by Chris Moss, The Telegraph, March 5, 2020
Renowned chef Gastón Acurio opened his first restaurant in his hometown of Lima in 1994. Since then, the Peruvian capital has blossomed into one of the world’s most fascinating gastro-powerhouses. Native, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese techniques and traditions mix in the melting pot city. Andean staples such as quinoa, amaranth and a myriad of potato and tuber varieties combine with the fishy riches of the Humboldt Current to provide chefs with superlative raw material.
Whether you’re after comfort food or creative cuisine, the city is a good-value, and delectable, pitstop en route to Machu Picchu and Peru’s other tourism honeypots. Here are the best restaurants to sample Lima’s culinary highlights.
The laboratory and work station of Virgilio Martínez, the most celebrated of all Lima’s innovative chefs, and his wife Pía León. The restaurant relocated from Miraflores to a more spacious site in Barranco in 2018. Martínez, a passionate student of ecosystems and culinary history, bases his tasting menu (the only option) on a journey through Peru’s latitudes and altitudes. The 12 or 16 courses look small but are as richly flavoured as they are elaborate, featuring limpets, river snails, seaweed, native tubers such as yacón and oca, raw cacao, chicken and curious items such as clay. For a memorable and educational dinner, few places top Central.
Contact: 00 51 1 242 8515; centralrestaurante.com.pe
Isolina, set in a lovely old house, and with a vibe that is part-family home, part-pub, has brought a much-needed air of fun into Barranco’s burgeoning dining scene. Chef José del Castillo’s food could best be described as gutsy: he loves offal and dishes made with tripe, liver and brain predominate on the menu; there are also seafood, pasta and meat dishes for those who are a bit squeamish. Try the chicharrón de pulpo – like pork scratchings, but made with octopus – or chaufa, a classic Lima Chinese dish made with savoury rice.
Contact: 00 51 1 247 5075; isolina.pe
Restaurante at Hotel B
Panelled in dark wood, with a long bar and marble-top tables, the restaurant of the grand, but intimate (and Relais Chateaux-backed) Hotel B – perhaps Lima’s loveliest small hotel – feels rather like an Old World café. With a handful of al fresco tables, it’s a great lunch spot. Peruvian and Mediterranean options are on the menu, including charcoal-grilled octopus and crostini with avocado and anchovies, zingy fish ceviches, a highly original trout causa, plus smallish, succulent meat dishes and 'grilled' pizzas with wafer-thin bases. Dishes can be paired with piscos, craft beers or New World wines by the glass.
Contact: 00 51 1 206 0800; Facebook page
Best table: Sit outside on one of the two 'balcony' tables on Jirón Sáenz Peña street
El Tío Mario
This is a lively, informal option if you happen to be wandering around Barranco’s popular Puente de Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs). It specialises in anticuchos (chicken, beef and cows’ hearts kebabs). Uncle Mario began trading from a food trolley, eventually building a local following that allowed him to open this branch and another just round the corner. If you don’t fancy hearts, the menu also features parrilladas (grilled meats) and causas – a sort of layer cake of mashed potato and tuna or chicken.
Contact: 00 51 1 477 0301; anticucheriatiomario.com
El Pan de la Chola
After decades of disregarding coffee – despite growing heaps of the stuff – Peru is starting to take it seriously. This hipster-ish caff-cum-canteen is light and airy and serves good flat whites, macchiatos and cappuccinos, excellent croissants and sourdough toasties and sandwiches, eggs in all shapes and sizes, and lots of wholesome juices and smoothies. It’s a bit of a schlep from central Miraflores but worth the hike; a great spot for sorting emails over a brunch.
Contact: 00 51 1 221 2138; Facebook page
Reservations: Walk-ins only
The vegan, gluten-free and organic global trends are making inroads into Lima’s food scene. This cosy little café just off the main drag in Miraflores is great for a fibre-filled quiche, a bowl of açai or avocado on toast – healthy breakfasts or light lunches perfect after a flight, or a night on the pisco sours, say.
Contact: 00 51 1 469 6040; Facebook page
Reservations: Walk-ins only
Known locally as 'Nikkei' cuisine, Japanese-Peruvian fusion food is the in-thing with the monied folk of leafy Miraflores. Maido’s tasting menus are themed and the '200 miles' menu, referring to a stretch of Peru’s Pacific coast, ranged over 13 inventive courses, including a sausage sandwich pastiche (the sausage made from octopus), an infusions of greens delivered via a V60 coffee dripper, and a fruity ice cream crafted to resemble a mussel. Every dish is a showstopper.
Contact: 0051 1 313 5100; maido.pe
From his much-loved HQ inside a lovely Art Deco mansion, veteran chef Rafael Osterling cooks up a likeable mix of Peruvian, Italian, Indian and Japanese flavours. Choose from pizzas, seafood and meaty pasta dishes (the duck ragout with homemade spaghetti is delicious), vitello tonnato, superb ceviches, delicately flavoured risottos. Stylish but unpretentious.
Contact: 00 51 1 242 4149; rafaelosterling.pe
Astrid y Gastón
The Lima flagship of Gastón Acurio – the chef chiefly responsible for the modern revolution in Peruvian cuisine – and his German wife, acclaimed pastry chef Astrid Gutsche, occupies a handsome colonial mansion in the smart residential barrio of San Isidro. The food, like the décor, is full of colour and vivacity. Each year the main menu is rebooted, but is always based on arty twists on classic dishes. Thus it features a ceviche made with mushrooms, tiraditos that use beets instead of the standard ingredient of raw fish, plus the soups, lots of local fish and seafood and regional items such as guinea pig with native potatoes. Desserts are big and bold, so best to share. Wines from the old and new world are on offer, but a pisco-based cocktail from the cool little bar is also highly recommended.
Contact: 00 51 1 442 2777; astridygaston.com
The port district of Callao, close to Lima’s main airport and about 20-30 mins by taxi from downtown, is famous for its cheap and cheerful local restaurants – known as huariques. Mateo, conveniently located close to the art district of Callao Monumental, is just such a locale, serving basic, hearty fare such as creamy papas a la huancaina, meat stews, swordfish steak, a moreish bean mash called tacu tacu, soups and ceviches. Note that there are also lots of fish and seafood eateries at La Punta, the posher end of Callao.
Contact: 00 51 1 465 2056; Facebook page
Reservations: Walk-ins only