On April 15, Carlos Altamirano, the Peruvian chef known throughout the Bay area, realized a dream he had had since arriving in San Francisco from Peru in 1994: to open a restaurant in La Misión, on Valencia Street.
Some time ago, he bought the place where his Sanguchon restaurant is now, but due to the pandemic, he could not open until months after.
“The pandemic has been very difficult for business owners, and it was hard not knowing what to expect when opening a new establishment during the pandemic,” Altamirano said. “What if we open and nobody buys?”
La Misión—and specifically, Valencia Street—always attracted Altamirano for being a very busy corridor, with many cultures and different types of businesses.
Before being a restaurant, Sanguchon was a very popular food truck that popped up all over San Francisco. But the dream was always to turn it into a fixed location, which is less logistical and more stable for a businessman. Altamirano has eight Peruvian restaurants in the Bay Area, including Mochica in Potrero Hill and La Costanera in Half Moon Bay, which has received a Michelin star.
The popularity of his restaurants reflects the growing popularity of Peruvian cuisine worldwide in the last 20 years. Today, many people are familiar with this gastronomy because of its rise in visibility, thanks to chefs like Altamirano in the Bay Area and Gastón Acurio, the world’s best-known chef and promoter of Peruvian cuisine (Acurio has a restaurant, La Mar, in San Francisco).
There are an estimated more than 4,000 Peruvian restaurants worldwide.
Altamirano knows very well the role that his restaurants play in promoting knowledge of Peruvian cuisine. His philosophy is that it’s not a monolith: each chef brings their own touch that makes the cuisine unique, and it depends on the technique and how they present it.
His touch focuses on the freshness of the products, with production in small portions, sauces made every day, as well as the seafood that is bought daily. He also focuses a lot on the beauty of his dishes because since childhood he has had the desire to see and appreciate beautiful things.
But it’s not only the beauty of the food itself. Altamirano says that part of the experience is the physical location of a restaurant. He is very involved in the design of his locals, because he wants his restaurants to reflect the diversity of all of Peru. In Sanguchon, the chosen details pay homage to the country—the walls have laser-cut Nazca lines, the pre-Colombian geoglyphs etched into the desert sands of southern Peru.
Altamirano loves to design his premises, taking inspiration from fashion magazines with the aim to keep up with other restaurants. “It is very important to stay ahead of the curve,” he says. He attributes his success to his extensive experience working in restaurants across the country with different foods and styles.
Originally from Nazca, Peru, Altamirano began his career by learning from the best French, Italian, and Japanese chefs at the restaurants that he worked in San Francisco and New York. Although he started out as a dishwasher, he worked hard to learn from his mentors.
When he decided it was time to open his own restaurant, he originally thought of opening any type of restaurant, French or Italian, but his mother was the one who suggested that he start with Peruvian food. He then returned to Peru to work and learn from his countrymen, cooking alongside expert chefs in the north of the country, such as Tumbes. His restaurants reflect the love he shares for his country, and his food continues raising the knowledge and level of Peruvian cuisine with his clients.
“Cooking is part of my life. I do not neglect details in my restaurants because it is part of me,” he says. Fulfilling his dream by opening Sanguchon in La Misión is a big part of that. He lives with his wife and children near the place, and for him, it’s special to be able to go to the restaurant together and walk down Valencia Street.
“Not everything is work. It is very important to be able to share time—and food—together.”