Taste of Peru {From The Raving Dish}


Before recently, I knew only two things about Peru and Peruvians. One: They make a mean pisco sour. Two: The country is home to Machu Picchu, one of the most breathtaking, mind-boggling, man-made structures in the world. That was the extent of my knowledge about this Latin American country, until I went to Taste of Peru, a tiny North Side haunt crammed into a shabby strip mall. The restaurant also taught me that Peruvian chefs churn out a mean paella that rivals the best that I have had in Spain.

I had eyeballed the Taste of Peru sign close to a trillion times while cruising up and down North Clark Street, but it wasn't until recently that two of my buds and I ended up there on a whim. We were all lost as geese about where to eat, and something about Peruvian sounded exotic at the time. On the hunt for something hearty, steaming and cheap, we thought Taste of Peru fit the bill, and its BYOB policy cemented our decision.

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Caracas Grill: Venezuelan Food on the North Side

Caracas_arepaI know I touched briefly on Caracas Grill and their amazing arepas in a previous post, but I just think this cozy South American restaurant (Venezuelan to be exact) deserves a full blown entry.  Located sort of outta the way on the north side (6340 N. Clark), this little puff of a place has stolen my tastebuds with their tasty food.  I don't know what it is about Latin America in general, but their cuisine, their spices, their drinks, their heat and their heartfelt warmth just make me wanna hop in my truck and head south--Deep South, mind you.  Until then, though, I can get my fix at Caracas (which is the capitol of Venezuela, by the way), who has these poppin' char-grilled arepas (griddled corn pancakes that remind me of a funky grilled cheese) stuffed with oozing cheese which I  top with a hefty squirt of lime.  You cannot even imagine how delightful they are (especially on an empty belly).  Arepas are very traditional and extremely popular in Venezuela and you can literally make an entire meal out of them (I'm told the beef are exceptional).  If you get a chance, swing on up to the N. Side for a handful (trust me, you'll want more than one)~~
I get goosebumps sometimes thinking about all the countries I can explore simply by meandering the streets of Chicago.  What a city...

Save This Restaurant: Mitad del Mundo


This week, I have a new Save This Restaurant in Time Out Chicago and I can't get enough of this place.  They serve the best homemade french fries and my favorite (pictured) cassava with garlic...tons of garlic.  The owner is so funny and sweet and I even broke the no meat rule here and chowed on some chopped steak.  Yum! Here is the write-up~

Mitad del Mundo 2922 W Irving Park Rd between Richmond St and Francisco Ave  (773-866-9454)

Why the dining room of Mitad del Mundo (Spanish for "middle of the earth") is often desolate is a mystery to us. It's spic-and-span, the scent of charred meat wafts from the kitchen and the gregarious, ever-present owner, Jimmy Espinoza, is as friendly as they come.
Born in Ecuador, Espinoza has lived in Chicago most of his life, and has worked in the restaurant industry for the past 35 years. "From busboy to bartender to host, I learned everything I could until they had to put me in the kitchen," Espinoza says. "Three years ago, I opened this place, and only on the weekends do I have help. The rest of the time, I'm on my own."
The restaurant's walls are peppered with hundreds of photos of famous Latin musicians, and a clublike back room features live music on weekends. But dancing isn't what's on the minds of the small core of regulars—it's the soccer games on the TVs and the affordable, tasty Latin-American specialties. Tender, chopped steak with grilled onions, platters of fresh seafood (served fried crispy or grilled), chunks of slivered cassava in garlic sauce and cinnamon flan with fresh whipped cream all draw inspiration from Ecuador, Peru, Cuba and Colombia. And if you're looking for some late-night dancing after fueling up on the food, know that toes start tapping once midnight hits. "But remember, you no eat, you no dance," Espinoza says.