Pio Pio: A Peruvian Dining Adventure in Hell’s Kitchen
My Peruvian adventure began in a most unlikely place–at the lobby bar at TRYP Times Square. It was a Sunday night in January, and the end of a long-weekend trip to New York City for the New York Times Travel Show (among other things). Because nothing cures a hangover like more alcohol, I was enjoying a glass of sangria and contemplating just having dinner at that same bar. And then fate stepped in.
By ‘fate’ I mean ‘a random couple who sat down at the bar next to me’. They lived nearby–55th and 10th, maybe?–and were on their way home from the Javits Center where, in addition to the travel show, a motorcycle show was being held. I know they were working at the show–doing what I’m not really sure–and I know that they were just recently back in town from a trip to South America. The husband portion of the couple was wearing this amazing pair of vintage leather patchwork Levi’s, which is how I struck up a conversation with him (I mean come on, you just can’t ignore pants like that; hell, they don’t even exist on Google. I really should have taken a photo. Though that seems like an odd pickup line–hey, can I get a shot of me with your pants?) I began to bemoan the lack of good restaurants in the area, and they laughed at me.
Have you walked half of a block west, they asked. No. No I had not. Apparently I’d been staying two feet away from dozens of amazing restaurants, but I continued to walk east towards 8th Avenue and TGI Fridays. Whoops.
They spoke reverently of the chicken at a nearby Peruvian restaurant–Pio Pio. And I thought–when a guy in pants this awesome tells you to go to a random Peruvian restaurant, you go to that random Peruvian restaurant. And so I walked out of the hotel bar, turned right, and walked five blocks north to Pio Pio.
I am so glad I did.
The Pio Pio Dining Experience
You walk into a small hostess area and are greeted by the hostess. She then pulls back a curtain and escorts you into what appears to be a tiny, tiny restaurant. There are maybe three tables.
You veer slightly right and encounter a stunning bar area. It’s all long and marble and LED-lit, backed by a variety of fruit-infused liquors in big glass containers, which are at once visually appealing and, I’m sure, delicious.
Continuing along, you suddenly notice something. A sound. Like approaching a waterfall on a long hike, the room suddenly opens up to reveal a cavernous, seemingly-subterranean dining room. If you are really lucky–as I was–you will be seated at a two-top up on the balcony overlooking said dining area.
I’m going to have to stop describing the amazing space now. Why? Because I need to start describing the food. Oh the food…
The Pio Pio Menu
Several things are true: I live a little less than an hour and a half from midtown Manhattan via an extremely unpleasant bus ride terminating at Port Authority Bus Terminal. Pio Pio is three blocks from Port Authority. Pio Pio is open for lunch. I would endure the three hour round-trip bus ride just to have lunch here. In fact, I may do just that one day very, very soon. For now I will have to be content re-living the rather extensive meal I enjoyed a few weeks ago.
Please note: You’ll remember that this story started out in a hotel bar. Thus, drinks had already been consumed before arriving. Additionally, I spent most of the weekend walking around the city–the previous day, I consumed no solid food whatsoever. Thus, the sheer amount of food I’m about to describe is totally reasonable. I promise.
Appetizers (yes, plural)
Why would you not order deep fried, meat-filled mashed potatoes? Those are, like, all of the best things in the world combined into one gluttonous appetizer. And while I was expecting something like arancini (one of my favorite things in the world–fried risotto balls) what I actually received was more like a deep-fried shepherd’s pie. If you’re thinking that sounds good–you’re right. It is amazing.
I love ceviche, and this was the single best ceviche I’ve ever had–in New York City of all places. I recently spent a few days in Miami–you know, far closer to warm water and, thus, fresh seafood than, say, 44th and 10th Avenue. That ceviche paled in comparison to Pio Pio’s ceviche limon. The fish was a fresh corvina, marinated in the perfect lime juice which was balanced and beautiful. Beyond the fish itself, the accompaniments made the dish. Giant corn, both fresh and roasted, added a hint of sweet and smoky respectively. And that thing that looks like a bland tomato garnish? It’s a sweet potato. Ceviche and sweet potato? Yes. Please. Where have you been all my life?
This ceviche shall forever be the standard by which I measure all future ceviche. I’ll let you know if I find a better option anywhere. I’m not holding my breath.
At this point in the meal, I was already beyond full. Yet I could not stop eating the chicken. It was fall-of-the-bone tender–even the white meat–and perfectly seasoned; flavorful but not spicy. And the green sauce that everyone raves about? Yeah. They rave with valid reason.
The combo came with fries and an avocado salad. While I enjoyed the salad–which contained at least one whole avocado and was dressed with something pleasantly lime-y–I skipped the fries because, well, there’s only so much one person can consume. My husband scarfed them down, though; he compared them to ‘the fries his grandma used to make in her old fry daddy’. Sounds like a glowing recommendation to me.
When I finally sucked my fingers clean enough to take notes, I noted: Vegans would like these wings. This chicken did not die in vain.
Dessert (also shared)
Tres Leches Cake
I have no idea why we ordered dessert. We should not have ordered dessert. Yet we ended up fighting over the last scraps of the tres leches cake. Two words: caramelized bananas.
There were surprises around every corner at Pio Pio, from the surprising space to the secret sauce-heck, even finding the restroom was an adventure (I’ve never been so turned around–though that might have been the sangria…) I may not make it to Peru any time soon (though it is at the top of my list), but I will definitely return to Pio Pio.
There are a variety of Pio Pio locations throughout Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. I visited the Hell’s Kitchen location and can strongly recommend it–clearly. It is located on 10th Ave, between 43rd and 44th–only three avenue blocks from Times Square; if you are there being a tourist (which I recommend for exactly five minutes) do make the short walk to Pio Pio rather than trying to dine in any of the crap-tastic chain restaurants on 42nd Street. We called for reservations on a Sunday night and they were able to seat us within the hour–but the place was packed (and rightfully so). Thus, I recommend making reservations.