Shelbin Santos, owner of Chicken Latino, knows the recipe for success. “People can taste the love and passion we’ve put into our food for 13 years,” she says, noting that the Peruvian restaurant’s anniversary is August 12.
This year, the eatery is celebrating in a different location, 2100 Broadway Ave. in Beechview. The neighborhood is a hub of Latino food and culture, from Casa San Jose to El Comedor de la Tia and Musa.
With limited parking, rent on the rise and sales declining in the Strip District, Santos decided it was time to move from her original spot on 21st Street and start fresh in a new neighborhood. The new eatery opened July 8 in a space formerly inhabited by Davio. It is bigger, with more seating indoors and out. Meanwhile, the vacated Strip District space will soon house Bonafide Beer Company.
Chicken Latino will be open for takeout until Allegheny County increases maximum occupancy for restaurants to 50 percent from the current 25 percent.
While the location has changed, the menu and prices have not. Signature dishes include rotisserie chicken, marinated overnight in secret seasonings, roasted in an authentic Peruvian brick oven and served with spicy green chili sauce. Other options include sweet, fried plantains, crispy yuca, burritos, and desserts such as tres leches cake.
The drab walls of the space have been brightened with colorful paint that reminds Santos of her homeland. Twenty years ago, she arrived from Peru to study psychology at the University of Pittsburgh. She instantly fell in love with the city and after graduating with a master’s degree, decided to stay and get married. When life in the corporate world wasn’t making her happy, she followed her dream of opening a Peruvian chicken restaurant, to satisfy her own nostalgic cravings and introduce Pittsburgh to the country’s unique flavors.
Santos grew up shadowing her mother in the kitchen. In her household, you planned lunch and dinner before you finished breakfast.
She’s still fixated on food, snapping more than 30,000 iPhone photos over the years of the beautifully plated meals she has prepared.
“It makes me happy when I cook,” she says, “my stress goes away.”