By Mike Gasparovic
Lately, however, Lima’s surging economy has generated a growing and increasingly sophisticated middle class that is ever more curious about other culinary traditions. The result: a proliferation of authentic international restaurants that cater partly to tourists, partly to the city’s new smart set.
If you’re in Peru for an extended visit and find yourself needing a break from the riches of local food, check out the restaurants in Lima listed below. Unlike most international outlets in the city, which adapt their cooking to Peruvian tastes, these eateries insist on authenticity as well as excellence, thus allowing diners to broaden their taste horizons. Best of all, they’re dirt cheap. ¡Buen provecho!
Av. Grau 624 (Barranco)
Arepas are to South America what tacos are to Mexico: street food. They’re thick corn-flour pancakes that are grilled or flash-fried, and they’re staples in both Colombia and Venezuela. The Venezuelan versions are tastier: less greasy than their Colombian cousins, they come stuffed with fillings such as white cheese, black beans, plantains, and pabellon criollo, the shredded beef in spicy tomato sauce that Venezuelans consider their national dish.
The arepas at this Barranco huarique (hole in the wall) are fully the equal of anything you’ll find in Caracas. Confected for the demanding palates of Lima’s sizeable Venezuelan expat community, they’re light, cheap, and delicious. Also available are excellent empanadas, cachapa (a sweet-corn pancake filled with artisanal cheese), and hearty Venezuelan platters fit for sharing.
Arepa Café also takes drinks very seriously. In addition to several delicious bubble teas (try the mango-lúcuma), you can sample Venezuela’s version of chicha, which is very different from Peru’s, and round off your meal with a cup of Tunki coffee, a Peruvian brand that has won industry awards the world over. A perfect destination after a Barranco bar crawl.
Av. Dos de Mayo 732 (San Isidro)
Av. Alfonse Ugarte 242 (Barranco)
Professional chefs and discriminating diners alike consider this small local chain the best Italian bistro in Lima. One reason is the pastas, which are extremely varied and come with your choice of over a dozen sauces (try the spicy arrabica or anything with mushrooms).
But another, more important reason is the wood-fired pizzas, which are consistently chosen by limeños as among the city’s best. This is unsurprising, as Ántica is one of the few places in Lima to adhere to the traditional Italian rules for pizza-making. As a result, the pies here are thin and light, with just the right amount of cheese and over 50 different toppings to choose from. As if that weren’t enough, there’s also the ossobuco, braised veal shank with risotto, which is fully the equal of any in Peru.
Apart from the food, though, this eatery is charm personified. With dim candlelit alcoves, rough-hewn wood tables, and rustic copper kettles hanging from the walls, it’s the place where romantic couples go to escape from the world. Best of all, it’s open late, making it an ideal spot for intimate conversation after a concert or night at the theater.
¡Órale Mi Cuate!
Ca. General Recavarren 301 (Miraflores)
Honest Mexican food is hard to come by in Lima. Tacos and burritos abound, but they’re thick, goopy concoctions that exist nowhere outside of Peru. By contrast, the enchiladas and tacos prepared at this homey fondo (diner) hidden away in a Miraflores side street are what you’d find in a good taquería in Mexico City. They’re redolent of lime and cilantro and orange and fresh onion and slathered with mild and hot chile, and they give Peruvian food a serious run for its money.
Everything on the menu is authentic, but especially scrumptious is the alambre mixto, also known in some parts as sincronizada. A fragrant hash of spicy beef, chicken, peppers, and onions fried in a skillet and swimming in their own juices, it makes the fajitas found in standard Tex-Mex joints look downright dull.
The quesadillas are also wonderfully light, filled with white cheese and topped with cream. They make a refreshing dessert. And you can wash everything down with horchata, the traditional Mexican drink made from rice, cinnamon, and sweetened milk. Be sure to try on several of the sombreros hanging on the wall while you’re there.
What are your favorite restaurants in Lima? Add yours below!
Mike Gasparovic is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. He devotes his free time to studying the history, art, and literature of the Spanish-speaking world and learning about its people. He currently lives in Lima. He currently lives in Lima and wrote this article on behalf of Aracari Travel, providers of exclusive personalized tours in Peru.