El Tule
Brilliantly flavorful Peruvian delights, as well as familiar Mexican dishes, star at this intimate Lambertville BYOB
by Bill Donahue

Depending on where you call home, El Tule can take some getting to. This diminutive BYOB in Lambertville, N.J.—just across the Delaware River from the bohemian village of New Hope—is a few blocks removed from the sleepy town’s main drag. But make no mistake: No matter which direction you’re coming from, this restaurant is definitely worth getting to.

El Tule serves up a menu—correction: menus, plural—stocked with the dishes of its owners’ countries of origin, Mexico and Peru. Although most food lovers have grown familiar with and fond of traditional Mexican fare, Peruvian food has taken longer to catch on, despite its unique flavor palette. Till now it has been something of a mystery in the Philadelphia area, but it is a mystery definitely worth unfolding here. Quinoa, the protein-rich grain often given the designation “superfood” for its nutritional content, and avocado are present on just about every dish on the Peruvian side of the menu, even the desserts; a special flan dessert, spiked with jewels of quinoa, was surprisingly enjoyable.

Ceviche is a house specialty, which makes sense given the dish’s importance in Peruvian culture. (For the geographically challenged, Peru sits along South America’s western coast, south of Ecuador and west of Brazil, with complete access to the Pacific Ocean and its abundance of sea life.) The families behind El Tule—the Egoavils and Anguianos—have rather smartly crafted a menu where perhaps unfamiliar delights can be enjoyed in small, bite-size doses. The ceviche trilogy, crafted from fresh fish, shellfish and mollusks, marinated in lime juice and Peruvian peppers, is a great example.

Likewise, the Peruvian sampler—vegetarian or otherwise—is a fine introduction. Ornately plated, the sampler includes yucca fritas (reminiscent of French fries), papas rellenas (stuffed mashed potatoes, with red onions, sautéed vegetables, avocado salad and salsa criolla), causa de vegetales (an avocado-garnished tower of yellow potato cake, flavored with wonderful spices reminiscent of curry) and palta a la reina (half an avocado filled with either vegetables, chicken or shrimp, with a fabulous cilantro-lime dressing). While ingesting each component on the plate, my dinner companion and I did not speak a word to each other, other than muttering something along the lines of, “Can you believe how good this is?”

Apart from the sampler, the tamale de quinoa had to be my favorite dish—mashed quinoa and vegetables wrapped in banana leaves. I’ve enjoyed tamales across the country, from street vendors in Arizona and Missouri to white-tablecloth restaurants in Colorado and the Philadelphia suburbs, and this was likely the best I’ve ever had.

Regardless of what you order, it arrives at the table beautifully arranged and thick with aroma, courtesy of the team lead by Peruvian chef Carmen Egoavil and Mexican chef Said Anguiano. The portions are solid, meaning you will likely go home with leftovers. In fact, the chaufa de vegetales y quinoa (a fusion of Chinese and Peruvian cuisines similar to pork-fried rice, where the quinoa stands in for the rice) was somehow even better the second day. The same could be said of the sopes—a trio of corn tortillas, available as either vegetarian style or with chicken or beef, topped with black refried beans, lettuce, sour cream, cheese and, of course, avocado—from the Mexican side of the menu.

The people behind El Tule have created something truly special here, in a small space that’s big on personality. One might describe the dining room as intimate, though even with a full house the volume doesn’t prevent you from enjoying dinner conversation. In nicer weather, the outdoor patio would be a perfect spot for enjoying whatever dishes the server places in front of you. Speaking of servers, the table service is friendly and knowledgeable. In short, this is a place worth savoring, and perhaps made even better by a bottle of your favorite red, white or whatever poison you prefer. I say “perhaps” because I left my bottle at home, and I can honestly say that this was the only aspect of my dining experience here I wish had been different.

Yes, Lambertville may be out of the way for some—say, those living in the far-western suburbs—but El Tule is well worth the trip. That said, the families behind El Tule are exporting their delicate approach to some truly excellent cuisine elsewhere. In the very near future, they will open a second location, this time in Doylestown. Its name will be, simply and quite fittingly, Quinoa.

El Tule Authentic Mexican & Peruvian Cuisine
49 N. Main Street, Lambertville, N.J.
609-773-0007 | eltulerestaurant.com