advertisement

Visitors to Cusco have a huge array of restaurants and cafes at their disposal; eateries have sprouted up even faster than hostales and bars, and most are clustered around the main drags leading from Plaza de Armas. Many of the city's most popular restaurants are large tourist joints with Andean music shows, while many more are economical, informal places favored by backpackers and adventure travelers -- some offer midday three-course meals (menus del día) for as little as S/10. However, Cusco is also blessed with a growing number of upscale dining options, and the dining scene has improved every year as it expands to accommodate new, and more sophisticated, visitors to the city. Prices, too, have crept steadily upward at the top end of the scale. Though you can still eat very inexpensively, Cusco is now also a place to reward yourself with a good meal if you've been in the jungle or been trekking in the mountains.

Cheap eateries line the narrow length of Calle Procuradores, which leads off the Plaza de Armas across from the Compañía de Jesús church and is sometimes referred to as "Gringo Alley." Many are pizzerias, as Cusco has become known for its wood-fired, crispy-crust pizzas. Lurking on Procuradores and Plaza de Armas are hawkers armed with menus, hoping to lure you inside restaurants. Most represent decent, upstanding restaurants (though some occasionally offer drugs and other services), but if you know where you want to dine, a polite "no, gracias" is usually all it takes to get them off your trail. Horror of horrors, McDonald's recently took over a coveted storefront right on the stately, ancient Plaza de Armas; fortunately, it's fairly discreet, with no giant glowing "M" to disrupt the harmonious appearance.

Several cool bars, such as Los Perros and The Muse, also double as (often quite good) restaurants, primarily for their young and hip clients who'd prefer to get their food the same place as their cocktails. Baco, owned by the folks that operate one of the best restaurants in Cusco, Cicciolina, is as much chic restaurant as wine bar, and serves great gourmet pizzas (closed on Sundays).

Not all restaurants in Cusco accept credit cards; many of those that do, especially the cheaper places, will levy a 10% surcharge to use plastic, so you're better off carrying cash (either soles or dollars). Top-flight restaurants often charge both a 10% service charge and 18% sales tax, neither of which is included in the prices listed.

Cusco's Quintas

When the day warms up under a huge blue sky in Cusco, you'll want to be outside. Cusco doesn't have many sidewalk cafes, but it does have a trio of quintas, traditional open-air restaurants that are most popular with locals on weekends. These are places to get large portions of good-quality Peruvian cooking at pretty reasonable prices. Among the dishes they all offer are tamales, cuy chactado (fried guinea pig with potatoes), chicharrón (deep-fried pork, usually served with mint, onions, and corn), alpaca steak, lechón (suckling pig), and costillas (ribs). You can also get classics such as rocoto relleno (stuffed hot peppers) and papa rellena (potatoes stuffed with meat or vegetables). Vegetarian options include sopa de quinoa (grain soup), fried yuca, and torta de papa (potato omelets). Quintas are open only for lunch (noon-5 or 6pm), and most people make a visit their main meal of the day. Main courses cost between S/15 and S/45.

Raw Fish: A Cure for What Ails You

If you hang out so much and so late in Cusco that you wind up with a wicked hangover -- which is even more of a problem at an altitude of 3,300m (11,000 ft.) -- adopt the tried-and-true Andean method of reviving yourself. For once, the solution is not coca-leaf tea -- it's ceviche that seems to do the trick. Something about raw fish marinated in lime and chili makes for a nice slap in the face. When I lived in Ecuador (a country that fights with Peru not only over boundaries, but also over credit for having invented ceviche), late Sunday mornings at the cevichería were part of the weekly routine for pale-faced folks hiding behind sunglasses.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.