Lima on a Plate
As Lima claims its place among the world's top gastronomic destinations, Greg de Villiers explains why there has never been a better time to eat in Lima... and exactly where to begin
On a street corner near Lima’s central bus station, there’s an old woman selling simple, utterly delicious papas rellenas (fried mashed potato stuffed with saucy ground beef and creamy chili sauce). Nearby, another cart dishes out crispy fried pork and sweet potato, and, with any luck, the ceviche lady will appear on the block. At lunch, two-course specials that range the gastronomic length and breadth of the country will cost you less than a posh coffee in the states, and your taxi driver is more likely to strike up a conversation about food than football or politics.
In Lima your taxi driver is more likely to strike up a conversation about food than football
This limeño passion for food has helped define the city as a new gastronomic boomtown, and led to a remarkably quick sophistication from its chefs and diners. At the heart of this culinary movement is chef Virgilio Martínez, who, with his restaurant Central, has led the way in foraging the best of the country’s astounding biodiversity and presenting it with creativity and intelligence. No surprise that his London restaurant, Lima, was recently awarded its first Michelin star. Likewise, chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino is showcasing the Amazon region’s incredible natural bounty and securing its role in the future of Peruvian cuisine at restaurants Amaz and Malabar.
But Lima is so much richer than the award-laden restaurants studding the Miraflores and San Isidro neighborhoods. Barranco, caught between bohemia and modernity, harbors some of the city’s oldest culinary haunts, while neighboring Chorrillos is still the best choice for seafood with greats like Sonia’s cevicheria and little known iconic dishes such as Sr. Chef’s tuna takaki or Emilio y Glady’s conchas negras. It’s the markets of the city, however, those like Magdalena, Surquillo and Surco, which carry the soul of Peruvian food, the roots that hold together cuisine that is slowly spreading out into the world. There has never been a better time to eat in Lima.
Chef Virgilio Martinez spends as much time as possible outside the kitchen exploring Peru, but when he is at Central he is on the line, carefully curating every dish that goes out in Lima’s best restaurant. His menu is a delicate and delicious journey from seaside algae to Andean roots, a masterpiece from a young chef just hitting his stride.
Pedro Miguel Schiaffino is an explorer, bringing the tastiest bits from unknown regions to the table. His specialty though, is the Amazon, which he knows better than any other city chef and uses this knowledge to inspire, surprise and generally make things taste great. Don’t miss the tie-dyed paiche, or the dessert menu — his pastry chef is possibly the best in Lima.
Astrid y Gaston
This is the heart of Gaston Acurio's empire and was recently voted the best restaurant in South America. Much of this win has to go to chef Diego Muñoz and the masterful tasting menu, El Viaje, which ambitiously tells the story of immigration from Italy to Peru. Each plate was conceptualized and crafted by local artists and every sense is brought to life in this 24-course epic.
Mitsuharu Tsumura is the king of Peruvian Japanese fusion cuisine and Maido’s tasting menu, The Third Reality, is its perfect execution. Think a ceviche with tobiko (flying fish roe) or local scallops with a maka sauce and fukujinzake pickles.
We take our daily bread seriously in Peru, and sandwiches piled with crispy pork, sweet potato and lime pickled red onion are among the world's best. The so-called sanguche de chicharron is the stuff of breakfast legends and Doña Paulina is an icon in the game.
Ceviche is the rockstar of limeño food, and choosing the best is like a mother of six picking a favorite child. That said, at some point everyone will hone in on Sonia’s, a Chorrillos legend that grew from the love story between a fisherman Freddy Guardia and Sonia Bahamonde. They started with four tables for local fishermen and now the city’s elite queue up to get in. Besides the famous ceviche, try the tuna mushiame, a sort of cured, tuna carpaccio.
The northern coast has some of the best flavors in Peruvian food: the ceviche de pato, a slow cooked, lime marinated duck, the parihuela seafood soup or a sardine causa. All this is served up at Hector Solis’s La Picanteria along big communal tables done up with plastic checkered tablecloths and all. This is also the best place to try the fermented maize brew, chicha de jora, with flavored versions like apple or quince to soften the characteristic blow.
La Canta Rana
High ceilinged and draped in football memorabilia, La Canta Rana is a 26-year-old institution in the heart of Barranco. The ceviche competes with the city’s best, but everything on the menu comes out top notch, from the Arequipeña classic chupe de camarones, the risotto stuffed squid or the pescado a la chorrillana.
La Huaca Pucllana
At the foot of a 5th-century pyramid of the same name, the Huaca Pucllana restaurant is touristy, sure, but at night, when the pyramid is lit up like a set from Indiana Jones, it makes for a memorable dining experience. So far, they have avoided the location curse to serve up excellent versions of traditional creole food.
Señora Flor at Surquillo Market
On Sundays head down to the Surquillo market, widely regarded as the best market in town, and ask around for puesto (stall) 200 or Señora Flor; everyone will know why you are there, and point you the right way. On Sundays only, she whips up the other great limeño breakfast tradition, a steamy chicken noodle soup. Just be sure to arrive before 10:00 a.m.
The shiny new Westin Hotel was smart enough to invest in serious talent for their in-house restaurant Maras. Raphael Piqueras is another young Peruvian star, European trained and now digging deep into his own backyard. Tuck straight into his personal and adventurous tasting menu, but if you’re only going to eat one thing, try his corn tart with oxtail ragout.
Around 38 years ago Grimanesa Vargas bought a small grill and took it out on the street to sell anticuchos de corazon. Quickly her marinated and flame-grilled beef heart skewers had crowds wrapping around two city blocks in Miraflores. In 2011 she moved into a restaurant, and now over 70, rarely man’s the grill, but is firmly one of Lima’s most famous culinary personalities.
The cacao in Peru is exquisite, and people are finally starting to care for it from source to finished product, but few are as successful as Giovanna Maggiolo in her Miraflores shop, Xocolotl. She has five collections of small individual bonbons, from the pisco pairing collection and the cocktail collection to a set of chocolates that represent traditional Peruvian desserts.
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