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West Hartford’s Coracora Named a James Beard Finalist

Coracora, located at 162 Shield Street, has been named a James Beard finalist. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

Coracora, a Peruvian restaurant located in West Hartford, is one of just five restaurants nationwide to be named a finalist in the prestigious James Beard Awards competition.

Coravora Chef Macarena Ludena. Courtesy photo (we-ha.com file photo)

By Ronni Newton

The James Beard Foundation announced the finalists in its prestigious annual competition on Wednesday, and West Hartford’s Coracora has been named one of just five finalists for the “Outstanding Restaurant” Award.

“We’re excited to announce we’ve been selected as a Nominee for Outstanding Restaurant by James Beard Foundation!” Coracora posted on their Facebook page Wednesday. “Thank you to JBF, our amazing team, our family, and all those who have supported us through the years. Next stop: Chicago in June to find out if we’ve won. ¡Gracias!”

The James Beard Foundation, in Wednesday’s announcement, defines the winner as a “restaurant that demonstrates consistent excellence in food, atmosphere, hospitality, and operations, while contributing positively to its broader community.”

“The James Beard Awards, considered to be among the nation’s most prestigious honors, recognize exceptional talent in the culinary and food media industries, as well as a demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive,” the announcement states.

Coracora opened its doors in West Hartford in 2011, transforming a former McDonald’s in the Shield Street Plaza on the southeastern edge of West Hartford into a restaurant whose authentic and vibrant Peruvian cuisine earned it a “good” review in the New York Times.

This was the second year in a row that Coracora was named a James Beard semifinalist in the “Outstanding Restaurant” category. Both the restaurant, and its chef, Macarena Ludena, garnered national recognition with the announcement of their inclusion as semifinalists in 2022.

Coracora’s owners immigrated from Coracora, Peru, and opened their restaurant at 162 Shield Street in West Hartford 12 years ago, developing a loyal customer base with their authentic house-made dishes made from high-quality ingredients, including some imported directly from Peru. Chicken is a perennial favorite, but Coracora’s menu also includes steaks, seafood, and stir-fried dishes like the Lomo Saltado (strips of tenderloin stir-fried with soy sauce, Aji Amarillo, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro, served over hand-cut fingerling potatoes with a side of white rice).

Tallarin Saltado from Cora Cora. Courtesy photo (we-ha.com file photo)

The Tallarin Saltado (chicken tenderloin, linguine pasta, red onion, tomato, and Aji Amarillo strips, sautéed and flambéed with soy sauce) is also a customer favorite.

Ludena, the daughter of Coracora founders Hector Ludena and Luisa Jimenez, became head chef after working her way up in the restaurant – progressing from busing tables, to the dessert station, to the ceviche station, to manager. She is among the next generation taking over as the parents take a step back, while maintaining the same quality, culture, and atmosphere for which Coracora has become known.

Coracora survived during the pandemic by adapting, but not losing the essential sense of hospitality they had cultivated. They transitioned to takeout immediately, and were able to utilize their drive-through window – a relic of the former McDonald’s that had preceded them in the space. They opened outdoor seating and eventually fully reopened the dining room.

The other James Beard finalists for Outstanding Restaurant announced Wednesday are: Copine, Seattle, WA; Friday Saturday Sunday, Philadelphia, PA; Lucia, Dallas, TX; and Mita’s, Cincinnati, OH.

The only other Connecticut restaurants that appeared on the 2023 finalist list in any category are for “Best Chefs Northeast” and include Christian Hunter of Community Table in New Preston and Renee Touponce from The Port of Call in Mystic.

“I am honored to participate in these Awards that recognize our country’s extraordinary talent and showcase all those contributing to the richness and diversity of American food culture today,” Adrian Miller, Restaurant and Chef Awards Committee Chair, said in Wednesday’s announcement. “Congratulations to all of this year’s Restaurant and Chef Nominees.”

Winners will be celebrated at the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Awards ceremony on Monday, June 5, 2023, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. For more information about the James Beard Awards, including a list of all finalists, visit their website.

For more information about Coracora, visit their Facebook page, Instagram (@coracoract), or their website.

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