The Ultimate Lima Restaurant Guide

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From giant pig ribs to hardened cow heart shavings, Paste explored all levels of the Peruvian food scene for the ultimate Lima restaurant guide. This list describes culinary styles, recommends dishes and provides practical tips to help travelers sort through the many options in Latin America’s culinary capital.

Central

Central is the highest-ranked restaurant in Latin America and the national leader in molecular gastronomy, and criticizing Central feels as uncool as knocking a Radiohead album. Still, the restaurant that blows minds with cactus milk shots and clams encased in citrus foam shells puts innovation over flavor when grating hardened cow hearts or serving algae crisps that taste like fish food flakes. On top of that, the elevator called and wants its music back. The restaurant does win the wicked humor prize for Dead Amazon, a course that includes a chocolaty starfish-shaped cracker. As a warning to the Urban Dictionary illiterates, skip the Facebook post about eating a chocolate-flavored starfish in Lima.

Astrid & Gastón—Casa Moreyra


San Isidro

Gastón Acurio retired from AyG last fall, but the restaurant missed not a beat under Diego Muñoz, a vet of the most celebrated kitchens in Europe and Australia. Casa Moreyra reserves its main dining room for tasting menus (25+ courses) with seating times between 7:30pm and 8:30pm. The Memories of My Land theme (confirmed through mid-April) is a narrative-driven dinner that starts on the outdoor terrace with a formerly lost cocktail recipe, and groups then go one-by-one on kitchen tours that include photo ops with chef Muñoz. Recounting traditional Peruvian home culture, the food narrative begins with a child returning home from school and opening a tin of mini-ice cream cones, cream-centered crackers and other sweets. That’s right, the tasting starts and finishes with dessert. Despite near-flawless food courses, AyG lacks wine/cocktail menus so diners must discuss options with the sommelier, who does not volunteer prices. Definitely give the sommelier a price range if ordering wine.

Astrid & Gastón—La Barra


San Isidro

As an alternative to the Dances with Wolves-length tasting menu, La Barra is an adjacent a la carte restaurant beautifully adorned with upside-down potted plants. Categories like Mar (ocean), Ciudad (city) and Campo (camp) divide dishes that (as of February 2015) include quinoa cheeseburgers, fried shrimps balls with cold soba noodles and epic sugar fixes like pastry balls filled with apple-and-sheep-cheese cream, topped with a cinnamon crust and covered with caramelized sunflower seeds, mustard ice cream and a thick toffee sauce. Reservations are limited but typically still available a few days out.

Al Toke Pez


Surquillo

Just as the U.S. rocks famous food trucks, Lima has hole-in-the-wall restaurants (called huariques) with outstanding low-cost street food. Al Toke Pez, one of the best, is a midday-only joint with a small menu that includes ceviche, mixed seafood and its famous chicharrón pescado (fried fish), a 12-sole dish (at 3.1 soles to the dollar) that often sells out. The two-burner kitchen takes up the entire space, and diners eat on the sidewalk outside or sweat the kitchen heat on one of the six crowded stools.

Malabar


San Isidro

Pedro Schiaffino’s original ode to the Amazon is still the king of the jungle. Dishes can include quail salad, beef tongue, scallops with calf brain, paiche river fish and lucuma fruit ice cream, and many non-Amazonian items arrive from the Mala farm in the south. The service needs improvement, but the food represents the Amazon’s finest with fascinating jungle twists on Peruvian and Fear Factor food classics.

Rafael


Miraflores

Set in a vibrant red 1920s townhouse, the art-adorned Rafael is a mad social scene with diners dripping in soles and sex appeal. The free-spirited approach of charismatic Rafael Osterling includes heavy Nikkei and Italian influence, and his Peruvian-influenced pasta is perfect for Lima’s fish-outta-water vegetarians. The grilled scallops on the shell rule all dishes, but the beer-braised duck, crispy suckling pig and Thai curry fish also deserve raves. Using the freshest fish means options dwindle as the night progresses, and late-night reservations are frustrating since it often takes a crowbar to unglue scenesters from their seats.

IK


Miraflores

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Photo: Carolina Jenison

In 2012, Iván Kisic and three other rising culinary stars were meeting with local farmers in the south Andes when a fatal collision sent their automobile off a cliff. Ivan’s twin brother Franco, working in Barcelona with Ferran and Albert Adrià (elBulli) on their Peruvian restaurants Tickets and Pakta, returned to Lima to fulfill his brother’s dream of opening a restaurant. Collaborating with Sebastián Mazzola (a creative chef with the Adriàs), Franco utilized his brother’s recipes to open IK (Iván Kisic) in 2013. With Euro-Peruvian flair, IK elegantly balances taste, innovation and presentation in a plant and recycled-wood dining room designed like a giant fruit box. IK is not yet on any San Pellegrino 50 Best list, but it competes with Maido, Central and Astrid y Gastón as Lima’s top restaurant.

La Mar


Miraflores

The famed cevicheria is a glorious fish fest under the Acurio banner. The main draw is the citrus-marinated raw fish, but grilled/fried seafood catches, mojito-style pisco sours and innovative causa share the spotlight. The Nikkei causa, for example, spruces up the traditional mashed-potato dish with salmon tartare, tuna, avocado, nori and wasabi. To maintain optimal freshness, the airy restaurant only opens for lunch, and reservations are not accepted. Arrive by 12:30 p.m. to avoid a wait.

Maido


Miraflores

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Photo: Carolina Jenison

Before opening his own Nikkei restaurant, Peruvian-born Mitsuharu Tsumura traveled to Osaka, his father’s hometown in Japan, and worked in one of the top sushi restaurants for two years. The sacrifice paved the way for Maido, arguably the best Nikkei restaurant in the world. Maido offers two tastings—a 20-item nigiri experience at the sushi bar and its signature Nikkei tribute—as well as an encyclopedic menu that J.R.R. Tolkien might call longwinded. The Nikkei Experience, which overlaps about 25 percent of the nigiri tasting, features gratings from a wood-like block of fish dried in the sun for three years and an Asian take on Andean rocoto relleno (tempura-style red peppers stuffed with ribeye). The cocktails and dessert are also elite, especially the picturesque Huevo y Nido (Egg and Nest) with a goldenberry yolk, custard apple sorbet and white chocolate shell sitting atop a chocolate-stick nest and cloud of cotton candy.

Chez Wong


Santa Catalina

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Photo: Carolina Jenison

Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin) said Javier Wong is to ceviche what Tokyo’s Sukiyabashi Jiro is to Japanese sushi. Now that we have your attention, here comes the tricky part. Set in the chef’s house in a working class neighborhood well north of Miraflores, the glorified huarique has no menu, no price list and only a handful of tables. The service is slow, the prices are high and the possible lack of tissue is irrelevant when the toilet does not flush. Despite all that, would-be diners must book weeks in advance to sample the master-level talents of the grandfatherly chef. Wong whips up dishes on a whim, but he typically starts with ceviche and tiradito before diving into hot courses like fish stir-fry. The multi-hour feast starts shortly after 1 p.m., and expect to pay about 75 soles for two-person plates. Chez Wong has no website so make reservations via chezwong7@hotmail.com.

Ámaz


Miraflores

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Photo: Carolina Jenison

Chef Schiaffino (Malabar) doubled down on jungle cuisine opening this Amazonian-themed restaurant in 2013. The tasting menu is affordable and overly generous, but the dishes are heavy (too much plantains and rice) and generally less interesting than the regular menu. If ready for a real jungle boogie, order instant Instagram hits like giant Amazonian river snails with chorizo oil (surprisingly good) or river fish cooked inside banana leaves.

Osaka


San Isidro

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Photo: Carolina Jenison

Nikkei is Japanese-Peruvian fusion, but the masterful chefs at Osaka go pan-Asian with Thai, Vietnamese and Cantonese influences as well. The Thai Maki, for example, includes fried plantain, cream cheese, basil and salmon topped with a mango sweet/sour tamarind sauce, while the Mariscos on Fire includes chopped seafood like octopus and scallops set aflame on the shell. For drinks, the culture-bending Rock N Nikkei mixes bourbon, sake, mint-like huacatay and the Amazonian fruit camu camu. Osaka at the W Hotel in Santiago, Chile is currently No. 30 on the 2014 Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and the San Isidro location deserves the same level of recognition.

Huaca Pucllana


Miraflores

Dinner starts with a basket of bread and butter, an American-style custom that epitomizes the tourist factor at Huaca Pucllana. The locals-absent restaurant mostly serves overpriced and average-quality criolla classics, but the food is secondary to the 1,500-year-old adobe ruins pressed against the outdoor terrace. Huaca Pucllana (also the name of the ruins) charges a 14-sole cover for the view, which is worth it, though the nearby La Bodega de la Trattoria has no cover for its temple view from the front patio.

Restaurant Sonia


Chorrillos

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Photo: Carolina Jenison

Cooking up classic fishermen recipes for 35 years, Sonia’s is arguably the city’s most-beloved restaurant south of Barranco. Dishes like dried tuna and pescado saltado shine in a rustic atmosphere that highlights Sonia’s storied history and fun atmosphere. The dining options are more interesting than the outdated online menu, and it all but takes a treasure map to find the restaurant. Street markings are often unclear in beachfront Chorrillos, and Sonia’s rooftop sign is difficult to see from taxi windows.

El Mercado


Miraflores

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Photo: Carolina Jenison

Only a few blocks from La Mar, Rafael Osterling’s bustling El Mercado competes for midday seafood dominance in the same seaside neighborhood. Acurio’s joint might take a slight edge, but the lunch-only Mercado has a more interesting menu with tasty Asian flourishes. Osterling always serves savory scallops, but the thick legs on the grilled octopus are surprisingly moist, while a homemade Thai green curry transforms the catch of the day. A canopy cover, rattan chairs and wood tables add to the aesthetics that recall a Peruvian fish market. Arrive before 1 p.m. to avoid a wait.

Fiesta


Miraflores

Hector Solis is the symbol of northern Peruvian cuisine, and the Lima installment of Fiesta offers the highest level of Chiclayo cooking. The warm ceviche (placed on a cornhusk and grilled over charcoal) is the house specialty, but the entrée-sized causa with crispy mero (grouper) is a star-making dish. If seeking to explore different Peruvian styles, Fiesta transports the taste buds to the northern coast where rocky beaches and mountain hikes rule the land.

El Rincón que no Conoces


Lince

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Photo: Carolina Jenison

Teresa Izquierdo Gonzales has helmed “The Corner You Don’t Know” kitchen for more than three decades serving buffet-style lunches with different daily themes. The two-story restaurant, which is always packed, is especially popular on Wednesdays with a traditional criolla spread featuring all the classics, including an outstanding aji de gallina. The restaurant is reasonably priced, but it is several neighborhoods north of Miraflores, and the phone-only reservations should be made a week or more in advance.

Hanzo


San Isidro

Named after Spain’s 16th-century conquerors, Avenida Los Conquistadores is now ruled by high-end boutiques, designer shops and Nikkei restaurants, including Hanzo. The restaurant’s playful sushi rolls include options like the Cheese Butter Roll, which combines shrimp and four cheeses that cooks briefly torch for a melted gooey center. The principle plates include a wide variety of fish, meat, noodles and soup dishes with heavy Asian influence.

Mayta


Miraflores

Jaime Pesaque, a vet of El Celler de Can Roca in Spain, opened Raymi in NYC (with Richard Sandoval) and a Mayta extension in Hong Kong, but the original Mayta in Lima is his claim to fame. Sadly, the restaurant has overly bright lighting and pricey dishes that look significantly better on the website photos. The dining area also lacks a compelling ambiance, which one table embodied last Valentine’s with a full-on card game. Instead, visit the gorgeous, glass-encased bar area for drinks. Mayta is famous for chilcano cocktails that mix pisco and various fruits, and a five-chilcano tasting goes for 55 soles. The operating days/times on the website are also incorrect.

La Picantería


Surquillo

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Photo: Carolina Jenison

If you think communal seating and paper bibs sound like fun, you came to the right place. This informal restaurant by Chef Solis (Fiesta) utilizes Peruvian chilies and northern style on monster-sized fish and meats. Since the menu changes daily, a chalkboard lists the options, sizes and numbers available, and servers change the board after each order. The marinated pork knuckle is famous, and the pig ribs are the size of a man’s forearm, but availability depends on what specific parts arrive from the farm each day. The average order feeds at least two people, and the days/times on the website are incorrect so confirm operating hours first. Picantería is a lunch-only restaurant, and diners should arrive early to avoid long waits and limited food choices.

KO by Osaka


Miraflores

Osaka is one of the best Nikkei restaurants in Lima, but its casual KO restaurant in the Larcomar shopping center imagines a sushi-serving Golden Arches. The short menu features sushi rolls and basic Japanese fare you typically buy at Trader Joe’s and microwave at home.

Madam Tusan


Avenida Santa Cruz, San Isidro

A lowlight in Acurio’s restaurant empire, this Peruvian-Chinese chain has gorgeous décor in the Avenida Santa Cruz location, but the sloppy service, minimal fusion and Panda (without the Express) quality make Madam Tusan a major miss. The servers are friendly, but they regularly bring dishes to the wrong tables, serve appetizers and main courses together and must reheat recently delivered dishes.

La Lucha


Miraflores

La Lucha at Kennedy Park is without rival for criolla sandwiches, crispy fries and fresh-made fruit juices. The Jamón del Pais (country ham) and El Preferido (beef, guacamole and cheese) are top sandwich choices, while aguaymanto-guanabana (goldenberry-soursop) is the go-to juice. The park location is popular at night with tipsy backpackers stumbling to their hostels.

Doña Paulina


Miraflores

The fast-food chain Doña Paulina is famous for chicharrón (pork belly pieces roasted and then fried) served in sandwiches or sold by the quarter kilo. While not a destination restaurant, Doña Paulina is a good choice for a quick, cheap breakfast or lunch.

David Jenison is a Los Angeles native. He has covered entertainment, restaurants and travel for more than 20 years as a writer and editor.