The husband & I just returned from an eight day trip to Lima. We impulsively bought cheap tickets to experience the culinary scene that everyone is talking about. It was a great vacation – filled with beautiful restaurants, new flavors and great surprises.
If I were going for a weekend, I would definitely return to…
• El Mercado – Our server was fantastic & guided us through a great meal; she even bought us a third dessert (tres leches cake) because she wanted us to try it (it was the best either of us have tasted). The tacu tacu (rice & beans elevated yet still homey tasting), ceviche, & desserts (picarones that I will continue to crave) were all amazing. Our high opinion was only slightly influenced by the availability of pisco sours on Election Day (there was an 84-hour prohibition on serving alcohol that we knew nothing about till we’d already arrived). It definitely raised our hopes for Rafael, planned for later in the trip.
• Fiesta– Serves a traditional (and hearty) Chiclayan cuisine from northern Peru. My husband called it the “Le Quincy of Lima.” Everything we had was excellent – the charcoal grilled ceviche, causa (mashed potatoes stuffed, typically, with seafood), duck with rice, and cabrito de leche en seco sauce. This restaurant seems like the kind of place that can execute at this level time & time again. We will definitely find out on our next trip.
• Restaurante IK – This restaurant was the biggest surprise because we knew the least about it. It has only been open about four months – and nights are already booked. The space inside is meant to evoke a fruit crate and somehow it works and it’s beautiful. The food was stunning and tasted as good as it looked. Service was worthy of a Michelin-star (thank you, Cesar). What made the experience all the more unexpected is that the original chef, Ivan Kisik, died a year ago – about a month before the restaurant’s planned opening. His brother & staff wanted to make this restaurant a legacy to Ivan. They succeeded. If they can maintain the quality of the food and service, IK will become Lima’s hottest restaurant.
• Grimanesa Vargas Anticuchos – Our last meal in Lima and a perfect way to end. The chef has been cooking anticuchos for 38 years and it shows. The secret to her success is obviously the basting marinade the cooks brush over the beef hearts while they’re being grilled. Definitely a must-visit. (Check out the pic of Ferran Adria with the chef.)
If I were going for a week, I would also hit…
• Central – This was the husband’s favorite. The entire experience was exceptional. To start, we split a hot ceviche and a grouper tiradito. Our mains were suckling goat (the husband’s third suckling goat dish & the best, marginally beating out Fiesta) and suckling pig with very crispy skin.
• Punto Azul – This recommendation came from a local and it was a great place to spend a weekend brunch. Bustling with activity (make sure you get there before 1 pm if you don’t want to wait – but it’s worth it to wait). The ceviche is huge & tasty, the leche de tigre an almost magical elixir (according to the husband), and the causas may have been my favorite.
• Chez Wong – Out of the way but well worth it. The ceviche was perfectly simple: the freshest flounder (filleted and sliced at service), salt, pepper and lime, and served with a small bowl of chopped spicy rocoto peppers on the side. We agreed that the tiradito, topped with crushed pecans, was the best of the trip. Both the salty and sweet stir fries were outstanding examples of the Chifa style.
• La Mar – The first meal we had in Lima did not disappoint. We binged on ceviche, tiradito, soup (another fave), and pasta. A great way to kick off our adventure.
• La Lucha – The famous sandwich shop looks over Parque Kennedy and offers sandwiches (get the chicharron or the lechon) and awesome French fries. I would have eaten this every day if only the husband would agree.
• Maido – We opted for the 14-course tasting menu at lunch. All of the dishes were fun, thoughtful and, most importantly, delicious. A couple of our favorites were the “Nigiris from the Sea” (deep fried rock fish nambanzuke & smoked mackerel with yellow chili, onions and masago) and the “Chupemushi” (the encounter of chupe de camarones and chawanmushi). We only went to one Nikkei (Peruvian-Japanese fusion) restaurant and are very glad it was Maido. Plus, it had the best Pisco Sour of any restaurant we visited.
• El Pan de la Chola – We found this bakery on the day before we left. It’s run by a self-taught baker and his breads were incredible. While this place did not have a particularly Peruvian feel and could exist anywhere, I really, really wish it existed in my town.
While I wouldn’t go out of my way, I would not regret returning to…
• Tanta – One of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants that we hit up when our plans fell through due to the election weekend closures in the Barranco. The lomo saltado was fine but not spectacular. Not a bad choice, but there are better.
• La Panka – This restaurant was near where we were staying and was a really good Sunday night option. The pollo a la brasa and the mountain of fries (really really good crinkle cut fries) capped a wonderful weekend.
• Pescado Capitales – The menu at this well-known ceviche restaurant was huge – and so was the place. The ceviche, raw scallops, and grilled octopus causa (we ate a lot of grilled octopus) were all good and I would be happy to have any again.
Would not return to…
• Amaz – The first of the Amazonian restaurants did not impress. I may have expected too much from the Amazonian ingredients but nothing thrilled me. Cocktails are supposed to be stellar but the election weekend again intruded.
• Malabar – The second Amazon restaurant (same chef as Amaz, more upscale) really disappointed. The interior was kind of dire, service nonchalant and the food did nothing for me.
• Rafael –After our experience at El Mercado, our hopes were high and this was our biggest letdown. Both mains were served with a ubiquitous brown sauce you normally find at a hotel banquet and our server could not be bothered. Maybe it was a really off night but we won’t go back.
While we had a few misses, the hits definitely outweighed them. I cannot wait for our next trip to Lima, returning to our newfound favorites and exploring new ones.