Tanta means “bread” in Quechua, the indigenous language of the Andean people of South America, but there is nothing white bread about the adventurous restaurant by that name in Chicago’s River North neighborhood. The Peruvian eatery transforms its patrons from diners into travellers, deepening the cultural excursion with each colorful plate that finds its way to the table.
Anyone who has been acquainted with chef/owner Gaston Acurio’s chicharron sandwich at Lima’s La Lucha knows to expect anything but standard fare from him. Just as he livens the traditional sandwich of pork and sweet potato with a twist of mint in Lima’s Miraflores, so has he reimagined the dish into a pillowy waffle topped with crispy pork belly and glazed with Panca chili honey for Tanta Chicago. Chef de cuisine Jesus Delgado highlights the multiculturalism of Peru with plates ranging from cebiches and other seafood-centric fare to hearty empanadas and, of course, Peru’s famous pollo a la brasa, a tender roasted chicken resting on a bed of delicately-flavored fried rice and finished with a fried egg.
Chicha morada, the Peruvian beverage made by boiling purple corn with spices and sugar, is a must-try in the multilevel 100-seat dining space. For something with a bit more kick, try one (or three) of the numerous cocktails made with pisco, a grape-based spirit cultivated in Peru’s wine region and a staple in South America. Once you’ve made your way through the extensive plated offerings, bring your Peruvian voyage full circle with a refreshing scoop of Chicha-flavored sorbet.
Chicago artist Jeff Zimmerman’s brazen painted homage to the country animates the air of the eatery just as much as the yucca fries and plantain chips. Who needs to be on a terrace in Barranco overlooking the Pacific when you can enjoy a cebiche of fresh salmon and avocado bathed in a creamy scallop emulsion? With its innovative interpretations of traditional favorites, the food at Tanta is both simply satisfying and deeply interesting.