After running Peruvian pop-up La Chingana for over a year, chef Arnaldo Castillo is opening his first restaurant in Poncey-Highland this summer. Castillo is teaming up with veteran Atlanta restaurateur Howard Hsu (Sweet Auburn BBQ) to open a 130-seat Peruvian restaurant called Tio Lucho’s on North Highland Avenue in June.
Located in the former CO sushi space, the restaurant bears the affectionate nickname (“Uncle Luis”) Castillo’s father earned from the Atlanta Peruvian community working in multiple Peruvian restaurants across the city. “I wanted to pull from that memory and honor him in that way,” Castillo says.
Castillo’s father, who has since moved back to Piura, Peru, was known for his ceviche in Atlanta, something the new restaurant will feature on its coastal Peruvian menu. Castillo plans to pull from family memories and experiences in Piura and Lima to establish the seafood-heavy menu at Tio Lucho’s, which blends Peruvian techniques and recipes with Southern ingredients. Look for dishes like tiradito (similar to sashimi), lomo saltado (sirloin steak stir fry), and a few favorites from pop-up La Chingana on the menu, which is designed for sharing.
Castillo is joined in the kitchen by chef Manuel Lara, previously the sous chef at Serpas True Food. His fiance, Julie Hinson, who currently crafts the desserts for the pop-up, will develop the initial dessert menu for Tio Lucho’s, pulling from the most popular sweets served at La Chingana.
Expect cocktails inspired by Peruvian flavors and traditional drinks as well as Spanish and Latin American wines by the glass and bottle. Beverage consultant Sonny Howell is working to create the drinks menu for Tio Lucho’s with bartender Dillon Slay, who worked behind the bar at Kimball House and now runs cocktail pop-up the Hourglass.
Castillo says La Chingana helped the chef build the foundation for Tio Lucho’s, giving him the space to experiment with dishes and further explore Peruvian cuisine, culture, and the country’s history. Now he wants his first restaurant to be a neighborhood spot in an area of Atlanta that also holds sentimental value for him.
“It’s a full-circle moment for me,” Castillo says. “I first started working for Hector Santiago at Pura Vida how ever many years ago, and it was my first experience into fine dining and farm-to-table cuisine. The fact that I get to open a restaurant right across the street is pretty cool.”
Hsu, who co-owns Sweet Auburn BBQ across the street with his sister Anita, says Poncey-Highland is a growing neighborhood with a supportive community, making it an attractive place to open a restaurant. He and Castillo connected at a pop-up collaboration between La Chingana and Sweet Auburn BBQ last fall, exploring the connection between Chinese and Peruvian food.
“I was just like, ‘man, this guy — he’s got something special’,” Hsu says. “I felt like I clicked with him, so that’s always important to me.”
The two eventually began discussing Castillo’s restaurant goals. The chef already had the business plan written as well as the name and branding in place.
“We both come from immigrant families and backgrounds, and I think we value the American dream,” says Castillo. They also share similar perspectives on food. Both feel it’s important to represent their cuisines, traditions, and cultures “the right way,” Castillo adds.
Like the food menu, the design for Tio Lucho’s will reflect the blend of Peruvian and Atlanta cultures found at the restaurant, filled with lush plants and vibrant colors throughout the space to evoke a coastal feel.
Some of the design elements from the previous sushi restaurant will remain, including the bar and patio. Castillo and Hsu tapped Peruvian artist Franco Bejarano to create a mural near the bar incorporating the vibrant Peruvian font known as “chicha” that reads, “En Atlanta, se comer rico” or “In Atlanta, you eat good.” Graphic designer Dio Jensen, who is also Peruvian, is designing the logo for Tio Lucho’s, and local art will adorn the walls as a nod to the restaurant’s roots in Georgia.
To start, Tio Lucho’s will serve dinner, Wednesday through Saturday, with plans to eventually add Sunday brunch and lunch. Castillo and Hsu are kicking off a series of pop-ups soon to introduce Tio Lucho’s to the community before it opens.
Time is already flying by for Castillo, who marries Hinson in May, followed by the opening of Tio Lucho’s in June. The reality of opening his own restaurant hasn’t fully sunk in yet, Castillo says, and probably won’t until he’s in the kitchen at Tio Lucho’s.
“Until I’m breaking down my first snapper to make ceviche here, then it’s game time.”
675 North Highland Avenue, Atlanta. @tioluchos.