Lima is the most cosmopolitan dining city in all of Peru, and perhaps the greatest food city in South America, with restaurants of all budgets and a wide range of cuisines -- from upscale seafood restaurants and comida criolla (coastal Peruvian cooking), to Chinese 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.

Sometimes entire streets and neighborhoods specialize in a single type of food. In Lima Centro, you can visit the chifas of Chinatown, and Miraflores, a pedestrian street off Parque Central (Boulevard San Remo) is referred to as "Little Italy" for its scores of lookalike pizzerias and Italian restaurants, which draw scores of tourists looking for cheap eats and plentiful beer. Museum goers-slash-foodies can kill two birds with one stone at the Museo Arqueológico Rafael Larco Herrera, which now features a handsome restaurant, Café del Museo, with a menu by Gastón Acurio, the celebrated chef and man behind the restaurants Astrid y Gastón, Cebichería La Mar, and T'anta.

Restaurants here, predictably, are most crowded in the early evening, especially Thursday through Saturday. 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. 

Peruvian Chifas -- 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 everywhere in the small but dense neighborhood. Among those worth visiting (generally open daily 9am-10pm or later) are Wa Lok, Jr. Paruro 864 (tel. 01/427-2750), probably the best known in the neighborhood; and Salón China, Jr. Ucayali 727 (tel. 01/428-8350), which serves a good lunch buffet for S/30.

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 or lemon juice and chili peppers and served with toasted corn, sweet potato, and raw onion. The citrus juices "cook" 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 Segundo Muelle and 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 pretty similar to Segundo Muelle. Hip takes on the cevichería include Gastón Acurio's La Mar Cebichería 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).

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