While it doesn't look like much from the outside, being located in a small East Rogers Park strip mall (though we can definitely appreciate the parking lot for being in the city), Taste of Peru has won the hearts and minds of Chicago Magazine, Diners Drive-Ins & Dives, Check Please, and countless satisfied customers. Why? Is it the award winning paella and other traditional Peruvian dishes? Is it the labor-inducing aji verde? Is it the photos of Machu Picchu, maps of Peru and llama skin on the walls? Is it the old-school warmth and friendliness of the staff, especially Augusto? If you guessed all of the above, you'd be right.
Taste of Peru came recommended to my wife and I in the 40th week of our pregnancy as the place to go when you're pregnant and you need the baby out—two of my wife's friends had their water break seven hours after a meal here. Upon arrival, we were promptly seated by Augusto Izquierdo who, at 6'3” (or so) is the tallest Peruvian I've ever met, and single-handedly was keeping everyone in the place sated and happy.
Your meal starts out with sliced bread and a creamy green salsa called aji verde, which is made from jalapeño, red rocoto (a Peruvian pepper), cilantro, mayonnaise, onion, garlic—very good and very spicy. The laminated menu illustrates your delectable options, including the best paella in the city according to Chicago Magazine (November 2007), and also according to me—Emilio's, eat your heart out! Also known as Arroz con Mariscos (rice with seafood), the paella features three crab legs and a generous helping of shrimp, gigantic mussels, tiny scallops, calamari, soft-shell crab, and baby octopus—all very tasty.
Taste of Peru also serves a $40 seafood blue plate special (literally) that feeds two people and consists of a heap of crustaceans so large, it looks like they may need to reinforce the table before setting the plate down. The Menu para Dos Personas (Dinner for Two) is also recommended as a great sampling of Peruvian food, consisting of three Peruvian appetizers and followed by their paella ($40). The appetizers: Papa a la Huancaina (sliced and boiled potatoes covered in a cream cheese sauce), Ceviche de Mariscos (mixed seafood marinated in lime), and a Peruvian Tamal (chicken tamale). We also will need to go back for their #1 dish Lomo Saltado—a traditional dish of ribeye steak sautéed with tomatoes and onion, cooked with beer and served with white rice and french fries.
"When it comes to paella, we're purists. That means seafood only. T.O.P.'s is packed with a delicious blend of clams, mussels, crab, shrimp, squid, and tiny scallops. The pea-speckled, saffron-colored rice has the deep, savory flavor that comes from being slowly cooked in broth, and red peppers add the perfect crunch."
– excerpt from Dennis Ray Wheaton's 124 Best Dishes article in Chicago Magazine (November 2007)
Taste of Peru is owned by Augosto's brother, Cesar Izquierdo, who came to the US from Peru in 1974 and opened Taste of Peru on July 29, 1998, after people started buying the anticuchos (a type of Peruvian shish-kabob made of marinated beef hearts) he served while working in a shop and prior to a stint working for the City of Chicago. Today, Cesar lives to blocks away from his East Rogers Park restaurant and is often found dancing to live Peruvian music played on weekends.
For us, our dinner wrapped up with a flan that was homemade and the most delicious I've had in a long time—very creamy. When packing up the excellent Aji de Gallina (shredded chicken in a walnut cream sauce that we also ordered as an entrée), Augusto actually added a little more from the kitchen so that we'd have enough for another well-sized portion later! A big tip was thus levied. He even provided a spare cork from a personal stash for another group of diners that had not finished their wine and wanted to leave with the bottle. To top off our experience, a friendly albino came in midway through dinner and offered a gregarious hello to all. Best of all, Taste of Peru is a BYOB and they take credit cards. For more information, check out the Taste of Peru website. ¡Muy saboroso!
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