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. The dining scene has changed drastically in the past decade. Many of the city’s most popular restaurants used to be large tourist joints with Andean music shows and mediocre food, though there has been a shift toward the upscale, more ingredient-driven restaurants with good wine and cocktail lists. Still around are the many 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 has also seen an influx of fast-food chains, such as KFC, Starbucks, and McDonald’s, which have all touched down on the plaza. (Come on people, you’ve come all this way to Peru, live a little.) 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 trekking in the jungle or 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.
Several cool bars, such as the Museo de Pisco, 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 who 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 an 18% sales tax, neither of which is included in the prices listed below.
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 generally cost between S/15 and S/30.
La Chomba ★★ -- Chowhounds looking for a divey restaurant with good food that only locals seem to know about will be more than satisfied with this rustic picantería a 10-min. walk from the Plaza de Armas. The clunky wood tables are worn from decades of use and Christmas decorations stay up all year-round, making this as authentic an experience as they come. The food is cheap and hearty. Specialties include chicharrón, malaya frita (fried, extra-fatty steak), and cuy. Order a giant glass of frutillada, a type of chicha de jora (low-alcohol, fermented-maize beer), which La Chomba flavors with strawberries. The portions are absolutely huge and most will feed two. If you are searching for authenticity, look no further. Calle Tullomayo 339. tel. 084/221-644.
Quinta Eulalia ★ -- Eulalia has been around since 1941, making it Cusco's oldest quinta. From a lovely colonial courtyard (only a 5-min. walk from the Plaza de Armas), there are views of the San Cristóbal district to the surrounding hills from the upper eating area. It’s a great place to dine on a sunny day, and the Andean specialties are reasonably priced. Choquechaca 384. tel. 084/224-951.
Quinta Zarate★ -- Located at the eastern end of town, this relaxed place has a lovely, spacious garden area with great views of the Cusco Valley. Portions are very large, and the trout is a standout; try the ceviche de trucha (trout marinated in lime and spices). This quinta isn’t difficult to find, though it’s a decent hike from the square in San Blas. Totora Paccha 763, at the end of Calle Tandapata. Tel. 084/245-114.
For the best artisanal ice creams in Cusco, drop into Qucharitas, Procuradores 372 (tel. 084/226-019), a sweet little joint scooping up maca, lucuma, lemon grass, and other ice creams made to order with the best local ingredients, as well as waffles and crepes.
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.