Cynthia Garcia follows her passion by opening Mishqui Peru
The eatery on Monona Drive offers Peruvian favorites, including lomo saltado, pescado frito and empanadas.
Cynthia Garcia has never shied away from bold questions or equally bold career moves. “I had this adrenaline running into my veins and it’s like, ‘OK, it’s time to make a serious decision about what you want to do for your life,’ ” she says.
Garcia ultimately decided that she wanted to be a chef. Five years ago, that determination led her away from the nursing program at Madison College and into its culinary program. “I loved it,” Garcia shares, referring to nursing, “but it wasn’t my passion.” Cooking held a true place in her heart. The goal was to bring Peruvian dishes to Madison diners.
Following a series of pop-up-style dinners and appearances at Madison events, Garcia made yet another ambitious move in deciding to open her first restaurant, Mishqui Peruvian Cuisine (or Mishqui Peru), in the former Rosie’s Coffee Bar and Bakery in April 2022. The Monona Drive space was much larger than she originally envisioned, but the opportunity was too good to pass up.
Garcia attributes her ambition to those who have supported her over the years — her family, friends and now the Mishqui Peru team, which includes many former Rosie’s staff members.
Garcia has taught her team how to prepare Peruvian favorites she remembers from her childhood in Iquitos, Peru — dishes like papas a la huancaína, which are potatoes in a creamy yellow pepper sauce. She plans to continue expanding the menu, and she is encouraging the staff’s input on future offerings like pollo a la brasa, a marinated rotisserie chicken she hopes to add to the menu this year.
Her passion and positivity continue to motivate her team at Mishqui Peru, as well as a loyal base of diners who have followed Garcia from her early days of pop-up dinners to, now, the opening of her own restaurant.
Chef’s Choice | Lomo Saltado
“If I go out to a Peruvian restaurant … I always eat lomo saltado,” says Garcia. “Don’t ask me why, but it’s always lomo saltado.” This chef’s favorite has become her restaurant’s bestseller. She stir-fries beef tenderloin, onions and tomatoes in a savory cilantro, soy and oyster sauce and serves the savory combination alongside rice and house-made french fries.
Hand-held Hit | Empanadas
Empanadas are popular all across South and Central America, with every region having its own unique fillings and textures. Garcia’s Peruvian-style empanadas are stuffed with onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, hard-boiled eggs, golden raisins, herbs and panca peppers (a type of chili pepper commonly grown in Peru), along with your choice of ground beef, chicken or a plant-based meat substitute. The star of these tasty turnovers, however, is the flaky and slightly sweet pastry shell.
Not Your Average Fish Fry | Pescado Frito
The Pompano fish, fried and served whole, is a feast for the eyes and stomach. Pompano fish has a sweet and mild flavor, which pairs beautifully with the house-made green sauce, a bright cilantro-based sauce that’s so popular, Mishqui Peruvian Cuisine bottles it. Served with sweet plantains, rice and a house salad, this fully fried whitefish is both light and filling.
Entering the Danger Zone
Cynthia Garcia calls it the danger zone for good reason. The brightly lit display of Peruvian baked goods is the first thing you see as you enter her restaurant, causing tunnel vision. Garcia, along with her team of bakers, creates an overwhelming variety of sweet and savory bakery items, including très leches and turnovers filled with guava and cheese. A staple of the case is Garcia’s alfajores, sandwich-style cookies filled with dulce de leche and a hint of lime. At Mishqui Peru, it’s never a question of whether or not to get dessert. The question is which one.
Find Mishqui Peruvian Cuisine:
4606 Monona Drive, 608-405-5123, facebook.com/mishquiperu.go
Marissa DeGroot is a contributing writer to Madison Magazine.
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