Woven from diverse global influences, Peruvian cuisine is a rich tapestry that Marcel Vizcarra of Llama Restaurant in St. Augustine uses to creatively blend tradition and innovation in his telling of the story of Andean culture.

Perhaps no other dish on the menu spins a better yarn than his take on Anticuchos de Corazón—grilled skewers of marinated beef heart, popular on the country’s urban streets. 

The anticucho tradition predates the arrival of the first Spanish conquistadors who would have encountered the native Incas grilling llama over hot coals. With colonization came new ingredients like beef and garlic that soon assimilated into the local cuisine. It also inevitably brought West African slaves who endeavored to make the most out of the organ meat cast aside by their European counterparts, transforming something once considered unfit for consumption into one of the country’s most iconic dishes.

Beef hearts are admittedly a hard sell for the typical squeamish American appetite so to make them more appealing, Marcel’s spin dials the spectacle of the dish’s presentation up to eleven.

The dish arrives in a bell jar, hidden in a cloud of swirling fog. As the glass is removed and the applewood smoke unfurls, so too does the narrative of this beloved dish. The thick mist now billowing across the table (and no doubt arousing the curiosity of nearby diners) is meant to transport you to the streets of Peru where the smoky aroma from anticucho stalls permeates the air. 

The smoke clears to reveal skewers of thinly sliced meat impaled on a pedestal of fried potato and an Andean species of corn called choclo. To elevate its gamey flavor and tenderize the otherwise tough cut of meat, the strips are marinated for 24-36 hours in a mixture of aji panca (a spicy, fruity Peruvian red pepper), garlic, scallions, and various spices that doubles as a dipping sauce. There are over 4,000 varieties of potato native to Peru but they don’t travel well so Marcel uses standard Yukons. The corn however, is special. Choclo’s giant kernels are chewier in texture and milder in flavor than American sweet corn but it won’t grow anywhere else so Marcel imports it directly from Peru.

The result is nothing short of revelatory and should give you the necessary confidence to trust Marcel’s skill enough to take on the grilled guinea pig.

This story originally appeared as part of the feature “The Best Thing I’ve Ever Eaten (Recently)” in Void Magazine’s February 2020 issue.

More From our “The Best Thing I’ve Ever Eaten (Recently)” feature
Part I (From duck quesadillas to sourdough pancakes to street food esquites and more)
Part II (Dim Sum, enchiladas, brownies, etcetera)