4212 N Milwaukee Ave # 14
Chicago, IL 60641-1640
Our journey to La Peña in Albany Park was uncharacteristically epic. What ought to have been a short 20 minute trip took almost an hour and a half due to forces (in addition to rush hour traffic) that we could not quite pin down. In any case, we arrived abysmally late to dine with my cousins, who were meeting us there. Fortunately, while waiting they were offered a bowl of plantain chips with two kinds of salsa. Upon arrival, we were impressed by the cute, polished wood interior and the vast potato-laden menu (the eaters love carbs). For appetizers we ordered a Humita ($2.95), an tamale-like creation, and Patacones, fried plantains ($2.95). Plantains are one of our favorite things about Caribbean and Latin American cuisines, and we wished the plantain chip/fry would find a renaissance, much as the sweet potato fry has. We rounded out our appetizer order with the Tortilla de Papa ($ 2.95) a potato pancake stuffed with cheese, and topped with peanut sauce. By this point we could tell that Ecuadorians did indeed love their carbs.
For mains, L ordered the Vegetarian Llapingacho ($12.95) which was a potato pancake topped with peanut sauce and a fried egg. Alongside the pancake came a veritable garden of avocado, a green salad, plantains and rice. Even tucked into the side of the plate was a humita. Holy portions! The Llapingacho seemed like a bigger version of the Tortilla de Papa, with the same cheese filling and peanut sauce, which was a little disappointing, but all of the elements on the plate came together to enhance the pancake, even the slightly runny egg, which I am not usually a fan of. For his main course, M ordered the Fritanga ($13.95), a dish of pan-fried pork with sweet plantains, white hominy and corn. The pork was bit fatty for his taste, but still had great flavor. He was especially excited by the appearance of ‘big corn’ or choclo kernels mixed in with the hominy on the plate – a staple of Peruvian food. The portions at La Peña are outrageous, and totally gut busting, so I would definitely say you get what you pay for.
Right in the back of the restaurant was a small stage, which was being fitted with amps and microphones as we ate. At around 7 the live music started, and a live a band played Salsa Romantica hits from the likes Eddie Santiago. They were actually pretty good, the only problem was that the music was a bit loud, but we knew that coming in, so no big surprise. Our first foray into Ecuadorian food was deemed a success. It’s kind of the heartier sister of the more cosmopolitan Peruvian food, and if you are feeling the need to Carbo-load, you know you’ve found the right place.