La Feria combines culture and cuisine in Shadyside craft gallery | Food | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

La Feria combines culture and cuisine in Shadyside craft gallery

The restaurant is a place to learn, experience, and of course, eat

click to enlarge La Feria combines culture and cuisine in Shadyside craft gallery
CP photo: Jared Murphy
Ají de Gallina (shredded chicken in a creamy peanut sauce) with sweet potato chips

At first glance La Feria doesn’t look like a restaurant. Without a sidewalk board declaring “La Feria: Peruvian restaurant and folk art shop” I could have walked right past. 

Inside, it’s more like a museum, with a collection of Peruvian folk art bursting with color, texture, and history. La Fiera, which sits above Pamela’s Shadyside location, is a craft gallery and restaurant hybrid. 

La Fiera is a sibling of Pamela’s. Pamela Cohen and Gail Klingensmith, owners of the diner, partnered with Luisa Porras, opening the restaurant-retail combo in 1993.  

The store showcases a diverse artistic landscape. Porras sources from frequent trips to Peru, hand-picking creations made with some of Peru’s oldest techniques, such as the intricate carving on mates burilados (gourds) and the European-adapted reverse-painted mirrors. A few steps into the shop, it turns into a restaurant, marked by a “Cantina” sign, with carpet swapped for tile and crafts for tables.

It’s a bit of a maze to actually eat at La Feria. Even entering feels wrong, moving through a lobby packed with diners waiting for coffee and eggs at Pamela’s, but up the staircase is a meal worth ditching pancakes for. 

The menu is filled with both traditional and fusion dishes, featuring a few Peruvian-imported spices and goods. I tried three dishes: a chicken and cilantro empanada, the ropa veija (shredded beef), and escabeche de pollo (chicken), and washed it down with a less-sophisticated Peruvian essential, Inca Kola. 

Inca Kola, as my server described it, has “definitely a unique flavor.” A friend who visited Peru told me it was a must-have, the “golden cola” a staple in her Peruvian diet. The soda was bright green, so neon it was practically glowing. One sip and I understood my server’s choice words; Inca Kola is a definite acquired taste. It was bubblegum in a can. 

Thankfully, my empanada arrived soon after the kola. The pocket was a gorgeous, golden brown. The dough was a dream. It started with a crunch and quickly softened with the warm center. Vinegar-fermented onions paired brightly with the buttery bake. 

La Feria, much to my excitement, offered a combination platter to try two of their Peruvian specialties. My plate was a semi-organized mountain of ropa viejo, chicken, rice, salad, and French bread. It took me through two very different sides of Peruvian cuisine, one dish zinging with citrus, the other warm and robust. I worked clockwise, starting with the beef, tomatoes, and onions. It was hearty and modest, countered by the sweet, tangy chicken. 

La Fiera is a festival of Peruvian culture, working to preserve the “quality and tradition of Peruvian folk art.” It’s a place to learn, experience, and of course, eat. Come for the crafts, stay for the cuisine. 

Favorite Features

1. All-day Service

Nothing is sweeter than the words “service all day.” There’s no bad time for Peruvian food, and La Feria knows it.

2. Pamela’s eaters

Even employees at Pamela’s know the second floor brings good flavor, taking their lunch breaks to grab some rice from the upstairs counter.

3. The Fair

La Feria, in Spanish, means “the fair.” That’s what the La Feria is, a fair of Peruvian culture.