Interview by Vicky Baker, The Guardian, February 24, 2014
Chez Wong, Lima
Chef Javier Wong taught me the essence of ceviche. He started his restaurant in the garage of his house and it has expanded from there. He is the only chef in the kitchen and his restaurant has no menu. He only cooks using sole and he only offers these options: hot or cold, sweet or sour. It opens for lunch only and you should book in advance. You could as easily find yourself sitting next to a top Peruvian politician or the plasterer working at the building site next door.
• Calle Enrique Leon Garcia 114, +511 470 6217, facebook.com/ChezJavierWong. Average meal £30
This place is run by Pedro Schiaffino, who in my mind is the most pioneering chef in Peru right now. Malabar, his first restaurant, is ranked in the 100 of the world's best restaurants and at Amaz he focuses entirely on Amazonian food. This is a groundbreaking restaurant, offering one of the most exciting types of cuisine. I once had an incredible hollowed-out bamboo with prawn ceviche roasted inside. But it's not all so theatrical – it's mostly about the ingredients. Try chonta, which looks like a thin, silky pasta but is a type of palm.
• Avenida La Paz 1079, +511 221 9393, amaz.com.pe. Average meal £50
La Nueva Palomino, Arequipa
Peruvian food has Inca and pre-Inca traditions at its base, and since then waves of immigration – Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, African – have helped create a unique cuisine. This family-run restaurant, in Peru's second-biggest city, takes Peruvian food back to its origins, and in a way I have never seen before. The restaurant dates back to the 1890s and the owner is more of an historian than a chef. Everything is cooked by hand, on log fires. Instead of an electric blender, they use a batán, like a pestle and mortar. Try the chupe de camarones (prawn chowder) with quinoa. Or the rocoto relleno: stuffed chilli peppers, with mince beef and pecans.
• Leoncio Prado 122, +51 54252393. Average meal £20
El Mercado, Lima
Avenida La Mar is known as the street of the ceviche and it is always packed in the middle of the day. Ceviche is historically a lunchtime dish and although that has changed this restaurant keeps to old habits by only opening for lunch. Run by a top chef and author Rafael Osterling, it offers flavourful fine-dining at accessible prices. The food, presentation and service are all of a very high standard. Although it calls itself a ceviche restaurant, it offers much more. Try the grilled octopus and the fish roe sandwich.
• Hipólito Unanue 203, +511 221 1322,rafaelosterling.pe. Average meal £40
La Tia Grimanesa, Lima
Grimanesa Vargas started as a humble street cart many years ago and her anticuchos (beef-heart skewers), a traditional dish that came from African-Peruvians, became known as the best in Lima. With a marinade perfectly blending smokey chilli, red-wine vinegar and garlic, she had queues forming round the block. Demand was so great, she even started to take bookings on her mobile. This led to her own restaurant, which is thriving. She has now become a cult hero in Lima, as popular as any pop star.
• Jr Ignacio Merino 466, +51 99 849 3137, grimanesavargasanticuchos.com. Average meal £10
Maido Restaurante, Lima
The fusion of Peruvian and Japanese cuisine is no flash in the pan. In 1899, the first Japanese migrants sailed to Peru and soon created their first restaurants. The hybrid cuisine that followed even earned its own name: Peruvian nikkei. Mitsuharu Tsumura is one of the best of a new breed of chefs taking nikkei forward. His playful fusion dishes are the centrepiece of his tasting menu, which I consider to be one of the best in the world. It's quite unlike anything in Japan, perfectly refined using European fine-dining techniques and presentation skills, alongside Japanese and Peruvian traditions.
• Calle San Martín 399, +511 446 2512, maido.pe. Average meal £65
El Rincon Que No Conoces, Lima
This place was started by Teresa Izquierdo, who sadly passed away in 2011, and who was affectionately known as the mother of Peruvian food. This lunchtime restaurant serves Peru's traditional dishes at a high level of quality for locals and travellers. The carapulcra – an African-Peruvian dish of potato, peanut and pork – is legendary. Its coriander lamb stew is also delicious, as are the picarones (pumpkin doughnuts).
• Calle Bernardo Alcedo 363, +511 471 2171, elrinconquenoconoces.pe. Average meal £25
San Pedro Market, Cusco
The ancient Inca city of Cusco is the jump-off point for Machu Picchu and the Sacred valley. Don't leave without spending some time at the indoor market. It's packed with great food stalls and has a really exciting atmosphere. The juice vendors have a mind-boggling array of fruits (my favourite is the tropical guanabana) and there's a trend to fill them with all manner of additional ingredients, from quinoa to stout. The breads are great too: try the ones twisted into the shape of a child, with a marzipan face. If you visit, consider giving an extra tip to Amantani.org.uk, an organisation doing great work to help local people, especially street children.
Al Frio y Al Fuego, Iquitos
The best ceviche I've ever eaten was not on the coast of Peru but in Iquitos, in the heart of the Amazon. It was made of paiche fish (a fish now being called by many "the new black cod"). I haven't been to Al Frio y Al Fuego but I've heard great things, so travellers heading that way should certainly add it to their list. As well as offering great river seafood, the location is incredible; it's actually a floating restaurant on the river Itaya and to get there you have to travel by boat. If you go to Iquitos, make sure you also check out Belen market for tasty juices and fish dishes.
• Avenida La Marina N 134-B, +51 65 607474, alfrioyalfuego.com. Average meal £25
Main Street, Lurín
Chicharrones (confit pork belly) are a street-food favourite in many parts of Peru but the district of Lurín is said to have the tastiest. It's less than an hour's drive from Lima and is conveniently placed on the way to the southern beaches, just off the Pan-American highway. It's well worth stopping off. It's hard to pick a favourite; try any of the simple roadside restaurants and prepare for the amazing mix of pork, sweet potato and salsa criolla (a blend of onion, lime, chilli and coriander), with or without a crusty roll.
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk