Nikkei-style

Restaurant Review: Pacha Nikkei Serves up Otherworldly Flavors

Peruvian-Japanese Chef, Masaru Fukuda, introduces Houstonians to the food of his homeland.

By Mai Pham Published in the Winter 2022 issue of Houstonia Magazine

A colorful array of delicious dishes from Pacha Nikkei.

Image: Marco Torres

My introduction to Peruvian cuisine happened here in Houston, at Latin Bites, circa 2012. At the time, Peruvian chef Roberto Castre, who now owns two Peruvian rotisserie spots called Chicken Houz, had opened this tiny seven-table eatery in downtown’s warehouse district. The food was spectacular—beautiful ceviches, picture-perfect causas, crazy-good lomo saltado, and more. I was smitten.

Since then, I’ve visited Lima for extended food-focused trips, and though I’ve feasted on all manner of Peruvian cuisine—from street food anticuchos (grilled beef heart skewers), to spectacular ceviches at Gaston Acurio’s La Mar, to Chifa (Peruvian-Chinese) fried rice and stir fries—the genre of Peruvian food that I connected with most is Nikkei.

Best described as Japanese cuisine interpreted through a local Peruvian lens and ingredients, in Houston, Nikkei-style dishes can be found on the menus of places like Nobu or Toro Toro, but they aren’t specifically called out as Nikkei, and there hasn’t been a restaurant that’s been fully dedicated to Nikkei cuisine until now. That it’s helmed by a fourth-generation Nikkei (Nikkei is also the term for Japanese immigrants in Peru) born and raised in Lima, makes it all the more compelling.

Pacha Nikkei first opened as a small stand inside the now-closed Politan Row food hall in Rice Village. Chef and owner, Masaru Fukuda, now 40, started his culinary career later in life. A graphic designer by trade, he got his first break in the restaurant industry as a ceviche chef at Castre’s Latin Bites some 10 years ago, building on his repertoire with stints at notable Houston restaurants such as Kata Robata, Soma Sushi, and MAD Houston.

Masaru Fukuda, owner and head chef of Pacha Nikkei.

Image: Marco Torres

“I want to introduce to Houston and the community the way Japan and Peru merged and came up with this cuisine,” Fukuda said. He chose the name Pacha, which means “world” in Quechua, the Peruvian indigenous language, because of its temporal context, alluding to mother earth, the cosmos, and a specific moment in time.

Image: Marco Torres

Located in Houston’s West Side, Pacha Nikkei is 4,000 square feet of gleaming, modern open space, with a 96-seat dining area, a 10-seat dedicated ceviche counter, and a comfy 12-seat bar area. Open for lunch and dinner, Pacha features popular contemporary Peruvian dishes such as papitas la huancaina (potatoes in a huancaina sauce), anticuchos, and arroz negro con mariscos (black rice with seafood), alongside Nikkei-style maki (sushi rolls), tiraditos, and an extensive selection of eye-catching ceviches, each made to order with its own custom leche de tigre (tiger’s milk). The restaurant also has weekday happy hour specials and serves up smooth, frothy, and delicious pisco sours.

What to order:

Chalaco Ceviche

“In Peru, they would call this ceviche ‘mixto,’” Fukuda said. “It has octopus, shrimp, and cuttlefish, and is steeped in a leche de tigre made with ají amarillo and rocoto.” Served in a large shallow bowl, the presentation is striking. The ceviche is steeped in a creamy pale yellow leche de tigre and is punctuated with five orange dollops of sweet potato puree, and finished with slivers of red onion and crispy panko-fried octopus.

Salmon Tiradito

“Tiradito means ‘lay flat’ and comes from the Japanese people that came to Peru,” Fukuda said. Unlike ceviche, which is cubed and lightly cooked in acid of the leche de tigre, tiradito is made of thinly sliced raw fish and sauced right before serving. The sauce usually has soy, lime, or an ají component, giving it spice. Fukuda’s salmon tiradito is one of his purest expressions of Nikkei style, incorporating Big Glory Bay King Salmon, Peruvian red pepper (ají panca), roasted hazelnuts, and blueberry purée. 

Lomo Saltado

One of the most popular dishes in all of Peru, Fukuda’s version of lomo saltado is masterfully executed with large chunks of wok-seared beef tenderloin, juicy tomatoes and onions, and a gloriously addictive soy-oyster sauce, served atop potato wedges that soak up the sauce, with white rice on the side. Request medium rare temperature for the beef for the best experience.

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