It’s been a long time since Latino specialties like ceviche were hard to find in Charlotte. With a booming Latin American population — it’s grown by more than 60,000 just in the last decade — there aren’t many classic dishes that aren’t around here somewhere. With summer making everyone crave things that are chilled, but still powerfully hot, the search for ceviche is on.
Starting with raw fish and shellfish, ceviche is “cooked” with the acidity of lime juice, creating a powerfully flavorful leche de tigre base. Versions are found from Ecuador and Peru to Mexico, anywhere there is freshly caught fish and lots of limes.
1205 Thomas Avenue, Charlotte
The menu at Calle Sol bounces all over Florida’s Cuban influences (even Chinese-Cuban dishes) with a sharp turn into Peru’s ceviches. There’s only one version at lunch (but it’s a generous one, with lots of sweet potato, planks of fried plantain, and crunchy cancha). Dinner brings four kinds, including one with the fruity Peruvian pepper aji amarillo. For those wanting mixto — shrimp and fish together — add $6. And more is on the way: Calle Sol just announced plans to open a second location in SouthPark in 2023.
2201 South Boulevard, Charlotte
The owners of the popular Peruvian fast-casual Viva Chicken have branched out with a Japanese-influenced cevicheria that’s young, hip, and pretty — just like South End itself. Even at lunch, the atmosphere is clubby, with electronic music and moody lighting. There are other dishes in the nikkei lineup, including maki rolls, but the ceviche is what you want. (Nikkei is Peruvian ingredients prepared with Japanese techniques.) The house version of ceviche is a generous bowl of tender slices of octopus, chewy rings of squid, fat shrimp, and squares of mahi mahi, topped with lots of red onion, and sweet potato in a creamy golden base. Diners get a dish of cancha, Peru’s answer to corn nuts, as soon as they sit down. It’s recommended to wash it all down with the bar’s specialty — pisco cocktails.
La Sa Son By Winter
4200 South Boulevard
Branch out into Ecuadoran ceviche at this friendly, family-owned cafe (Winter is the owner’s name). It’s not quite as hot as Peruvian, with green plantain chips on the side instead of cancha, and, yes, squiggles of ketchup and mustard on top. There’s no written menu, just a chalkboard by the door, but visitors only need to say “ceviche,” and they’ll take care of you. Check out the karaoke setup with wall art of a futbol field built out of plastic piping.
Mily & Lalo
3210 N. Sharon Amity Road
The quaint yellow house on Albemarle is one of Charlotte’s first Peruvian restaurants. Ceviche comes to the table in a dish shaped like a boat, with chunks of sweet potato and white potato, lots of shrimp and red onion, and a prow filled with crunchy corn kernels. It’s also seriously hot: Even medium is molten enough to have customers grabbing a napkin to mop their brow.