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West Hartford’s Coracora Named James Beard Semifinalist for ‘Outstanding Restaurant’ in 2024

Coracora, located at 162 Shield Street in West Hartford, has been named a James Beard semifinalist for 2024. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Coracora, a Peruvian restaurant located in West Hartford, is one of just 20 restaurants nationwide to be named a semifinalist in the prestigious James Beard Awards competition.

Chef Macarena Ludena (left) and Grecia Ludena, pictured at a celebration in April 2023, are the second-generation owners of West Hartford’s Coracora restaurant. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

The James Beard Foundation announced the semifinalists in its prestigious annual competition on Wednesday, and West Hartford’s Coracora has been named one of just 20 finalists for the “Outstanding Restaurant” Award.

This is the third year in a row that Coracora has been named a James Beard semifinalist in the “Outstanding Restaurant” category – and in 2023 the restaurant was one of just five restaurants nationwide to earn the distinction of being named a James Beard finalist. Both the restaurant, and its chef, Macarena Ludena – who was previously a semifinalist for “Best Chef: New England” – first garnered national recognition with the announcement of their inclusion as semifinalists in 2022.

“It’s such an honor to be a semifinalist for the James Beard Award’s Outstanding Restaurant category, said Grecia Ludena, Coracora’s owner. “My family and I are originally from a small town – Coracora – in the mountains of Peru with the dream of sharing our food, hospitality, and culture with our community in Connecticut. As a small, family-run restaurant, to be recognized for the third year in a row in this category is beyond what we ever could imagine, and we are so grateful.”

It’s already been an exciting few months for Coracora, which in December was honored as both the 2023 Best Restaurant in Connecticut and in Hartford County by the Connecticut Restaurant Association at the annual CRAzies awards.

CEO and chef Macarena Ludena of Coracora (left) and COO Grecia Ludena aaccept the overall Restaurant of the Year award at the CRAzies awards. Photo credit: Jeannette Dardenne (we-ha.com file photo)

In 2023, Coracora was also formally recognized by the Government of Peru for its dedication to furthering Peruvian culture through gastronomy. Consul General of Peru Elvis Tuesta was one of the guests, along with Gov. Ned Lamont and other state and local officials, to attend a celebration at Coracora in April 2023, and said they are a great ambassador of Peruvian food and a sign of optimism for the Peruvian community.

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.

Lucena’s parents, Hector Ludena and Luisa Jimenez, immigrated from Coracora, Peru, and opened their restaurant at 162 Shield Street in West Hartford 13 years ago, developing a loyal customer base with their authentic house-made dishes made from high-quality ingredients, including some imported directly from Peru. Everything Coracora does is focused on the three pillars they have identified as essential – “high-quality ingredients, a warm and welcoming family-like experience, and the best customer service.”

Chaufa with shrimp from Coracora. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

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). All dishes are prepared without the use of artificial preservatives.

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

“We are so excited! The entire team at Coracora puts in their best every day, and so for us to receive this recognition from such a prestigious organization means the world,” said Macarena Ludena, Coracora’s head chef and  also the daughter of the founders. “We’re proud to represent Connecticut and Peruvian cuisine again this year, and we’ll continue to put passion and love into everything we do. Congratulations to all the semifinalists, in particular our fellow Connecticut chefs for their semifinalist designations!”

The chicken empanada at Coracora is handmade and sprinkled with powdered sugar. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Anticuchos served with golden potatoes and choclo at Coracora. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Along with Coracora, Connecticut is also represented among the James Beard semifinalists by Renee Touponce of The Port of Call in Mystic in the category of “Outstanding Chef,” and in the “Best Chef: Northeast” category by David Standridge of The Shipwright’s Daughter, also in Mystic.

The James Beard Awards are among the nation’s most prestigious culinary honors, and in a news release this week stated that the awards . “honor those who are creating exceptional food, food media content, and better food systems, while demonstrating a commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive.”

“We are thrilled for the return of the James Beard Awards—recognizing the outstandingly talented leaders making their mark on American food,” Clare Reichenbach, CEO of the James Beard Foundation, said in a statement. “As we’ve heard time and again from honorees, receiving this recognition has the potential to be truly transformative—and so, the Awards remain a vital platform for supporting and elevating the independent restaurant industry as a whole. Congratulations to our 2024 semifinalists and best of luck this Awards cycle!”

Dawn Padmore, vice president of Awards, added that this year’s semifinalists “embody the spirit of excellence that defines the James Beard Awards.”

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

Finalists will be announced on April 3, and James Beard award winners will be celebrated on June 10, 2024, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. For more information about the James Beard Awards, including a complete list of semifinalists, visit their website.

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