I haven’t travelled much this year because of some personal issues I have been having. I miss travelling and I hope to be able to get back to it again soon but in the meantime, I have a ton of travel backlog that I’ve been meaning to write about and this article will be the first of many.
Two years ago around this time, I was in Peru for an unforgettable two-week trip to see the country, eat and celebrate my birthday! I spent a little over two weeks visiting Peru and of those 16 days, 8 were spent in Lima basically eating my way through the city. Lima is one of the best eating cities I’ve ever visited and Peruvian cuisine is one of my favourites. The diversity of ingredients in Peru is outstanding and even Peruvian chefs haven’t yet exhausted everything their country and its many climates have to offer. I created an excel sheet with a schedule for breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks. I wasn’t going to miss out on any of Lima’s many great restaurants and I went there prepared with reservations made and plans drawn out.
#5 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants / #2 Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants
I spent my birthday dinner at Central. It was only befitting that I spend my birthday at the best restaurant in Lima (and South America) and one of the best in the world. A meal at the table of chef Virgilio Martínez and his chef-de-cuisine wife Pia León is quite the experience. Upon first entering the restaurant, we were lead to the back into a vast, tall and quite dark dining room where the spotlight was on the open kitchen along the back wall. Central serves a menu that takes diners on an exploration of Peru’s different elevations, from below the sea to the top of the Andes. The ultimate journey is the 17-course Mater Elevations menu. The dishes are inspired by Peru’s ecosystems and vast variety of ingredients and the artistic plating itself is inspired by these natural environments. Chef Martinez’ sister heads Mater Iniciativa, a team of researchers who travel across Peru gathering ingredients that the Central kitchen crew then learns to cook. This dedication to the art and science of knowledge and experiment is really awe-inspiring.
#8 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants / #1 Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants
It’s hard to say since I had so many great meals in Lima but Maido was probably my second favourite. I was very excited to try Nikkei food (a fusion of Japanese techniques with Peruvian ingredients) and Maido’s chef Mitsuharu Tsumura is the best when it comes to this particular cuisine. The dining room is elegant yet unpretentious with a bar on one side and bare wood tables flanked by plush grey chairs. The ceiling is made up of dozens of hanging Peruvian rope art that depict the Japanese flag or the Peruvian one, depending on where you’re standing. We opted for the 16 course Nikkei Experience menu, which everyone should opt for because a meal at Maido is definitely an unforgettable experience. From ceviche and tiradito to giant Amazonian sea snails, the stunning dishes are all exquisite and delightful works of art.
ASTRID Y GASTÓN
#33 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants / #7 Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants
Chef Gastón Acurio is singlehandedly responsible for the culinary revolution that’s been happening in Peru for the past 20 years. He has created a culinary empire that spans the globe and has made ceviche a household item. Everywhere you turn when you’re in Peru, you’re reminded of Gastón. I have a huge admiration for him and for what he’s done for his country but that conversation is for another article. He opened his first restaurant, Astrid y Gastón, with his wife (and pastry chef) Astrid Gutsche 20 years ago and relocated to its new and swanky premises in 2014. The Villa Moreyra is a gorgeous, 17th century estate in Lima’s San Isidro neighbourhood. The building itself is just breathtaking and going up the grand entrance staircase that leads from the courtyard to the restaurant makes you feel as if you’ve arrived in a different century. The building also houses a bar, event rooms and more. Chef Acurio himself has been back at the helm of the Astrid y Gastón kitchen since 2015. The cuisine is modern Peruvian with an à la carte menu as well as a tasting menu.
OSSO CARNICERÍA Y SALUMERIA
#12 Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants
Osso started out as a butcher shop with a secret chef table in the back in Lima’s La Molina suburb. That secret chef table soon became too popular and butcher/chef Renzo Garibaldi expanded into the space next door. I believe it took us an hour to get to the original location in La Molina by cab from Miraflores but Osso just opened a second location in town in San Isidro. Osso is an ode to artisanal and sustainable meat. Whatever you dream cut is, you will find at Osso, from great, juicy burger to wagyu beef tartare. If you’re a meat lover, you owe it to yourself to visit this meat temple for a veritable feast.
#15 Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants
I had Sunday lunch at La Mar and it was so much fun; I definitely recommend it! Loud limeño families were gathered around big tables enjoying their meals, kids were running around, waiters were waltzing around the dining room with ease carrying huge trays of food and Picso-laden drinks… This is a popular spot with locals and tourists alike so go early or expect to wait for a table (it’s well worth it). La Mar is owned by Gaston Acurio and serves fresh Peruvian cuisine with a focus on (sustainable) fish and seafood. The thatched roof dining room and large gaps between the walls and ceiling let natural light flood in so it feels like you’re eating outdoors. Ceviche is their specialty, of course, but everything on the menu is delicious, fresh and festive!
#21 Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants
What a lovely surprise Isolina turned out to be! I had booked this taberna for my birthday lunch not knowing much about what to expect and it was great! Isolina is located inside a historic home in the bohemian and trendy Barranco neighbourhood (a great neighbourhood to visit while in Lima!). The setting is casual and makes you feel as if you’e in someone’s home. Isolina serves traditional Peruvian food in very generous portions. Their ceviche is fresh and delightful and served with sweet potato, two types of corn and oh-so-scrumptious octopus chicharron!
#30 Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants
Malabar was the first restaurant I dined at in Lima. An elegant fine dining spot in San Isidro, Malabar is owned by chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino whose fascination with Peru’s Amazon region borders on obsession. He regularly embarks on weeks-long expeditions to the Amazon in search of exotic ingredients and eager to learn about traditional cooking techniques, which he then transposes into the Malabar kitchen. Ingredients that enter his kitchen are organic and sustainable and sourced from small producers located all over the country. The meal we had there was the perfect introduction to Peru’s rich terroir and wealth of ingredients.
FIESTA CHICLAYO GOURMET
#46 Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants
Fiesta’s chef Hector Solís opened Fiesta in 1996 in the heart of Lima’s Miraflores neighbourhood. Chef Solís hails from Chiclayo in northern Peru and has been an advocate for its cuisine since his beginnings. Fiesta was our last dinner in Lima after 8 glorious days of daily feasts. I remember how great the drinks were and ending with the most epic picarones (squash and sweet potato donut served with a molasses syrup). They specialize in duck and rice dishes and they have an extensive ceviche menu with regional twists on the traditional dish.
#47 Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants
After a great lunch at ámaZ, I had a chat with chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino who also owns Malabar (in fact, I had dinner at Malabar the night before this lunch at ámaZ). Chef Schiaffino’s passion for promoting ingredients from Peru’s Amazon region is palpable and contagious (I too, want to visit the Amazon now!). You can hear it in his voice and see it in his eyes. ámaZ was born from the desire to tap into the Amazon’s pantry and introduce it to the world with a contemporary and sustainable approach. The Miraflores restaurant is casual and unpretentious with great windows lining up one side of it and oversized straw lighting fixtures dotting the dining room. Brightly coloured chairs, dark wood tables and a central bar illuminated by funky, paper fixtures complete the decor. The meal I had there was memorable and I discovered ingredients I had never heard of before–Giant Amazonian River Snails anyone? I also sampled a vegetarian ceviche with fresh palm that was absolutely delicious. I would’ve liked to taste the famous paiche, a great fish from the Amazon river but it wasn’t the season for it.I guess that just means I’ll have to go back to Lima some day.
Please note that you need to reserve ahead of time for all of these restaurants so be prepared.
For more on the best food in Lima, head to these articles.