Only when I started planning my itinerary for a month-long trip to South America, did I ignorantly realise how large this continent is, and hence how selective I’d have to be on what I wanted to see. Machu Picchu was the no brainer. As I read forum after forum, sample itineraries after travel guides, more than a handful of people suggested to skip Lima altogether. Indeed, Museo Larco was the only site truly memorable to me.
But to skip Lima would’ve been the worst mistake for any foodie. Every single meal I had in Lima was impressive and unforgettable, yet I still feel like I’m underselling this city. I learnt from my previous travels that cities are always the best places for food (Bangkok, London and Lisbon, for example), so no matter how packed my schedule was, I still dedicated 3-4 days to Lima.
Here are 9 reasons, or restaurants, that, hands down, made Lima the favourite food city I’ve been to in the world.
1. Central (#5 in World’s 50 Best Restaurants)
Pre-travels, I was shocked. Post-travels, it was a given, that Lima would be home to 3 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. There are so many, I won’t even bother to count Lima restaurants in Latam’s 50 Best Restaurants. Food is a science at Central. They have laboratories, research offices and their own water purifying machines. The tasting menu is more than an experience, it’s a show. It was intriguing and innovative, showcasing all corners and altitudes of food (ingredients) in Peru. It exemplifies how one can learn so much about a country’s history, geography and culture through food alone. Going through the tasting menu felt like eating through a museum of Peruvian food. Plus the tasting menu was extremely reasonably priced at around USD100.
Address: Calle Santa Isabel 376, Miraflores, Lima 15074, Peru
Reservations are a must, and can be made online here. It’s often fully booked months in advance.
2. Peruvian Cooking Class
Throughout our journey around Peru (mainly in Lima and Cuzco), we sampled a huge variation of dishes, all part of the extremely diverse and interesting Peruvian cuisine, which draws influence from the African, Chinese and Japanese. This cooking class was set in someone’s garden, was extremely laid back yet professional. We learnt how to make three of my favourite Peruvian dishes: Ceviche (duh), Causa and Aji de Gallina (creamy spiced chicken – the ultimate comfort food!). And of course, pisco sours!
Address: Calle Andalucía 118, Miraflores, Peru
Reservations can be made online here.
3. Punto Azul – Best Ceviche?
When you do your ceviche research, I can guarantee that 8/10 ceviche restaurants you come across, will come along with comments that claim it makes the ‘best ceviche’. I first fell completely in love with ceviche in London (at a restaurant called Ceviche – HIGHLY recommended), so I couldn’t stop myself from ordering ceviche every single time it was on the menu. The truth is, most ceviches I had were delicious, although different in their own ways. It’s hard to say which was my favourite, but the one at Punto Azul, recommended by a friend I made on Instagram, definitely ranks highly. Their other typical Peruvian dishes were also spot on.
Address: Calle San Martin 595, Miraflores 15074, Peru
El Pan de la Chola – Almond croissant and coffee
4. El Pan de la Chola – Cafe Goals
The one time I felt I could permanently move to Lima, was when I stepped foot into El Pan de Chola. The whiff of freshly baked pastry was probably the main reason we sat here for over an hour, but the simple, inviting and bright set up was among the other 45 reasons I was truly in love with this place. I said, if I ever opened a cafe, it would be exactly this. For 15 minutes, I contemplated giving up my career and getting a job at this cafe, just so I can learn how to make the best almond croissants.
On the other hand, the coffee was good and strong, although the execution of a flat white was not great. But good coffee at cafes was actually very difficult to find in Peru – this was one of the best.
Address: Av Mariscal La Mar 918, Miraflores 15074, Peru
5. La Mar (#12 in Latam’s 50 Best Restaurants)
During my endless research on the ‘best ceviche in Lima’, this place popped up numerous times. It was the spacious al fresco vibes that won me over eventually. This #12 restaurant of Latam’s 50 Best is only opened during lunch – and surprisingly a lot of other restaurants on my list were too. So it won one of the very rare lunch slots I had in my itinerary. We ordered the ceviche platter and the Nikkei one was my favourite. I also ordered the seafood Tacu Tacu – a rice and beans dish that I first discovered (and loved) in Hong Kong at TokyoLima.
Address: Av Mariscal La Mar 770, Miraflores 15074, Peru
Only opened for lunch (until 5pm)
El Chinito – Chicharron de Cerdo
6. El Chinito – Breakfast Sandwich
After 30 days in South America, I shamefully admit that I’ve learnt less than poquito of espanol, knowing only how to say hola!, gracias and despacito… But, Peruvian food in Spanish? I’m probably 70% fluent, with chicharron de cerdo (fried crackling pork) being one of the first Spanish words I learnt. That’s because on my second day, I headed over to have an epic breakfast sandwich loaded with delicious tender, slightly fatty, roasted pork meat, sweet potato and this ceviche-like sauce at El Chinito, as recommended by my bartender/server at Central the night before. It was a huge and super satisfying sandwich.
Address: Several locations.
7. Matsuei – Nikkei Cuisine
Peruvian cuisine draws influence from African, Chinese and Japanese. We did sample some anticuchos/ox heart (African influenced), lomo saltado (Chinese influenced), but since ceviche (Japanese influenced) was our favourite, we decided we had to give Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian cuisine) a shot. Matsuei was Nobu’s training ground for a number of years, so I was adamant on visiting. The erizos de mar (sea urchin) ceviche was not only crazy good value (sea urchin is super expensive in Asia!), all the different variations of makis are so flavourful and different to the typical sushi I’ve had in Hong Kong.
P.S. The sea urchin ceviche pictured above costed us only 30 soles (i.e. HK$75).
Address: Calle Atahualpa 195, Miraflores 15074, Peru
8. Barra Chalaca – Hip and Peruvian
If I knew that Tallarin Saltado Marino were Japanese fried noodles when the waiter made his recommendation, I probably would’ve refused, thinking that it was too Asian for me – “I know what good fried noodles taste like”. But it was a totally different story. That’s what I loved about Peruvian food. There’s so much flavour in each dish and it’s so interesting to see how they’ve taken Asian cuisines and made it their own, great version. The ceviche and chocolate cake here is also highly recommendable. I also loved Barra Chalaca for the laid back, al fresco, hip vibes – I guess that’s why it was packed with people waiting for a table on a Sunday afternoon!
Address: Av. Camino Real 1239, San Isidro 15073, Peru
Only opened for lunch (until 5pm)
9. Astrid y Gastón (#33 in World’s 50 Best Restaurants)
I should’ve hit all three of Lima’s World’s 50 Best restaurants, but I only let myself try two. Even though Maido is ranked 8th, I still preferred to try Astrid y Gastón at No. 33 over it, mainly because it had an epic looking bread basket, and I wanted to stick with pure Peruvian cuisine. It was a near faultless tasting menu. It was admittedly not as innovative and experiential as Central, but absolutely worth trying, especially given the decent pricing of their tasting menu (about US$100 per person).
Address: Av. Paz Soldan 290, San Isidro 15073, Peru
Reservations are a must, and can be made online.
Lima: A Must-Visit for Any Foodie
I didn’t exactly disagree when people we met on our trip claimed that there wasn’t much to see or do in Lima. Most of the typical tourist spots we visited were quite forgettable, safe Museo Larco – which was truly one of the most interesting museums I’ve visited.
I still repeatedly rebutted to say: but there’s a lot of good food in Lima. Not only is Peruvian food famed for being amazing in South America, food in Lima in general is extremely interesting, diverse and delicious. Even if you don’t do anything in this city, at least make a visit to sample, what is now, one of my favourite cuisines in the world.
See all posts on my trip to South America here.