1252 North Wells Street, Chicago, IL, 60610
Price: $$$$$

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Kayao - Chicago

Kayao in Old Town serves Peruvian ceviche, seafood, and a smattering of Nikkei dishes. The foods of Peru have long been served in Chicago, but none have tried to push the limits with such vigor and creativity as Kayao.

In June of 2024, Chicago Eater announced, "Kayao, a new Peruvian restaurant from a group that includes Jose Luis Chavez — the Venezuelan-Peruvian chef behind Mission Ceviche, a casual New York restaurant that earned a one-star review from Times critic Pete Wells back in 2019 — opened its doors last week along Wells, just north of Division."

Peru is on the Pacific Ocean, so you'd expect a Peruvian restaurant like Kayao to serve a lot of fish with some traditional Peruvian ingredients, and this restaurant does, and it also serves Nikkei food, the dishes favored by the many Japanese immigrants who have made Peru their home. On the menu is ceviche, cubed fish and seafood like octopus and shrimp, marinated for a while in vinegar, citrus juice or other acidic solution, as well as tiradito, seafood sliced and just lightly splashed with acidic solution before serving (in other words, raw, but if you've enjoyed sushi and sashimi, that's nothing too surprising).

Though there is not a great deal of meat on the menu, there is a temping dish of duck with pumpkin, daikon radish and rice, as well as Nitsuke short ribs, slow cooked for 36 hours.

There are veg-forward dishes for those who prefer plant-based proteins, including Osaka, with maitake mushrooms, snow peas, bok choy and fried rice.

The Kayao cocktail menu offers some unusual and delicious combinations of sometimes exotic ingredients. Consider the Sohoul with Caravedo Acholado, Tenjaku Vodka,

Soho Lychee, agavero, and lime; and the Pachamama with black whisky, Averna, orgeat, and acid-adjusted pineapple. There's also a well-curated listing of beers and wine.

Kayao offers foods that are both familiar and a little bit surprising, making for a fun and eye-opening dinner.