The sun shone bright the day I arrived in Lima. Blue skies met the sprawling Pacific Ocean on the horizon, visible from Lima’s Malecón, the clifftop promenade that winds along the city’s coastline in the Miraflores and Barranco neighborhoods.
I gulped in big breaths of salty air, snapped photos of the Bridge of Sighs, wandered the Bajada de Baños walkway toward the sea, and generally marvelled at my new home in Peru.
The love affair was short-lived. As anyone who’s been to or lived in Lima can attest, for a solid chunk of the year (April – October), Lima lies enshrouded in thick, gray clouds. While some writers have, er, romanticized the weather as being inside “the belly of a dead whale,” I sum it up like this: It’s a bummer.
Thankfully, there’s a bright spot in Lima that shines regardless of climate: the food.
Thanks to splendid seafood and innovative chefs as well as a longstanding culinary tradition, Lima has been described as one of the great food cities in the world.
And so I took the bull by the proverbial horns in Lima and did what I tend to do best: eat my face off.
See my collection of standouts — restaurants, markets, food and drink — to leave you at best sated, or at least, inspired.
There’s atmosphere galore at Canta Rana, in the Barranco district. Soccer (nay, futbol!) jerseys, giant flags, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia cover the walls. Chances are you won’t pay them much mind as you’ll be tucking into heaping plates of ceviche — arguably some of the best in the city.
If you’re having problems decided among the 17 types of ceviche on the menu, heed my advice: order the ceviche mixto and the tiradito (like ceviche, but without the onions and typically topped with a creamy aji pepper sauce). Wash it down with an ice cold pilsner. You will thank me.
The pisco sour originated in Lima, and remains ubiquitous throughout the city. Whether you choose to imbibe at one of the city’s trendy establishments, like Huaringas Bar in Miraflores, or a more iconic space, like the Gran Hotel Bolivar, just … drink one.
Beware: they’re stronger than they look. Or taste…gulp.
God help my cholesterol. La Lucha is a sandwich lover’s dream and a veritable icon in the city. Lines form day and night while happy diners gorge themselves on heaping sandwiches sent from the heavens. Or wait. Maybe the was just me? Nah, it’s everyone. Trust.
Order the chicharron sandwich, and enjoy piles of pork, pickled onions, criolla sauce, and thin slices of roasted sweet potatoes. Then, order the El Preferido, a carnivores delight of piles of asado and avocado. Don’t forget the fries! These crispy, salted wedges are la bomba.
Mercado de Surquillo
Any food-loving traveler worth her salt will be drawn to a local market, particularly when one is as obsessed over as Mercado de Surquillo. This place is a classic, down-and-dirty produce/meat/seafood/odd goods kinda market. You’ll find piles of produce, some blissfully unidentifiable (at least to a Norte Americana like myself), enormous hanging displays of mysterious animal parts and an assortment of random goods, like diapers, all at your easy disposal.
Wander further afield, just outside the market to find ceviche stands galore. It was at one such nameless stand that I met the Queen of Ceviche. This older woman, tall as my shoulder, whipped up the most deliriously brilliant batches of ceviche quite literally before my very eyes. It was tangy. It was fresh. It all but melted in my mouth. It was so spicy it made a grown Peruvian man sweat and weep like a babe. It is a must-eat.
Astrid y Gastón
Ah, Astrid y Gastón. It’s impossible to discuss Lima’s standing as a world-class food town and not mention Chef Gastón Acurio’s renowned restaurant empire. AyG is his flagship, here in Lima, and regularly ranks as one of the world’s top restaurants.
It’s certainly worth a visit, but if the verrrry pricey dinner tasting menu and 5-month wait for a dinner reservation scares you off, head here for lunch. Arrive around noon-ish, and you’ll likely be seated without a wait — or, in my case, be the first diners to arrive! Service is remarkably impeccable, warm and friendly and the food is pretty great. It’s a splurge, but well worth the moolah.
Omnipresent throughout Lima are chifa restaurants, serving Chinese-Peruvian fusion cuisine. Now, don’t get all excited thinking this is some trendy culinary phase a la a Jose Garces resto in Philly. Chifa in Lima is classic, and the restaurants range from small and divey to big and, well, less divey.
Order the arroz chaufa, essentially fried rice, crispy wantan fritos (fried wontons), or lomo saltado (stir-fried beef).