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Restaurant Reviews

Café Limón

Food Network Star in Our Midst: The fare at Café Limón is a winning reason for a Syracuse stopover.

By Ted Scheffler
Posted // April 14,2010 -

In 2008, Amparo Alam was crowned Grand Prize Winner of Food Network’s Ultimate Recipe Showdown, a TV cooking show hosted by the ubiquitous Guy Fieri. Alam’s rotisserie chicken with fried yucca root beat out all others in the nationwide recipe contest, and she walked away with a $25,000 prize and a Food Network cooking apron signed by Fieri. It hangs in her restaurant, Café Limón, located in Syracuse, a place you might only have occasion to pass through on the way to Antelope Island. But, you really should plan a jaunt to Syracuse for that delicious chicken, not to mention the other very tasty Peruvian-influenced dishes.

Café Limón is a small, unpretentious restaurant located next to a Smith’s grocery store, just a few minutes from the Antelope Drive exit on Interstate 15. It’s a family affair, where Alam is server and hostess, and husband Ron does most of the cooking, assisted by their teenage sons?Randy and Ronnie. Amparo Alam calls the family “half camel/half llama,” referring to the marriage of Ron’s Middle Eastern background and her own Peruvian one. The couple met and married in the Los Angeles area, where they both worked in restaurants?she as a server, he as a cook. When I asked how a guy from the Middle East and a gal from Peru ever wound up running a Peruvian restaurant in Syracuse, Utah, Ron Alam says, “We were looking for good, inexpensive schools for our kids. We had a friend who lived here and came to visit. We liked Syracuse, and picked up and moved from California.” Well, the Golden State’s loss is the Beehive’s gain.

The small eatery is drafty. You’ll want to leave your jacket or sweater on and choose a table away from the door, if possible. However, the warm service and hospitality of the Alam family quickly negates any chill in the air. Amparo Alam loves to talk about the food she serves and is happy to explain exotic ingredients and dishes like Peruvian aji chile, zarza criolla, salsa a la huancaina and lomo saltado. While getting the lowdown on Peruvian cuisine, I suggest tucking into a hefty appetizer of papa a la huancaina ($6.99). It’s a platter of steamed, sliced, golden-colored Peruvian potatoes bathed in a creamy, spicy cheese sauce. Since the Alams can’t find the Peruvian cheese traditionally used for this dish, they’ve reinvented the dish using a combination of queso fresca and two other cheeses locally available. This appetizer, like virtually everything on the menu, is served in abundant portions. The food isn’t light, nor are the servings skimpy. Plan your diet accordingly.

The cuisine is a mix of Peruvian and American fare, and the burgers in particular are worthy of your attention. The Peruvian Burger ($7.29) is a single patty topped with American cheese, bacon, a fried egg and spicy Peruvian “salsa” of thin-sliced red onions and aji chiles. It’s a damned delicious burger. One of our meat-loving teenagers, however, preferred the double cheeseburger ($8.29): two all-beef patties topped with American cheese, four thick slices of bacon and a homemade burger sauce. I have to admit that this, too, was a killer burger, thanks in part to the above-average bun? from a small, local bakery Amparo Alam uses, but I was sworn to secrecy: She probably doesn’t want the competition discovering these excellent burger buns. Burgers come with a choice of standard french fries (included) or not-so-standard thin, crisp yucca fries for $1.99. Spring for the yucca fries; they’re delicious.

Now, those big burgers sure would taste good with a cold beer. But, Ron Alam says he doesn’t wish to offend his largely LDS clientele by serving alcohol. So, a good beverage alternative is canned Inca Kola, a yellow-gold, lemon-verbena-flavored soda drink popular in South America.

Of course, you’ll certainly want to sample the award-winning signature dish at Café Limón, the Peruvian chicken ($10.99). It’s a plump, tender half-chicken, marinated before roasting in a zippy mélange of garlic, a Peruvian herb called huacatay, pepper, cumin, achiote, lime juice, aji chile, salt and pepper, and served with a heaping helping of yucca fries and both huancaina and aji sauces for dipping. The result is flavor that is subtle, but sensational.

Another interesting (and XXL-size) dish is “jumping beef” (lomo saltado). It’s a lot of food for $10.99: crisp, thin slices of beef stirfried with tomatoes, onions, aji chile and garnished with fresh, bright green minced parsley. It comes with both french fries and a large side of dry, slightly crunchy rice and beans?pinto beans both whole and mashed, mixed with white rice. I guarantee you’ll need a box to take home the leftovers.

“Amparo wanted to put everything on the menu,” says Ron Alam of his wife’s desire to serve items such as Peruvian ceviche. “But, I’d rather just do a few things really well.” Still, Café Limón does offer breakfast items all day long, including hot cakes, French toast, custom-built omelets, steak and eggs, and more. And there are sandwiches, also served all day. Options include a roast beef melt, grilled BLT, club sandwich, turkey stack and a selection of Peruvian sandwiches. The latter come with a choice of three Peruvian sauces: cheese, criolla or aji. The pan con lechon sandwich ($8.29) is terrific: slow-roasted, tender slices of roast pork, served on a grilled roll with your choice of sauce (I prefer the aji).

Frankly, I’m tired of television “celebrity” chefs. So, it’s wonderful to discover, at Café Limón, Food Network stars so warm and hospitable. They make a meal in Syracuse a must-do.

973 W. 1700 South


Ted Scheffler:

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Posted // November 11,2011 at 17:12 My wife and I and two friends visited Cafe Limon this week. We enjoy international fare and found the dishes Amparo and Ron offered were very good, very tasty and reasonably priced. The amount of food provided was more than ample. We appreciated the care taken by the owners in preparing our food and their concern that we enjoyed everything they provided us. We both drink alcoholic beverages, but don't make that a requirement to dine out at a great cafe. We will stop back again anytime we are in the area, and have recommended Cafe Limon to our adult children and their families. Great job, folks - you are a credit to Syracuse and the greater Salt Lake area !!


Posted // June 7,2010 at 17:48 it OK if we bring our own beer or wine?

I'm sorry these people are AFRAID of their neighbors who shun alcohol, because it seems that the REST OF US are truly the ones who spend money eating out.

I'd like to try this place, but we have a family rule that we don't patronize businesses who favor only ONE SIDE of Utah.

Right on, Hayduke.


Posted // July 20,2010 at 10:19 - Ok guys I'm actually the owners son so let me clear some things up, well firstly Melissa is right about some of the reasons we don't have alcohol the license is very expensive and it's not worth spending all the money on the license and stocking it if we only get asked about it every once in a great while, my dads not Muslim tho thanks for noticing he's middle eastern haha oh and about the "scared" comment the main reasons are the ones I've mentioned I'm not sure why Ted Scheffler only mentioned that we were scared because that's really not the main reason nor are we Mormon so that really doesn't contribute to it either. Well thanks for listening to my rant haha, Peace people!


Posted // June 8,2010 at 15:08 - All points well taken. Like all Mormons, I'm guilty of not always living up to the "high standards" of my religion. I lost my temper because I felt personally offended. My mistake. Foodies should be friends. I hope Laytonian is willing to break his rule just once for some truly great food. Peace to all.


Posted // June 8,2010 at 14:53 - Now Melissa, I haven't said anything about you personally and don't intend to. You know well that, as a Mormon in Utah and commenter on a local blog, you'll be held to the high standards your religion dictates, which, I believe, includes not calling strangers assholes. Regarding Laytonian and his family making rules pertaining to where they'd like to eat and why, that's their business and it doesn't affect you or me or even Cafe Limon. Keep in mind that not all people from the Middle East are Muslim and not all Muslim's refrain from drinking. But you made some valid points and you may be right...perhaps there are other reasons for them to not serve booze? Nonetheless! I have no doubts that these two people are sweet and talented and deserve all the patrons they can muster. I don't care if they serve booze or not, really, but it would have been nice had they included a couple alcoholic Peruvian specialties, like the ones I listed earlier. Take good care and let us all part this thread as friends. Or at least the digital equivalent thereof.


Posted // June 8,2010 at 14:02 - You can say whatever you want about me, Hayduke. Honestly, I thought the things you said earlier were intelligent and informed. Laytonian was acting like a child and an asshole. Me calling him on that has nothing to do with my being Mormon. Doesn't it seem like making a family rule not to eat at a place just because it doesn't serve beer is kind of limiting? I did read the article, and my point was that there may be more reasons than the one Ron and Amparo gave for not serving beer. It's sad to me that one little line in the entire piece is all Laytonian focused on. Cafe Limon is great, I eat there often and really enjoy the food. Amparo is sweet and talented and doesn't deserve all this flak for her family's personal decision. Did anyone notice that Ron is from the Middle East? Muslims also refrain from drinking alcohol. Maybe there is more to this story than that one line suggests. Get over the lack of beer and just try the food and you'll be glad you did.


Posted // June 8,2010 at 08:40 - Another Mormon telling people to "grow up" (the favorite Utah Mormon catch phrase) while calling them asshole. Delicious irony. Did you read the article, Melissa? It says that they don't serve alcohol because they're afraid of offending their often-times prejudiced Mormon neighbors, not because they don't drink or because of any of the other things you listed. In fact, it seems the owners of this cafe are the ones doing the pigeon-holing with their preconceived notions regarding the faithful patronizing their business. Think about it, Sister. *And cheers to you, Laytonian*


Posted // June 7,2010 at 21:35 - How sad that you are missing out on great food simply because you are embracing prejudice and stereotypes just as much as the religious people you seem to be dissing in your comment. Have you ever considered that the owners themselves might be religiously opposed to alcohol? Should they have to violate their beliefs just so they can draw in more customers? Maybe they can't afford a liquor license or don't want to deal with the convoluted liquor laws in this state. It just so happens that I'm Mormon, but I eat out all the time with no bias for or against places that serve alcohol. I'm just as likely to try a great gastro pub as I am a little independent place like Cafe Limon. Good, local food deserves our business, all politics aside. I have no problem with people who choose to drink, but I do have a problem with assholes that pigeonhole me into a stereotype just because of my religion. Grow up.


Posted // April 30,2010 at 20:55

Amparo and Ron are some of the friendliest people I know. The restaurant was simple, but had a friendly atmosphere. If you are looking for great exotic food, this is the place!!! And Inca Kola is awesome!


Posted // April 15,2010 at 21:52

Cafe Limon is literally around the corner from us and we eat there whenever we can. It only takes one trip to feel like a regular because Amparo is so friendly and welcoming. If you've got kids, order the salchipapas (hot dog slices tossed in with frech fries). I can't imagine a more perfect kid food, and I like snitching a little for myself too.


Posted // April 15,2010 at 10:26

Inka cola is horrid. I'd rather drink my own urine.

Too bad these guys are afraid of offending their LDS neighbors. Otherwise, we may get to enjoy a nice pisco sour, or maybe a cold pilsen callao or Cusquena.

Where's the fried guinea pig? Mate de coca? Alpaca steak?


Posted // April 20,2010 at 15:07 - I've read your comment several times, Milagros, but am not sure I fully understand it. I'm not disrespecting Peru or Peruvian cuisine, both of which I enjoy very much. Inca Kola IS horrid and that's my opinion. If you like it, you drink it. I didn't like it in Peru and I'm sure I wouldn't like it in a Peruvian-owned restaurant in Syracuse, Utah. I like Peruvian food, including alpaca meat. Peruvian food is simple, unpretentious and comprised of very nice ingredients. I passed on the guinea pig (yes, fried guinea pig is served in Peru and Ecuador. It wasn't a joke) because I was sick at the time and the rodent laying on its back with its teeth bared and claws poking out of crisped paws wasn't settling to my stomach. But I bet it tastes good and I'll try it when I next have the chance. I am about to enjoy one of three remaining packets of mate de coca that I brought back with me. I love that stuff. *If Ted would like to try it and hasn't already, let me know and I'll send one down - it's individually packaged* And, I would friggin' love a pilsen callao and think it's sad that the owners of Cafe Limon can't serve it or some other beer because they fear the local religion. Finally, Gringo Smith's (ha! Gringo Smith) fast food IS geared to bait and make addicts of people and it does make people fat. So you see, we're on the same side here, I think.


Posted // April 20,2010 at 13:30 - Ignorance is daring you respect the tastes of people from all over the world if you like Peruvian food so do not make nasty comments, imagine that you say American food is just to bait people and make them obese, it's so unpleasant and do not think the typical food of the gringos smith is based on animal internal ASCO