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The Graceful Grower: Ricardo Zarate
Why We Picked Him: Early on, much of Zarate’s charm stemmed from the humbleness of Mo-Chica, his Peruvian stall at South L.A.’s Mercado La Paloma. Then Food & Wine named him Best New Chef in 2011, and he opened the flashy Picca before relocating Mo-Chica to a high-profile downtown location. We worried he might grow too grande for his pantalones. But no—Zarate continues to be Peruvian cuisine’s most valuable player. What’s more, he’s gone a step beyond gussied-up renditions of traditional dishes, introducing L.A. to such rarely imported indigenous ingredients as alpaca and paiche, an Amazon River fish. Lima Loyal: “I always say Peruvian food is like a diamond that needs to be polished. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m not saying I’m doing it best, but I am trying to present the food of my native country in a competitive way. I want to keep my feet on the ground, especially with all the popularity, and just be me all the time. That’s what has made me successful.” » Mo-Chica: 514 W. 7th St., downtown. Picca: 9575 W. Pico Blvd., Pico-Robertson.