Peru is the cradle of modern cuisine—a fact that Ay Ay Picante's owners, Don Jaime Bardales and Doña Chamuca Bardales, haven't forgotten. Native to the nation are now-common staples such as potatoes, corn, tomatoes, avocados, and chilies—all of which blend with traditional spices throughout the Peruvian chefs' extensive board of fare. The signature ceviche, for instance, marinates tilapia in lime juice and rocoto chilies. A marinade of fish sauce similarly enlivens the grilled shrimp and salmon kabobs. But the global influence of Andean cooking makes itself known in the fried-rice dishes, which bring out the flavors of peruvian peppers and mushrooms with a dollop of soy sauce and garlic. This blend of customary and contemporary has garnered respectful nods from both WTTW's Check, Please! and ABC7's "Hungry Hound".
History doesn't just influence the menu at Ay Ay Picante. It also influences the very walls of the dining room. As diners sip BYOB beverages, they can examine pre-Columbian murals from the Peruvian Nazca culture. These hark back to the giant images the Nazca created in the desert sand, which can only be seen when flying in an airplane or soaring between a human cannon and a landing pad.
Remix Cafe's culinary design team engineers edible opuses of European-influenced paninis, wraps, crepes, and American staples. An appetizer of fried shrimp settles down cantankerous stomachs, freeing up minds to hone in on an appetite-sating entrée ($6.95). The 10-ounce sirloin glides across the palate with a port wine sauce ($14.95), and the tilapia decorates dental areas with an under-the-sea theme ($10.95). Name each finger after one of the five signature crepes, such as the ham-and-cheese variety ($7.25), or opt for a dense chicken-ranch panini ($7.50) or spicy-chicken wrap ($8.95).
It all started in 1946 when a Navy cook finished his tour of duty after World War II. He left his destroyer in the South Pacific and set sail for Chicago's South Side. There, he opened a carry-out fried-seafood joint and dubbed it Ship Shape Shrimp Shack, a name that was hard to say but easy to love, thanks to his signature fried-shrimp recipe. For 30 years, he continued delighting customers and living his dream, minus the part where he could fly, until 1976, when health issues forced him to close the restaurant. A few years later, a local truck driver and food-service veteran by the name of Frank took over, renaming the place Frank's Chicago Shrimp House. Under the Navy cook's tutelage, he learned everything there was to know about the shrimp and seafood business, and enjoyed the same success through the golden-fried shrimp and seafood of his predecessor. Today, his daughters are at the helm, keeping tradition alive and well at four locations throughout the Chicagoland area. At those restaurants, they fry up the classics and mix it up with frog legs and New Orleans–style fried shrimp, pairing the crispy morsels with classic sides such as hush puppies, cole slaw, and french fries.
Breakfast for dinner, dinner for breakfast, lunch for lunch—when it comes to meal time, there are no restrictions at Lucky Grill. But instead of just sticking to American comfort favorites like most diners and Uncle Sam, Lucky's cooks bring on the variety with traditional Greek, Irish, and Italian dishes, in addition to the American classics. The Irish breakfast loads plates with rasher bacon, black-and-white pudding, and grilled tomatoes, while italian sausage or feta gives the traditional eggs and toast or crispy sandwich a Mediterranean spin. Later-day options include sandwiches and burgers, as well as broiled chops and pasta dishes.
In 1946, two Hagen brothers staked a claim using money their father, himself a fisherman, got from taking out a mortgage on the family home. Now, a pair of the founders' granddaughters and their husbands preside happily over an ever-expanding selection of fresh fish, shellfish, and shucked oysters flown in from around the world. Smoke from hardwood flames saturates the tender meat of salmon and trout, delighting nostrils and drawing feral firefighters to scratch at the door. Patrons wander in past the shop's colorful Viking ship mural to deposit personal catches in the smoker or peruse fried shrimp, chicken, and trays for parties. Brimming shelves push forward Scandinavian specialty items such as lutefisk, pickled herring, and lingonberries, which beg for inclusion in recipes or inaccurate dioramas of the first Thanksgiving.
As night falls on the corner of Lawrence and Central in Jefferson Park, Central Kitchen and Tap's towering sign blazes to life with a neon invitation to "stop in" and shining arrows helpfully pointing the way. The vintage-inspired fixture wouldn't look out of place beside a roadside eatery from the 1950s, and it perfectly conveys the restaurant's spirit before diners even step through the front doors. Central Kitchen and Tap manages to walk a fine line between two ambiances by combining the counter service and charming booths of a casual diner with the full bar and assorted televisions of a neighborhood pub.
The family-friendly tavern welcomes everyone and this is readily apparent in the menu of American classics, which also includes the occasional international treat. Roasted chicken, slow-cooked ribs, and grilled pork chops seem directly inspired by home-style recipes. However, the selection also features dishes such as saffron-tinged Spanish rice with grilled shrimp and a traditional pasta bolognese with braised beef marinara. In between bites of comfort food from home and abroad, diners can also enjoy a refreshing pint of beer or a glass of wine.
A large chalkboard hangs over the central bar and counter section, laying out the entire menu in neat handwriting. Small black-and-white photographs line the walls beside the slate-blue booths, although the televisions also keep guests' attention by playing various sports broadcasts. For the children or the young at heart, the diner features a couple of arcade games that allow patrons to pass the time in exchange for a few quarters.