Over the past decade, restaurant pop-ups have become a common starting point for enterprising chefs. In the summer of 2021, “City Lights” profiled La Chingana, a popular Peruvian pop-up from chef Arnaldo Castillo. La Chingana’s success caught the attention of longtime Atlanta restaurateur Howard Hsu, best known for Sweet Auburn Barbeque and Lazy Betty. Together they fulfilled Castillo’s dream of owning a physical eatery by opening Tio Lucho’s on North Highland Avenue. Named after Castillo’s father, the new restaurant specializes in Peruvian coastal cuisine. “City Lights” senior producer Kim Drobes visited Castillo and Hsu in the new space to hear their story about this pop-up being made permanent.
Castillo walks Drobes across the threshold of the restaurant and points out the prominent mural on display. He said, “This is the first thing people like to see is the mural, which in Spanish says ‘En Atlanta se come rico’, and the translation is ‘In Atlanta you eat well’.” The mural is one piece. by local artist and social worker Franco Bejarano. In addition to its charming message, the mural’s visual style reflects Peru’s “chicha” aesthetic. “In terms of design, Cumbia groups started using these very colorful and bright flyers in Peru in the 1970s to market their shows and things like that,” Castillo explains. “It became kind of an iconic way of using these colors and the writing and the style, so I thought it would be really fun to just grab that aspect of Peruvian art.”
Although Castillo is proud of his new home, he still cherishes the memory of how he got here. To prove it, he’s kept his old pop-up cart in the restaurant to serve as an expo display. “This is our street cart in La Chingana, where I was making sandwiches outside Chop Shop in Edgewood,” he showed Drobes. “Usually I stand here and finish the dishes before they get to the table. And the artwork is made by my wife. [She’s] super multi-talented. All the plants are made by her, and if you can believe it, I think over 50% of these plants came from my house.
Castillo’s other half in the business, Howard Hsu, brings a comprehensive review of the local restaurant’s credibility to the operation. Hailing from a family of restaurateurs, Hsu teams up with his brother, a classically trained chef, at their Lazy Betty restaurant, known for top-notch fine dining in an approachable, intimate space. The decision to partner with Castillo came to him after being blown away by La Chingana’s food after recently becoming interested in Peruvian cuisine.
“Last year my wife and I went to Miami with our little six-month-old baby and didn’t leave our hotel block. So we went to this one Peruvian restaurant every day, and what attracted me to it was not only the wonderful cuisine and flavors, but it was very Asian-inspired,” Hsu recalled. “And so I had to quickly google, ‘What about Peru and Asian culture?’ And it was very Asian influenced; they have a huge Asian population, so that really drew me in. After returning to Atlanta, Hsu soon discovered La Chingana. “I went to eat it and loved it, and…after maybe a few visits I started talking to Arnaldo, and the guy was looking for a restaurant,” Hsu said. “I was like, ‘Man, he seems like a cool dude. So let’s talk.’”
Tio Lucho’s is planning special events for February, including a curated Peruvian wine dinner. More information can be found on their website, www.tioluchos.com.