The Best Local Dining Experiences
- Barbecuing Peruvian-Style: The Peruvian version of a barbecue get-together is called a pachamanca; it's basically cooking meat and veggies over coals or hot stones in a hole in the ground. On weekends in the countryside, mostly in the mountains, you'll see families gathered around smoky subterranean grills, cooking up pork or beef and potatoes and vegetables. (You can also get pachamanca-style dishes in some traditional restaurants.)
- Savoring a Pisco Sour: Peru's national drink is the pisco sour, a delicious concoction made from the white-grape brandy called pisco. Made frothy when mixed with egg whites, lemon juice, sugar, and bitters, it's cold and complex—the closest thing to a Peruvian margarita. Try one with ceviche or a robust Andean meal—or just knock 'em back late at night at a gringo-filled bar.
- Going Native with Jungle Cuisine: Peru's vast Amazon is full of exotic critters and plants, so it's logical that it would produce its own unique cuisine. Some of what restaurateurs deal in is endangered animals, though, so we don't advise satisfying your curiosity to try sea-turtle soup or caiman, even if the locals do it. Local jungle dishes that you don't have to feel bad about trying include patarashca, a steamed river fish wrapped in banana leaves; juanes, a kind of rice tamale; timbuche, a thick soup made with local fish; paiche, an Amazon-size local fish; and chonta, a hearts of palm salad. If you don't make it to the jungle, another way of going native (in the highlands and along the coast) is to eat cuy, or guinea pig.
- Slurping Ceviche: One of the classic dishes of Peruvian coastal cooking is ceviche—raw fish and shellfish marinated in lime or lemon juice and hot chili peppers, and served with raw onion, sweet potato, and toasted corn. It's wonderfully refreshing and spicy. The best place to try one? A seaside cevichería, specializing in umpteen varieties of deliciously fresh ceviche.
- Relaxing at a Quinta: There are elegant restaurants in Lima, Cusco, Arequipa, and Iquitos, but there's nothing quite like an informal quinta—an open-air restaurant specializing in Andean home-cooking. It's an Andean tradition perhaps best explored in the crisp air of Cusco, which has a trio of quintas that are especially popular with locals on weekends. Look for informal garden or courtyard settings, large portions of Peruvian cooking, and reasonable prices. Most quintas are open only for lunch, so plan on it as your main meal of the day. Not only will you eat well, but it's also a great way to spend a sunny afternoon.
- Chugging Chicha: An ancient Andean tradition is the brewing of chicha, beer made from fermented maize. You can find it at a few traditional restaurants, but for an authentic Andean experience, the best place to get it is at a simple bar or home that flies the chicha flag—a long pole with a red flag or, often, balloon—which is the local way of advertising that there's home-brewed chicha available inside. Served warm, in monstrous tumblers for a few pennies, it's not to many foreigners' liking, but it's one of the best ways to go native. Chicha morada, a refreshment made from blue corn, is something altogether different: It's sweet and nonalcoholic, and it actually tastes good (especially with ceviche).
- Self-Medicating with Mate de Coca: Coca-leaf tea, a perfectly legal local drink that has been a tradition in the Andes for centuries, is a great way to deal with the high altitude of the mountains, which can make your head spin and your body reel. As soon as you hit Cusco or Puno, head straight for the mate de coca—most hotels have it at the ready for their guests. And if that doesn't work, strap on the oxygen tank (many hotels supply that for their guests, too).
- Touring Ica's Bodegas: Peru, one of the great winemaking countries of the world? Probably not, but the southern desert coast does have a thriving wine industry. The most famous product is pisco, but the many traditional bodegas (wineries) throughout the Ica countryside also make regular table wines. A few bodegas give tours and tastings. Ica hosts a hopping Wine Festival in March, which is a good time to tour the region if you're into wine and general merriment. Harvest time, late February through April, is the other time to visit, when you can see people crushing grapes the old-fashioned way—with their feet.
The Best Restaurants
- Astrid y Gastón (Lima): For two decades this restaurant and its famed chef Gastón Acurio have brought more international attention to Peruvian cuisine than any other. Now set in a sprawling and historic San Isidro building with multiple dining rooms and kitchens, it is one of the world’s great restaurant spaces.
- Central (Lima): This tasting-menu-only restaurant, which relocated to Barranco in 2018, is widely considered the best in all of Latin America. Dishes are based not just around altitude, but also on the ecosystems of rare and mostly unknown ingredients found at that altitude.
- El Huacatay (Sacred Valley): This garden-side restaurant in a mud wall compound in Urubamba has an international take on Andean ingredients, such as gnocchi made with coca flour and alpaca lasagna. It’s the perfect place for a long, relaxing meal after a day of touring the valley.
- La Chomba (Cusco): Picanterías are rustic restaurants specializing in regional home cooking, a tradition perhaps best explored in the crisp air of Cusco, such as this no-frills eatery. Inside, giant portions of chicharrón (fried pork) or cuy (guinea pig) are washed down with giant glasses of frutillada, a low-alcohol maize beer livened up with strawberries.
- La Mar (Lima): Not only does this groundbreaking cevichería know what region their fish is being sourced from, they know exactly who the fisherman is who caught it. While La Mar has spawned satellite locations around the world, the Lima flagship continues to be a model of sustainable seafood and one of the most continually popular restaurants in town.
- La Picantería (Lima): Modeled after the rustic picanterías found along Peru’s northern coast, this laid-back, lunch-only spot is in an out-of-the-way neighborhood, yet still lures the foodie set. Food is served family-style, primarily by choosing one of a handful of fish caught that morning and how you would like it prepared. Portions are big and hearty.
- Maido (Lima): Mitsuharu Tsumura’s Miraflores restaurant has pushed Nikkei food, a natural fusion of Peruvian and Japanese cuisines, further than any other chef thus far. Don’t think of it as a Japanese restaurant; this is 100% Peruvian that utilizes the country’s diverse set of ingredients.
- Mil (Sacred Valley): Overlooking the circular terraces of Moray, top chef Virgilio Martinez and his team from research organization Mater Iniciativa have created a community-driven dining experience that gives you insight into Andean cuisine like few other restaurants can.
- The Tree House (Machu Picchu): The best restaurant in Aguas Calientes is hidden up a set of steps, just off the main plaza. Inside, a fireplace burns and a chalkboard lists Peruvian fusion dishes like pork ribs glazed with elderberry and tamarind sauce and alpaca anticuchos.
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.