The coastal city of Lima, Peru, has made an enviable transition over the past couple of decades from crime capital to international foodie mecca. Today, the city is host to the world’s highest number of cooking schools per capita, including a Le Cordon Bleu in the Miraflores district, and the food scene continues to innovate thanks to a growing legion of creative Peruvian and international chefs.
Here we share six of Lima’s best spots, from elBulli–worthy molecular elegance to a hole in the wall with mind-blowing Peruvian pork sandwiches.
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One of Peru’s best-known culinary staples, ceviche—chopped raw fish cured in citrus juice—is a Lima institution thanks to the city’s bounty of fresh seafood. It’s also a star item at chef Rafael Osterling’s hopping seafood-centric lunch spot, El Mercado. Located in a Miraflores outskirt once populated by auto shops and drug dealers, this bright, contemporary venue boasts an upscale patio feel. Open from Tuesdays to Sundays between noon and 5 p.m. (most locals view late afternoon as the day’s raw fish sell-by time), the restaurant specializes in tiradito, an almost carpaccio-like variation on ceviche served with vivid sauces and condiments; the insanely tender wood-fired octopus with parsley aioli and potatoes; and seafood-filled causas, a layered, mashed-potato-based Peruvian delight.
Menu Must: Decadent conchas a la parmesana—scallops, complete with bright orange “coral,” a tasty-yet-cholesterol-rich section that typically gets discarded before scallops reach U.S. markets, wood-fired with pisco, and cheese.
Lima exports so many of its ocean’s premium delicacies—abalone, caviar, sea urchin, and razor clams—that locals rarely get a taste. Restaurateur Luis Sologuren offers that opportunity at Sophie Bistro, a family restaurant he named after one of his children. There’s no signage out front, but Sophie’s lavender-hued exterior is impossible to miss. Besides succulent seafood, the menu features a lighter, tapas-style takes on hearty Peruvian classics including shredded, braised baby goat served over indigenous loche squash, chicken in creamy yellow-pepper sauce, and suspiro de lucuma, a parfait-like dessert made with lucuma fruit and meringue. The three-course lunch is a steal at just $10, and Sologuren, who also owns the La Esquina wine bars in Barranco and Miraflores, stocks local craft brews including Cumbres beer made with blue corn, top-shelf and artisanal Piscos, and high-altitude wines.
Menu Must: Clams so plump and meaty they could pass as lobster, sautéed with house-made clarified butter, lime, garlic, and crispy, shredded leeks.
Peru–born Chef Mitsuhara Tsumura is a renowned ambassador for Nikkei, a delectable fusion of Japanese and Peruvian cuisines. His clamored-for Maido is a house of Nikkei worship, is elegant and thoroughly contemporary in décor—ropes dangle overhead, forming a sort of translucent ceiling—while the food is technique-driven and dramatic in presentation. Tsumura’s inventions include Nikkei Thick Ribs, a flavorful yellow-pepper-and-sake-rich stew cooked sous vide-style for 40 hours, sushi rolls incorporating Peruvian sauces, and a xiao long bao-like take on the baby goat dish seco de cabrito.
Menu Must: Don’t miss the Nikkei Experience Tribute menu, which features about 20 bite- (or two-bite)-sized tasting courses with dashes of theatrical and whimsical flair; a tiny fish sandwich is served in a fast food-like container, and a ceviche-inspired dessert incorporates a tiny chili macaron.
Iván Kisic was one of Peru’s rising culinary stars when he and two other acclaimed chefs were killed in a tragic 2012 automobile crash. Kisic’s twin brother, Franco, formerly of Barcelona’s innovative tapas bar Tickets, and the chef’s surviving protégé, Percy Alvaro, fulfilled the man’s mission and vision by opening IK in 2013. The surroundings transport you away from Lima’s urban bustle: Rows of recycled wood and foliage evoke the feeling of being inside a food crate, while a custom soundtrack of otherworldly music plays overhead. Monthly menus feature avant-garde, sustainable Peruvian, and fusion cuisine that put Amazonian produce to stunning use, like delicate, flower-shaped alpaca carpaccio with chocolate drizzles, and ceviche punctuated with exotic Amazonian coriander and tomato.
Menu Must: Try the day’s tiradito—it’s guaranteed to be Instagram-worthy, brightly flavored, and fishing-boat fresh.
A well prepared, contemporary selection of Peruvian dishes is made even tastier by the 1,500-plus-year-old pre-Incan ruins that serve as dramatic background at Huaca Pucllana, a favorite of tourists and locals alike (and even foodie-centric tours like two-year-old The Lima Gourmet Company). Weather and availability permitting, the terrace is the best spot to enjoy a froth-topped Pisco Sour, Chilcano (a Pisco-based Dark and Stormy) or non-alcoholic Chicha Morada (a sweet, aromatic drink made with blue corn, pineapple rind, cinnamon, and clove) while taking in the adobe and clay pyramids, which are lit up come sundown.
Menu Must: One of Peru’s most omnipresent dishes, from street vendors up to fine restaurants like this, is the antichuchos: seasoned and grilled beef heart skewers.
Located on the main strip of Lima’s most trendy and artsy enclaves in Barranco, Café Alicia (Av. Grau 598, Barranco), an uncharacteristically unglamorous hole in the wall, serves up immensely toothsome, rustic Peruvian sandwiches. If he hasn’t already, it’s just a matter of time until Anthony Bourdain loudly exalts the deliciousness of Alicia’s butiffara sandwich, a warm roll loaded with jamon del país (made from braised pork leg) and spicy salsa criolla.
Menu Must: Besides the butiffara, try a chicharrón sandwich, a hearty and flavorful breakfast favorite that adds sliced sweet potato to the pork-loaded equation.