Alternative entrée choices include poached snapper with white wine sauce and quinoa pilaf, and a popular dish drawn from Lima’s long-standing Chinese community, lomo saltado, stir-fried beef strips with soy-based sauce, here with yucca fries rather than the more traditional french fries. Spinach-and-cheese ravioli with pesto provides a vegetarian option — yes, urbane Lima abounds in Italian restaurants.

For dessert, we were tempted by tres leches cake and by key lime meringue pie, but we finally chose the divine alfajore, a large, light, and crumbly cookie stuffed with dulce de leche. The espresso is from Illy, so who could ask for more?

I could, of course — more spice, more authenticity. Still, this is a charming, comfortable environment to discover Peruvian cuisine for yourself. I prefer the cooking at the tiny Latin Kitchen in Pacific Beach, where the owner is a stickler for authenticity and goes to great lengths to buy Peruvian spices and peppers. But if you’re looking for creature comforts in which to casually explore an exciting new cuisine, Café Secret is no secret anymore. ■

Café Secret

★★★ (Very Good)

1140 Camino Del Mar (11th Street), Del Mar, 858-792-0821;

HOURS: Tuesday 7:30 a.m.–6:00 p.m.; Wednesday–Sunday until 9:00 p.m.

PRICES: Appetizers and salads $10–$18; entrées $16–$22; desserts $6–$8.

CUISINE & BEVERAGES: Reasonably authentic, slightly upscale Peruvian cuisine, loads of seafood, most dishes with a nip of spice, in generous servings. Wine list under revision, with international bottlings, including affordable Argentine and South African choices, plus Peruvian beer, chicha morada (corn-based juice).

PICK HITS: Ceviche; Papitas con Yuca a la Huancaina; Causa; Pescado a lo Macho; Chupe de Camarones (special); Alfajores (cookies). Lunch menu includes several empanadas.

NEED TO KNOW: Large portions, with most appetizers and entrées enough to feed two or even three. Check chalkboard for specials. Spacious front patio with heaters is most comfortable seating, weather permitting. (Interior rather too “cozy,” with many tables in a small space.) Breakfast room upstairs. Leisurely service. Three substantial lacto-vegetarian dishes.

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