Entrana steak sandwich (Photo by Kathy Tran)

Entrana steak sandwich (Photo by Kathy Tran)

Biting into an exotic taste from below the equator

A real estate lawyer- turned- restauranteur gets divorced and travels to South America. He becomes so captivated by the culture and cuisine that he decides to open a Latin American restaurant once he returns to the US, and the business venture becomes a cathartic experience.

While the storyline may be reminiscent of a Hollywood movie, Nazca Kitchen’s inception traces back to Craig Collins’ first trip across the continent. Collins — who also runs longtime barbecue franchise Red Hot & Blue — was impressed with the robust flavor of the food he ate as he traipsed across Brazil, Argentina and Peru.

Crusted grilled tilapia over quinoa (Photo by Kathy Tran)

Crusted grilled tilapia over quinoa (Photo by Kathy Tran)

“I thought, ‘Man, someone could do well if they had a restaurant that put all the best of South America into one concept,’ ” he says.

Nazca Kitchen opened along Walnut Hill Lane on Dec. 21, 2012 — ironically, the last day of the Mayan calendar, when some predicted the world would end. The carefully crafted menu includes dishes based on South and Latin American specialties, and determining which recipes made the cut was slow and deliberate.

“We made every item 17 times, at least twice a week, before we knew we had it,” says Juan Chavez, director of operations.

Four years later, the restaurant is opening its second location in West Village, and Collins has taken a dozen trips across the continent for research and inspiration. He spent a week in Peru and Chile in December just to master the Peruvian cocktail Pisco Sour and to hunt for the “penultimate empanada” recipe, he says.

“We’ll add a couple items, tweak the menu and hopefully have it pay dividends,” he says.

Collins’ main priority is authenticity, and he goes great lengths to achieve it. Before acai was readily available in the US, he flew in 40 pounds from Brazil for Nazca Kitchen’s Acai Bowl, which is served with the pureed berry, homemade granola, strawberries and bananas.

As determined as Collins is to share a taste of South America with Dallas, his philosophy on hospitality is as southern as it gets.

“I think a lot of restaurants lose track that when you have guests in a restaurant, they’re guests … They’re doing us a favor by being in our restaurant.”

Nazca Kitchen
Ambiance: contemporary, casual restaurant
Price Range: $6-$22
Hours: 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 10:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday
8041 Walnut Hill Lane

Did you know: Nazca Kitchen owner Craig Collins named the restaurant after the Nazca Lines, which are mysterious geometric shapes etched into the Peruvian desert more than 2,000 years ago.

Nazca Kitchen (Photo by Kathy Tran)

Nazca Kitchen (Photo by Kathy Tran)

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