While having dinner with friends at a Peruvian restaurant recently, there was mention of other Peruvian restaurants in the metropolitan Chicago area. One that I remember named in the discussion was Ay Ay Picante at 4569 N. Elston Avenue in Chicago’s Albany Park neighbourhood. Tucked among single family homes, mechanic shops, and fix-em-up shops is this gem of an eatery.
With only a week having passed since I had been devouring Peruvian food, I chose the path of trying something different from what I had eaten previously. One dish I thought was a good option for a starter was the chupe de camarones. It was a bad idea and it was a good idea. The bad idea was that the soup came as a “deep plate” rather than as a cup of soup. I forgot to read the fine print that said Sopas Grandes and that was my fault. It was a good idea because I could have set up a diving board at the edge of the plate and jumped in. Cooked with a bit of a creamy base, thickened with eggs, and loaded with fat shrimp, I simply took my time before letting the server know I was ready for the next dish. This soup was not to be rushed.
A few years ago I went to a Peruvian restaurant in Bucktown and had their huancainas. They were good, so I wanted to see if Ay Ay Picante did them deliciously. Instead of ordering them as potatoes, I ordered them as fried yucca with half of a boiled eggs and black olives on the side. Different is better and having the fried yucca served with the huancaina sauce, different was exceptional. These would be perfect as snacks. Since there were more than a conservative three yucca logs, I savoured this dish slowly.
For the finale, I had sudado de mariscos. This was another large plate. There was a mix of calamari and plump shrimp cooked in white wine with a tomato base. Served with white rice and potatoes, this dish from the north coast of Peru was a true highlight. I prefer seafood in creamy sauces and I will admit that I will make exceptions for Ay Ay Picante. One warning I will give is that this is a dish that you may have to enjoy by itself rather than having any appetizers beforehand or you may have to extend your feast for a few hours like I did. Not only is it very satisfying on the palate, but it is extremely filling.
Ay Ay Picante appears to be a favourite for many, as there was a steady flow of patrons coming and going. Although they have carry-out, those who came while I was there had proper sit-down meals. Peruvian food is best enjoyed family style, as was evident with parties of several individuals ordering and sharing. The far northwest end of Elston Avenue tends to be more industrial in its look and feel, so great finds like Ay Ay Picante don’t get much press. The trip down Elston to this food heaven is worth it. You may find yourself declaring, “¡Ay, ay, dios mios!“