Many restaurants fill up quickly after 8:30pm when dusty, weary travelers arrive back from their daily excursions. Arrive early or consider making a reservation if the restaurant accepts them. Most restaurants are casual and offer both a day and an evening fixed-price menu that is a good value. Menus tend to be all things to all diners, featuring a selection of pasta, pizza, sandwiches, salads, and meat dishes of varying quality. You won't find here the culinary wizardry of Valparaíso or the elegant ambiance of Santiago, but you will find a cozy, unpretentious setting and authentic local flavors.
Competition has drawn waiters onto the street to harangue for business, but your choices aren't too overwhelming. If you're looking for a quick, light lunch, try Petro Pizza, Toconao 442 (tel. 55/851827), which serves a variety of stone oven-baked pizzas ($2-$4/£1.30-£2.70); they also offer tacos and empanadas. For dessert lovers, Las Delicias de Carmen, Gustavo (Padre) Le Paige 370 (tel. 9/089-5673), offers apple and lemon pie, walnut tarts, strudel, and several kinds of cakes made to order or to try there at the restaurant. If your appetite calls for heartier food, try their pizza or famous empanadas made using cheese, tomato, and sweet basil. For a splurge, dine at the Hotel explora, which serves incontestably the best fusion cuisine in northern Chile. Reservations must be made 24 hours in advance. You can enjoy a cocktail and appetizers at the bar with no prior notice required. Also recommended for dinner is Hotel Kimal, whose intimate restaurant serves a quality set menu each night and arguably the best Peruvian-style pisco sours in town.