Updated April 12, 2021
Since it first opened in 2015, this dimly-lit Peruvian restaurant has always been top of mind when planning a special night out in Williamsburg, or anywhere in NYC. Whether for a celebratory dinner by candelight or a fun night out with friends on the rooftop, we’ve consistently directed people here to eat their feelings in Peruvian anticuchos and succulent platters of lomo saltado.
We also knew that Llama Inn wasn’t exactly approachable for every New Yorker. After spending around $100 per person for dinner here, we’d look around and consider whether the restaurant might just be a cover-up for a members-only club exclusively serving raw denim-clad clientele.
But on a recent visit just after the restaurant reopened in 2021, we discovered that Llama Inn had become had unveiled a more casual side of itself.
For starters, the buzzy dining room with cascading plants is more like a spacious tearoom now that Llama Inn can only accommodate a limited capacity inside. Only this tearoom is like a coffee table design book cover come to life. A row of heated cabanas now sits along the restaurant’s triangular sidewalk, each one filled with beachy throw pillows, blankets, shag rugs, and woven dome pendants you’d find at an estate sale in the Hamptons. Instant relaxation hits when you part the curtain to get to your table. With these cozy details and new spacious dining areas, the restaurant has become more like the clubhouse we’d always imagined it to be.
After settling in at our wooden two-top for dinner, we were hit with a wave of nostalgia while picking up the restaurant’s physical menu. It was still a piece of cardstock with rows of ingredients rather than dish names, but a few of our past favorites were gone. Namely, the $76 platter of lomo saltado, which was once stacked high with enough beef tenderloin to feed a family of four. In its place, the restaurant offers a smaller $38 version with hanger steak, which we could see ourselves using as a mid-week serotonin boost. We also found ourselves missing the creamy fluke ceviche, which we’ve been known to drink straight from the bowl. This dish also had a replacement - a warm ceviche with sea bass and sweet potato that gave us the kind of comfort we’d usually find in a bowl of noodle soup.
In 2021, Llama Inn has officially become the kind of excellent, laid-back restaurant we’d visit on a random Tuesday night. Sure, it’s still an ideal place to celebrate your anniversary, but the restaurant’s new outdoor patio and lower food prices mean it can also work for drinks and snacks on a whim. It’s endearing that the music outside occasionally suffers from a poor bluetooth connection. And we can’t complain about eating excellent Peruvian food while swaddled in a blanket outside.
It’s these imperfect details that make the restaurant feel more like an informal Brooklyn restaurant with life-changing ceviche. And because of them, you should probably plan on eating at Llama Inn more than just once a year on your birthday.
Black Sea Bass Ceviche
When this ceviche hits your table, the server will pour a creamy liquid over your grilled fish and sweet potato. This bright yellow broth is peppery aji amarillo, mixed with lime juice, onion, and bunch of other ingredients you’ll want to drink from the bowl like the milk leftover from your Fruity Pebbles.
Quinoa With Banana, Avocado, Bacon, And Cashew
This is probably the most exciting quinoa salad we’ve ever had. The crunchy bacon bits, fatty cashews, and sweet banana chunks are hidden under a bowl of quinoa. So finding them is like embarking on a treasure hunt at the dinner table.
Cau Cau With Mussel Toasts
If you like mussels, you’ll like this dish. The broth is made up of a lot of the same stuff you’ll find in the ceviche (like aji amarillo, turmeric, and caramelized onions) plus ingredients like fish stock, mussel stock, and heavy cream. Plus, the bread takes like it was freshly baked and individually toasted just for you.
In Peru, this is known as lomo saltado, and it’s pretty close to being a national dish. It’s typically served with rice, but here it comes to the table with scallion pancakes as a build-it-yourself situation. We don’t need to tell you that making your own pancake tacos with stir fry beef, avocado, chiles, and french fries is something you will want to engage in.
Banana and Queso Helado Ice Cream Cake
Queso helado is a Peruvian dessert that could fit somewhere on the spectrum between rice pudding and ice cream. We like that Llama Inn’s version comes served in the middle of two fluffy cake slices and topped with caramelized bananas. It’s great to look at too, but not a must-order.