Ay Ay Picante – Discovering Peruvian Cuisine in Albany Park

Ay Ay Picante Sign

If I found out my ancestors are from the Andes I would not be shocked based on my lifelong love of anything with chilies, corn, avocados, tomatoes, and potatoes.  Ay Ay Picante is an exciting mix of traditional Andean, with a splash of influence from Spanish and Japanese immigrants that have made Peru their home. They specialize in seafood and steak with an extensive menu featuring at least a half-dozen vegetarian and fried rice entrees as well as a large selection of ceviches.

This review is looooong overdue as this visit was on a warm October day back in 2011. With an afternoon to kill and a hunger for some Latin American food we decided to try out Ay Ay Picante. The dining room is bright and open with wooden chairs and bright red tablecloths and beautiful murals. The warm the warm orange walls give it a cozy a feel and the attentive and upbeat wait staff make you feel at home.

Ay Ay Picante Dining Room

It was hard to choose from all of the options but I can never pass up ceviche so we started with the Ceviche Mixto:

A plate of variety of seafood & tilapia marinated in leche de tigre (lime juice & Peruvian Rocoto chilies). Accompanied by lettuce, camote (sweet potato), finely sliced onions, & choclo (Peruvian corn). The key to any good ceviche is fresh ingredients most obviously the fish. Secondly the right amount of lime juice to complement the fish, too much and it can break down the fish too much. Ay Ay Picante nailed this dish and the added bonus was it was a huge serving.

Ay Ay Picante CEVICHE MIXTO

The ceviche set a high bar but our entrees did not disappoint. Again, the ingredients were of high quality with the right balance of seasoning (also huge portions and were taken home for lunch the next day).

Skewers of Seasoned Fresh Shrimp and Beef: Large shrimp, onions, and sweet red peppers cooked on the grill. I am not usually a fan of shrimp but I the flavor and texture (not too hard or chewy) won me over.

Estofado de Carne o Pollo (A northern Peruvian dish): Stew cooked with tomatoes, raisins, potatoes, red peppers, and green peas. Accompanied by white rice. I chose the chicken (pollo). The raisins add a bit of a sweetness, which is countered by a hint of spice with the red peppers. Please note this dish is not considered spicy at all.

Frejoles Canarios:  Imported Peruvian Canary Beans cooked with bacon, garlic, and onions. I don’t remember these coming with the entrees so I must have ordered a side of these beans. This is no surprise as I am a sucker for beans. These were beyond good; I love just plain beans but these BACON. Yes, the bacon pushed these beans to another level. I highly suggest you get this.

I can’t believe we ordered dessert but we were so impressed with how great everything was up to that point we figured, let’s go for broke. Ordering the “lightest” dessert on the menu, the Alfajor, which is two sweet cookies filled with dulce de leche and covered with powered sugar. Wow, it was as good as it sounds and looks.

Ay Ay Picante Alfajor

It would be seriously remiss of me to not tell you about the best salsa ever, the homemade ají green chili pepper sauce. It was so good I just wanted to drink a shot of it, not kidding.  I’m pretty sure you can put it on anything and it will be good. Even more great news, you can buy the salsa to take home!

Ay Ay Picante Salsa

Ay Ay Picante also scores point because it is BYOB. They have sour mix all blended up you just have to bring the Pisco so you can enjoy a Peruvian favorite, the Pisco Sour. Another Peruvian classic is Inca Kola. Both are worth a try for the ultimate Peruvian experience.

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