Lima is the most cosmopolitan dining city in all of Peru, and perhaps the greatest food city in Latin America, with restaurants of all budgets and a wide range of cuisines—from upscale seafood restaurants and comida criolla (coastal Peruvian cooking), to Chinese-Peruvian fusion, incredible street food, and plenty of Italian, French, and other international restaurants. Lima is also the top spot in the country to sample truly creative gastronomy, as well as the dish Peru is perhaps best known for: ceviche. Although there are more restaurants classified as “very expensive” than anywhere else in Peru, diners coming from North American and European capitals should recognize that while not inexpensive, Lima’s top restaurants are the equal of many top dining capitals but comparatively much less expensive than high-end restaurants in New York, London, Paris, or Rome.
Many of the best restaurants are concentrated in Miraflores, and to a lesser extent San Isidro, though recent years have seen the map expanding. There’s superb northern coastal cuisine in Surquillo. One of the best criolla restaurants is in Barranco. Even way out in La Molina, there are chefs and restaurants making waves. Still, it’s difficult to eat poorly anywhere in Lima. The bar is high. In Lima Centro, around the Barrio chino, there are excellent chifas, Chinese-Peruvian restaurants. In Chorrillos, you will find some of the best traditional cevicherías. In Miraflores there are sandwich shops and grills set up on street corners selling anticuchos, skewered beef heart. Even food courts in the malls have excellent food. Like anywhere, Lima has its share of fast food, both local and international chains, but for those with a willingness to try something new, the options are endless.
Restaurants here, predictably, are most crowded in the early evening, especially Thursday through Saturday, as well as weekends during lunch time. In the business districts of Miraflores and San Isidro, lunch can also get quite busy—at least in the nicer restaurants that are popular with local and international businessmen.
Chinatown (Barrio chino), southeast of the Plaza de Armas and next to the Mercado Central (beyond the Chinese arch on Jirón Ucayali), is a good place to sample the Peruvian take on Chinese food. These chifas, inexpensive restaurants with similar menus, are prolific in the small but dense neighborhood. Among those worth visiting (generally open daily 9am–10pm or later) are Wa Lok, probably the best known in the neighborhood; Salón de la Felicidad, Jr. Paruro 795 (tel. 01/426-4516), with lots of Cantonese classics; and Salón Capon, Jr. Paruro 819 (www.saloncapon.com; tel. 01/426-9286), which has dim sum carts. A secondary Barrio Chino, which some say has better food though it is less compact, has blossomed in the suburb of San Borja, an easier reach than the center from Miraflores. There, try Chifa Titi (www.chifatiti.com/; tel. 01/224-8189), Av. Javier Prado Este 1212, and Chifa Haita (tel. 01/592-1088), Av. Aviación 2701.
Cevicherías—You can’t really go to Peru—especially Lima—without sitting down for an irresistibly fresh plate of ceviche (also written cebiche), the tantalizing plate of raw fish and shellfish that’s marinated in lime juice and chili peppers and served with toasted corn, sweet potato, and raw onion. The citrus juice “cooks” the fish, so it’s not really raw the way sushi is. Plenty of restaurants of all stripes—from lowly neighborhood joints to snooty fine-dining spots popular with government bureaucrats and visiting businessmen—offer ceviche, but you really have to go to an authentic cevichería for the true experience. In addition to Canta Rana, another worth checking out is Punta Sal, Malecón Cisneros, block 3, at the corner of Trípoli in Miraflores (tel. 01/242-4524), one of a small chain of informal cevicherías, and the iconic Sonia, at La Rosa Lozano y Tirado 173, in Chorrillos (www.restaurantsonia.com; tel. 01/251-6693), founded by a fisherman and his wife who are credited with creating several now-national Peruvian recipes such as pescado a la chorrillana (fish in a spicy garlic and tomato sauce). Hip takes on the cevichería include Gastón Acurio’s La Mar Cebichería, El Mercado, Barra Lima and Pescados Capitales. Peruvians view ceviche as a daytime dish, and most cevicherías aren’t even open for dinner (the high acidity makes for difficult nighttime digestion for many); for the full experience, go at lunchtime and order a classic pisco sour to start, followed by chicha morada (or, if you’re feeling kinky, a bottle of curiously neon-yellow Inka Cola).
Peru’s Culinary Boom
Before the turn of the millennium, few people outside of Peru had ever heard of its cuisine. That has all changed. Chef Gastón Acurio, one of the first Peruvian chefs to begin pairing European-cooking techniques with Peruvian ingredients, has launched a chain of cevicherías (La Mar), regional restaurants (ChiCha), chifas (Madam Tusán), and even a Peruvian-themed burger joint (Papacho’s), among several other concepts, many of which are now found throughout Latin America and the world. His flagship restaurant, Astrid y Gastón in San Isidro, has earned him a spot on the prestigious World’s Best Restaurant list, as have Central from Virgilio Martínez and Maido from Mitsuharu Tsumura. Lima has quickly become one of the world’s great food cities, and foodie visitors are flocking to the city at increasing rates to dine at top restaurants and explore the markets. There is perhaps no more exciting time of year for the culinary-inclined than during Mistura (www.mistura.pe), an annual food festival, the world’s largest, which is open to the public and takes place for about 10 days in early September, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors. It’s Peruvian food in Disneyland form. Even if you are not here in September, there are ways to get more involved in Peru’s food scene than simply going out to eat. Culinary tours of the capital and cooking classes are increasingly popular. I recommend Delectable Peru gourmet food tours (www.delectableperu.com; tel. 239/244-2336 in the U.S.) run by English-speaking Ericka LaMadrid, who sets up custom tours of street food, markets, or top restaurants, or tours focusing on a specific dish or type of food, such as ceviche or Nikkei. She can also set up cooking classes with some of Lima’s best chefs at their restaurants.
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.