I’ve been avoiding a trip to the beautiful country of Peru all these years because I’ve been mainly worried about the high altitudes affecting me. Yet, with regrets on missing out on all the delicious Peruvian food the country would have to offer.
So I jumped at an invite to attend a tasting at Machu Picchu restaurant last week, located in Lakeview, and can finally feel assured that I can get a taste of Peru right here in our city, any time I want.
The restaurant launched nine years ago and is owned by two wonderful brothers Javier Alday and Marco Alday, both whom I met during my visit there. Their initial vision went beyond just bringing a piece of Peru to Chicago, because they also wanted it to imbibe and showcase Peruvian culinary philosophy through their food. As Marco said to me, “we wanted to cook food where we respect our ingredients.” That immensely touched me.
Along with their vision and the genius of Chef Leonardo (of Peruvian descent) who was brought in from a resort in Costa Rica, the restaurant provides one of the best ethnic, gastronomical experiences.
Per usual, I brought a guest with me to share in the experience, and together we embarked our pseudo journey to Peru. The space itself is expansive and beautifully adorned with Peruvian landscape wallpaper to instantly transport you to this picturesque land.
The traditional Chichamorada (blue corn) and Maracuja (passion fruit) juices were brought out for us to taste, both apparently good for the immune system, followed by a Pisco Sour, which was made specifically for us since the restaurant is typically BYOB. All wonderfully refreshing drinks to jumpstart our appetites.
The Mahi Mahi Ceviche was the special for the night and we ate a generous platter of wild caught pieces of fish marinated in limejuice and Peruvian chilies. What freshy, citrusy flavors in every bite! The sweet potato has also always been my favorite in this traditional dish.
Another one of my favorite things about Peruvian ceviche is, Peruvian corn. So the owners decided to give us a little educational lesson on how the biggest kernels in the world are actually enjoyed in Peru. We were treated first to the Choclo Con Queso, where boiled corn is served with fresco cheese and huancaina sauce. If you haven’t had huancaina, you haven’t’ lived!
This spicy cream sauce made from queso fresco, aji peppers and onions is used in a lot of Peruvian dishes, and is thickened with saltine crackers to present a bland yet spicy flavor at the same time.
Javier also had the Cancha specially made for us. It’s the same corn toasted and roasted in vegetable oil and lightly salted, and makes for a popular snack in Peru. I’m not sure why it hasn’t made its way as a popular bar snack in Chicago bars and restaurants, yet, but it should. These were entirely addicting!
The Arroz Con Mariscos was a must and anyways a restaurant favorite, so it had to be ordered. It’s basically mixed seafood rice made with green peas and cooked in an aromatic cilantro sauce, that I cannot even begin to describe. Much too familiar in taste and flavor to Indian biryani, which I obviously loved.
The Pulpo was another must! The grilled octopus was presented beautifully and rubbed with a sneakily spicy rub of Peruvian red pepper, garlic and vinegar, and served with some yucca on the side. I loved that the charcoaled outside did not disturb the tender meat on the inside which had also taken in the flavors of the rub so perfectly.
The Camarones Al Ajo (Shrimp in Garlic Cream) was another favorite for me. Medium-sized shrimp cooked in a fragrant ‘antichucho’ sauce and served on a bed of rice. I couldn’t finish it all because of the plethora of food at the table, but I wasn’t about to leave any leftovers of this dish behind either.
We ended with several desserts and one I couldn’t get enough of was the El Clasico, a medley of half rice pudding and half purple corn pudding served in an almost Yin-Yang presentation.
The Chocolate Cake was divine also, baked in-house, and served atop a layer of Manjarblanco (Peruvian Caramel Sauce). Nothing more to say other than you have to go try this!
While I was definitely full, there was something so comforting and satisfying about the food you know was made with such passion and care. The restaurant has been perfecting its recipes for almost a decade and is truly committed to giving its patrons the experience they come in looking for.
And if this is your foray into Peruvian food, you can start with their Monday Night Dinner Special for Two. A $25 two-course meal, and a deal you can’t beat! Wednesdays is live music and dance at the restaurant and a popular night for many wanting to enjoy Peruvian culture. The restaurant also does delivery and is on most meal delivery sites, including GrubHub and Foodler.
Machu Picchu is truly one of the gems in our city! I urge you to change it up and check it out! You’ll love every minute of it!
Address: 3856 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60613
Phone: (773) 472-0471
Hours: Sun-Thurs: Noon- 9:45pm, Fri -Sat: Noon–10:45pm
Price: $5 - $40