By Mike Gasparovic
With its $10-billion-a-year restaurant industry, annual gastronomy festivals, and internationally renowned chefs such as Gastón Acurio and Ferran Adriá, Lima has a (justified) reputation for being a great food town.
Not only is it home to what is arguably the best restaurant in South America (Acurio’s Astrid y Gastón), but seemingly every street in the tourist districts is littered with high-quality dining emporia—all of them endlessly celebrated in the tourist guidebooks.
But you don’t have to be a member of the expense-account set to eat well in Lima. For about the same price as fast food back in the States, budget travel fanatics can enjoy some of the best Peruvian home cooking around.
The following is a tiny sampling of the countless mom-and-pop establishments in Lima that serve outstanding fare. Many are outside the well-trod Barranco-Miraflores-San Isidro corridor. All are well known to locals. And in nearly every case, you’d be hard-pressed to spend more than $10 on an entree. ¡Buen provecho!
Anticucheria Doña Julia
Jr. Huiracocha 1300 (Jesus Maria)
Americans often recoil from the idea of eating beef hearts, but those who venture to try them quickly become fanatics. The anticuchos in this three-story Lima institution are among the best in the city. The accompanying sauces (called ajis in Peru) are so good you’ll want to buy them by the quart to take home with you. And be sure to save room for the picarones, fried donut-like pastries in a cinnamon sauce that traditionally round off a meal of anticuchos. The service at this restaurant is also unusually attentive.
Av. Huaylas 205 (Chorrillos)
Food from the jungle regions of Peru is strikingly different from the criollo fare that abounds in the rest of the country, and there are very few restaurants in Lima that specialize in it. This small, family-owned business close to the cliffs of Lima’s costa verde is a perfect place to try dishes such as tacacho (salted, smoked pork) and cecina (fried green plantains mixed with pork fat in a paste that resembles the stuffing served at Thanksgiving). The owners, Aracely and Luz, are extremely hospitable and friendly. There are also a number of exotic juices prepared from jungle fruits. Highly recommended.
Restaurante La Muralla
Parque la Muralla (Lima Centro)
Lomo saltado—beef stir-fried with onions, tomatoes, and French fries—has a fair claim to be Peru’s national dish. A big sign outside this restaurant says its version of this criollo classic is the best in Lima, according to Gaston Acurio. They’re not lying. The other offerings on the extensive menu are excellent, too, but it’s not unusual to see everyone at the table ordering the restaurant’s signature plate. The dining room looks out on a vibrant park surrounded by 17th-century fortifications, and the service is exemplary. Be warned, however, that they serve lunch only, so go before 4 p.m. on weekdays.
El Chio Restaurante
Av. Arenales 1489 (Lince)
This old-fashioned diner has been in the neighborhood for over 50 years, with a menu that is as extensive as it is unpretentious. The dishes are uniformly good, but the beef and pasta selections are standouts, as is the pescado a lo macho (fish in a spicy seafood sauce). There is also an array of desserts in the front glass case. A perfect family dinner spot.
Hot and Cool
Calle Berlin 511 (Miraflores)
Limeños love sandwiches, and there are several venerable sanguicherias throughout the city. One of the best, however, is frequently overlooked. Located in a quiet street in Miraflores, it serves delicious, healthy gourmet creations topped with fresh vegetables, including sweet potatoes. The owner, Julio, is extremely personable and speaks good English. Try the mechado (marinated beef, eggs, red-pepper sauté, and mushrooms) or the roast pork.
Calle Mariscal Luzuriaga 325 (Jesus Maria)
Lima has a tendency to break the resolves of dieters of whatever nationality, and its desserts are among the prime culprits. This pastry and sandwich shop features a wide assortment of cakes, cookies, and other sweets prepared in-house, as well as excellent fresh juices. Coconas (coconut cookies) and selva negra (Peruvian Black Forest cake) are standouts. Go for a long walk afterwards.
*All phone numbers are Peru local.
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Mike Gasparovic is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. His great passion is Latin American culture, and he devotes most of his free time to studying the history, art, literature, and people of the Spanish-speaking world. He currently lives in Lima and wrote this article on behalf of Peru for Less, specialists in providing tours to Peru.