CHIReview

Amaru stays late working at the office after everyone else goes home, and color codes powerpoint presentations to make them just a little better. In other words, this small Latin American restaurant in Wicker Park is doing more than it needs to. In fact, it could be doing half as much - and the food could be half as good - and we’d still come here.

You’ll realize as soon as you walk in that instead of being the annoying kiss-ass we described above, this place is like the coworker you actually want to hang out with on the weekend. Amaru is upbeat without feeling like a sh*tshow, and plays classic hip hop loudly enough to be fun, but still at a level where you can hear a point/counterpoint of the yuca vs. Kennebec fries. Plus, it has flaming drinks, which is definitely more exciting than the box of wine in your fridge you’ve been rushing out of work to get to. And while all that makes this an enjoyable place to hang out on a Friday night, the delicious food is why we go out of our way to come here.

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The short menu is mostly made up of Latin American small plates, which all have something extra happening that you might not expect - like when you find out about a coworker’s surprisingly funny podcast. In the case of the chicken skewers with huancaina (spicy cheese sauce), it’s the acidic cucumber salad and chewy kernels of choclo (Peruvian corn). The large bowl of ceviche has about 46 ingredients, including a roasted squash puree hiding under the leche de tigre. It’s fantastic and for some reason only $13. And we’re not going to waste time explaining why stuffing bacon-wrapped sweet plantains with chorizo is a good decision. It just is.

But like every brainstorm session, not every idea coming out of being stuck at the office until 11pm is a good one. We’re not fans of the gluey yucca gnocchi, no matter how tasty the accompanying rabbit ragu is. And the frita Cubana (a cheeseburger) is a relentlessly rich combination of beef, burnt garlic aioli, cheese, and shoestring fries on a bun that falls apart from all the grease. But since almost everything is around $10-13, it’s worth risking the occasional clunker on the table.

Amaru is a small spot that’s surrounded by big, loud restaurants like Etta, Piece, and Paradise Park. It’s the type of place that’s fun, but also casual and low-key enough to wander into any night of the week. But after eating some fantastic food that’s way more affordable than it has any right to be, you’ll realize that sometimes staying late and color coding is worth it to be half this good.

Food Rundown

Ceviche Del Dia

The preparation changes, but you can count on this having a delicious leche de tigre and fresh fish (like baramundi) that will make you believe it was designed by a team of ceviche engineers. Order this.

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Pulpo

We come across a lot of overpriced, tough, and boring octopus, but Amaru’s is especially tender. The other thing that makes this an excellent plate of food is the fact that it’s served with well-seasoned papas bravas and a spicy poblano sauce that we want to take home with us.

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Pollo Al Carbon

Based on the price ($12) and the description (chicken skewers), it doesn’t sound like much is happening in this dish, but it’s actually a very complex plate of food. The chicken comes with a spicy huiacana sauce (spicy cheese), a cucumber salad to bring some light crunch, papas bravas, and kernels of choclo - basically big pieces of corn. It’s fantastic.

Piononos

If you need us to explain why sweet plantains stuffed with chorizo and wrapped in bacon are delicious, we can’t help you. But make sure you order these.

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ChickPea Tacu Tacu

These chickpea cakes are one of our favorite things here. They’re covered in a delicious green curry and balanced out with peppery arugula.

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Yucca Gnocchi

Unsurprisingly, the gnocchi are made out of yucca. The texture is a little gluey, but the sauce that accompanies it is always good. Our favorite so far has been the rabbit bolognese. Just be aware, it’s one of the more expensive options (around $21).

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Frita Cubana

Sometimes even the office’s golden child wastes their time on a project, and that’s what happens here. It’s a muddled combination of beef, burnt garlic aioli, Oaxacan cheese, and shoestring potatoes.

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