, deliciousness, low cost) in that they have easy parking, are open when one expects them to be, the food tastes good and the portions are generous for the price.

chicken

Located in the Yorktowne Plaza strip mall, Panka’s looks like a chain restaurant, with a clean but plain interior and jazzy logo. But reading the menu quickly shakes that feeling–chains don’t usually gamble on offerings like beef hearts or ceviche.

A strength of Panka’s is the breadth of its menu. One can certainly get the mainstays of Peruvian chicken places, rotisserie chicken with sides ($9 for a half chicken; I like mine with fried rice and beans or plantains) or an above average burrito (also $9, served with fries), elevated by dipping sauces and flavorful meat and rice. But Panka’s is really best for ordering a feast of specialty dishes to share.

causa de pollo

For $7, the causa de pollo is a potato lover’s dream. It looks like a little birthday layer cake and consists of a circle of cold homemade mashed potatoes, topped with a tangy cilantro chicken salad, then another disc of potatoes and a mayo sauce that includes purple potatoes. It’s hearty but delicate- I suspect the causa is a point of pride since it’s typically delivered to the table by the chef, rather than the counter staff and is served on a china platter.

Another winning dish is the tallarin verde ($13.50), a large enough to share pasta dish that showcases the disparate international influences that Peruvian food can embody. Noodles are generously covered in a basil pesto (another creamy sauce, these are not low-cal meals) that any Italian restaurant would be proud of. This is topped with a chicken breast that’s been pounded thin and marinated in soy sauce, and accompanied by a pile of grated parmesan and a few crispy roasted potatoes. It’s carbs on carbs- possibly overkill, but oh so good.

tallarin verde

The ceviche de pescado ($12.50) is a still-large but lighter option: thinly sliced and citrus-dressed fish and onions, served with sweet potato rounds, giant corn kernels and crispy toasted corn nuts. Or try the aquadito de pollo ($8.50), a warming chicken cilantro soup.

Splitting an entree plus a smaller item like the ceviche, causa, or soup is more than enough food for two hungry people. I called to check and the sides are vegetarian, so file that away as needed. Although Panka’s no longer offers homemade chicha morada, a delicious purple corn drink, they often have alfajores, delicate sandwich cookies filled with manjor blanco (similar to caramel or dulce de leche.)

Dining in at Panka’s is low-key; minimal but pleasant service compensates for occasional small logistical blips (credit card machine down, food coming out at different times). Or you can be a dinner hero and bring some Panka’s home to eat.

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Panka’s Peruvian
112 Cranbrook Road. #6
Cockeysville, Maryland 21030
Ph. 410 666 5600

Author Miriam DesHarnais has lived in Baltimore since 2002 and is passionate about exploring tucked-away spots to find food that is satisfying on all levels. She loves the podcast Undisclosed and borrowing audiobooks for free from the public library.