Whenever someone asks me for recommendations on what to do in my hometown, my answer is simple: eat. It’s not that Lima—a sprawling metropolis of 11 million people—doesn’t have other charms, like dramatic views out to the Pacific Ocean or pre-Hispanic temples smack in the center of residential neighborhoods. But our cuisine holds a special place in our national psyche: We wake up hankering for butifarra breakfast sandwiches, go to work fantasizing about mid-morning alfajores, and go to sleep dreaming about ají peppers sizzling on the stove.
Gone are the days when the Peruvian capital was seen as just a layover to Machu Picchu—a fact I chalk up to the city’s incredible food scene. You could say Lima’s culinary “boom” started in 2011, when Astrid y Gastón was named one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, and since then, the industry has grown exponentially. Today there are over 60,000 restaurants in Lima alone. (Compare that to some 25,000 in New York City.)
But to me, the idea of a “boom” always felt a bit misleading. Was my home country’s food culture truly dormant or unworthy until San Pellegrino came knocking? The fact is, food has been a source of national pride for generations: Long before the “foodie” hordes arrived, we knew our cuisine stood out for its idiosyncratic mix of Spanish, Indigenous, and African origins that would later be enriched by waves of immigration from Italy, France, Germany, China, Japan, and beyond. A dish like lomo saltado might seem “Peruvian” on the surface, but it cannot be explained without the Chinese wok, ubiquitous in Peruvian restaurants and homes. Tallarines verdes may remind you of Italian pasta al pesto—until you taste the combination of spinach and local cheese, which all but screams Peru.
We favored zero-kilometer, seasonal ingredients before they became a trend. We understood fusion before it became a buzzword. To eat in Lima is to walk through this history while marveling at its constant metamorphosis.
What has cemented Lima as an international food capital in recent years is both the dizzying variety of restaurants and the way our food-focused society now revolves around them. Until the 2000s, Peru’s gastronomic delights were mostly found in family kitchens, with restaurants strictly reserved for special occasions. Today, on a single block, you might find a Michelin-starred culinary temple, a mom-and-pop luncheonette, an Instagram-famous café, and a sandwich vendor setting up shop. And that’s the joy of eating around Lima—from tiny anticucherías to world-renowned food meccas, the city is a playground where you can choose your own adventure.
Av. San Martín 101, Barranco
Phone: +51 943 833 031
For a taste of Lima’s past, head to Isolina, where the offal dishes that were once synonymous with the city’s cuisine are getting a new lease on life. The restaurant’s currency is nostalgia, whether it’s in the abuela-approved dishes or in the boisterous, tavern-style setting that recreates the Lima of yesteryear. Those curious about criollo dishes—ones developed after colonization—can dip into arroz tapado, a three-decker beauty layering rice and ground beef topped with two fried eggs and accompanied with a side of fried plantains. Those who want to travel even further back in time can choose from deep cuts like sangrecita (crumbled, seasoned chicken’s blood) and caucau (a hearty tripe and yellow potato stew).
Calle Choquehuanca 611, San Isidro
Phone: +51 997 601 629
Though Lima has a tradition of Italo-Peruvian food dating back to the mid-1800s, you could seldom bank on handmade pasta—until this aptly named restaurant came along with its pici cacio e pepe and pappardelle tossed in beef cheek ragù. But it’s not all Old World Italian mainstays, as anyone who orders the lettuce appetizer can attest: Romaine leaves arrive hidden under a puffy cloud of shredded cheese, crunchy bread crumbs, and specks of spicy red ají limo peppers.
La Mar 918, Miraflores
Phone: +51 914 680 244
This beloved Miraflores bakery has made a name for itself by using local grains and flours—some of them ground in house on a traditional stone mill—to bake what many call the best bread in Lima. Breakfast sandwiches come on their straight-out-of-the-oven focaccia, a kamut loaf, or their signature chola bread, a crusty, wheat and rye blend. Heartier favorites include the fatty and garlicky porchetta sandwich and a grilled cheese brimming with the domestic semi-mantecoso (“buttery”) cheese, but I like ringing in foggy Lima mornings with the avocado toast: thick-cut grilled sourdough, a generously peppered ripe avocado, crunchy Maras salt, and a pool of olive oil to drizzle as desired.
Av. Javier Prado Este 1212, San Isidro
Phone: +51 952 770 672
The arrival of Chinese laborers to Peru’s shores in 1849 birthed the fusion cuisine called Chifa, which reinterpreted Cantonese dishes using local ingredients. Since 1958, matriarch Patricia Chan has overseen this family restaurant that churns out exemplary versions of Chifa mainstays, like arroz chaufa (fried rice with sweet peppers, garlic, and green onions wokked with ginger and soy sauce), tallarín saltado (noodles stir-fried with a soy-based sauce and strips of yellow ají peppers), and crackly fried wontons served with a tamarind dipping sauce. Don’t skip the duck dishes, especially the pato al sillao: a slow-roasted masterpiece of crispy skin and succulent meat, sliced and served with honey-sweetened soy and hoisin sauce.
Av. la Paz 1640, Miraflores
Phone: +51 1 409 4645
Friends heading to Lima for the first time always ask me where to find the best ceviche, but the truth is, there’s great ceviche just about everywhere. What you want is a place where ceviche is a gateway to other Peruvian seafood delights. Enter El Pez Amigo, a laid-back Miraflores institution that serves up a pitch-perfect ceviche—bright with citrus juices and made with firm, freshly-caught white fish like sea bass, flounder, or sole. But there’s also a plethora of other Peruvian classics like parmesan-baked scallops and causa, which layers spicy potato purée with your choice of crab, octopus, or prawns.
Jr. Domeyer 260, Barranco
Phone: +51 966 320 855
Siete is a well-lauded restaurant that somehow still manages to feel like a hidden gem. Tucked away on one of the quieter streets of Barranco, it attracts a cosmopolitan crowd who enjoy the hip vinyl on rotation as much as the food. Begin your evening by sipping a drink or two from the cocktail list, which plays around with Peruvian spirits like matacuy digestif. One standout dish is the boquerones, silverside fish marinated in vinegar, topped with fresh avocado, and served with a hunk of spongy focaccia. I’m also partial to the smoked carrot and feta cheese salad and the laksa made from roasted Peruvian loche squash.
La Paisana Picantería
Jirón Libertad 1412, Magdalena del Mar
Phone: +51 992 840 637
It’s common knowledge that many international cuisines left their mark on Limeño dining, but the country’s internal migration patterns have arguably been just as influential. In the 1980s and ‘90s, waves of rural Peruvians arrived in Lima fleeing the violence unleashed by insurgent groups like the Shining Path. These newcomers brought their regional specialties with them and swiftly set up shop. That’s how La Paisana, a lunch-only restaurant celebrating the cuisine of Piura in Northern Peru, came to be. Limeños and Piuranos alike gather here to gorge on green tamales, whose signature color derives from the abundant culantro leaves mixed into the dough. Regulars also love the carne aliñada con chifles (fried salt-cured meat with green plantain chips) and grouper and black clam ceviche. Thirsty? Try the chicha de jora, a cider-like pre-Hispanic fermented corn beverage served in traditional clay jars.
Calle Monte Grande 165, Chacarilla
Phone: + 51919295850
Peruvians eat approximately 150 million rotisserie chickens a year, which comes as no surprise given how utterly delicious Peruvian roast chicken is. The bird gets its signature depth and tenderness from a thick, stout-based marinade containing ají panca, cumin, and other fragrant spices. Everybody has their favorite asador, and mine is Yopo, one of the newer additions to the crowded scene. Yopo started as a ghost kitchen in 2019 and became a local lifeline during COVID lockdowns. Make like a Limeña and order a side of crinkle fries, the house salad, and extra ají sauce for dipping.
Tomo Cocina Nikkei
Francisco de Paula Camino 260, Miraflores
Phone: +51 913 332 164
You may not think of Lima as a sushi mecca—but you’d be wrong. Immigrants from Japan knew exactly what to do with the country’s 1,500 miles of coastline: They used its bounty to create the Japanese-Peruvian fusion cuisine called Nikkei. At Tomo, get a crash course in Nikkei cooking via dishes like Peruvian bigeye tuna sashimi or foie gras and toro nigiri. The menu changes depending on the daily catch, but expect locally sourced seafood like squid, red grouper, and mero murique.
Calle Ignacio Merino 466, Miraflores
Phone: +51 941 869 568
Grimanesa Vargas started out selling anticuchos—charcoal-grilled beef heart skewers—on a Miraflores street, and over time, she amassed such a loyal following (including chef Gastón Acurio) that in 2012 she opened her own huarique, or hole-in-the-wall. The menu is simple: either beef heart or chicken, with or without the traditional sides of boiled potatoes and Peruvian choclo (big, chewy corn kernels). What isn’t simple is the flavor: After soaking for three hours in a marinade of red vinegar, pepper, cumin, garlic, and ají panca, the meat is impaled on skewers and grilled to tender perfection over open fire.
San Martín 1090, Pueblo Libre
Phone: +51 1 460 0441
El Queirolo is a tavern’s tavern, an old-school bar where generations of intellectuals have long come to debate from dusk till dawn. You are expected to linger here, as evidenced by the extensive menu, which offers everything from kid-size sandwiches like sánguche de chicharrón con camote frito—filled with sliced pork, fried sweet potato, and salsa criolla—to full entrées like ají de gallina (a shredded, creamy chicken stew in a parmesan and walnut sauce) to go-to snacks like cheese tequeños (fried wonton sticks filled with queso fresco, an unripened and mild-flavored Peruvian cheese). Whatever you wind up noshing, wash it down with a res: a cocktail you make yourself with pisco, ginger ale, sliced lime, ice and syrup or grenadine, with every ingredient brought to your table on a silver tray.
Calle Santa Luisa 295, San Isidro
Phone: +51 994 204 416
The winner of Best World Cuisine restaurant in this year’s Summum Awards, the country’s most prestigious culinary honor, is this ode to Southeast Asia that never strays far from its Peruvian roots. Think tiradito (thinly sliced raw fish), except swimming in red curry instead of the usual ají-based sauce. While the menu dabbles in many Southeast Asian cuisines, it builds on them with local fresh herbs and Peruvian spices. The star of the show might be the flor de loto dessert—a rice-based cookie shaped like a lotus flower floating in turmeric caramel and filled with coconut ice cream.
Av. Pedro de Osma 301, Barranco
Phone: +51 1 242 8515
Central, named World’s Best Restaurant in 2023, might be an obvious pitstop for any food lover, but that doesn’t make it any less spectacular. The brainchild of Virgilio Martínez and Pía León provides more than exquisite food—it offers an education. Each dish on Central’s tasting menu represents one of Peru’s different ecosystems, and servers describe what’s on your plate with both awe and expertise. Recent dishes included a loche squash soup, a vision of lime-green and yellow punctuated with plump prawns and avocado. Then there was the Amazonian pacú fish, bathed in coconut milk, which arrived cloaked in a watermelon and coca-leaf foam. Central never comes off as an exercise in ego; instead, you are humbled by the edible riches the country has to offer.
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