It wasn’t love at first sight. Like many cities that have outgrown their footprint, Lima on first impression seemed a sprawling mess of construction and congested streets.
But there’s also this mix of Spanish colonial and modern design; tree-lined residential streets; parks that invite for a stroll around the green at day and come alive with music, artists and street food at night. And then, there is the city’s unbeatable location: stretched along the Pacific coast, separated from wide sandy beaches by tall green cliffs, Lima’s seaside is spectacular.
I simply loved the Malecon, a boardwalk that runs for six miles and skirts the cliffs, connecting small parks along the way. There is that invigorating sea breeze, intriguing sculptures along the boardwalk, tiny fruit carts with vendors folded inside and peeping through the vending window, and young couples leaning against the edge, holding hands and whispering in each other’s ears.
Lima’s biggest lure (for me) is its culinary genius. Several of Lima’s restaurants hold a top spot in the Worlds Best 50, including #5 Central, #8 Maido and a constant in that same top 50 for years: Gaston Acurio’s original restaurant Astrid y Gaston. And let’s face it, with an abundance of foods from the ocean, the jungle, the mountains and anywhere in between (Peru is rich in vastly different ecological zones), chefs in Lima have the most fascinating and complete larder at their doorstep.
Let me share a couple experiences here, all enjoyed in Miraflores:
IK Restaurante are the initials of the culinary talent Ivan Kisic who tragically died in a car crash before he could fulfill his dream: his own restaurant. Twin brother Franco made it his business to realize that dream. IK strives to reflect his legacy through a team of “talented young people who express their soul through our kitchen with the same passion that he taught us.” IK Restaurante was recommended by a Peruvian friend for its creative food and passion for connecting ancient traditions and nature’s abundance with contemporary cooking.
IK’s contemporary setting (the walls are designed with reclaimed wooden boxes with plants growing all the way up to the ceiling; the tables receive a decorative pattern from lamps strategically placed above) invites to sit and enjoy the culinary ride with a tasting menu, an across-the-menu experience ranging from 5 to 12 courses.
IK Restaurante, Calle Elías Aguirre N° 179, Miraflores, Lima 18 Perú
Amaz celebrates the cuisine of the Amazon. Giant river snails, the enormous river fish paiga, camu camu, or berries from a riverside bush in the rainforest, and an incredible lot more worked in an extensive menu from jungle-inspired ceviche to pork-stuffed fried plantains to fish cooked in banana leaf to desserts of cacao, tonka beans and Amazonian fruits. Portions are generous, and the half-size options proved enough for the three of us as a sharing dish (we picked from each list, from small bites (piqueos) to desserts (postres).
Amaz, Av. La Paz 1079, Miraflores, Lima
Chef Rafael Osterling has several restaurants both in Lima and in Bogota, including the highly recommended (by the same Lima native that recommended IK Restaurante) El Mercado. We decided on Rafael because it was closest to our hotel on the day we were set to fly out home. Rafael is literally down the street from Maido, turning otherwise unassuming Calle San Martin into a destination street for food lovers. Housed in a stylish villa with dining room separated from the beautiful bar, Rafael’s menu is a tantalizing array of Peru’s abundant seafood. We sat down when the restaurant just opened and sampled across the menu until, at well past 3pm, our attentive waiter (who clearly enjoyed our enthusiasm for the food) said we really had to place our last order because, well, they needed to start prepare for dinner.
Rafael, San Martín 300, Miraflores, Lima 18, Perú
Central has a couple of tasting menus; the entire ecological culinary journey around Peru, a smaller version of that, and a vegetarian version. Whichever you chose, this is innovative cooking with what Peru’s nature provides at an almost scientific level. I walked away thinking: while a few things were intriguing rather than delicious, my culinary mind is officially blown and I can’t even count the new things I tried in the span of 19 different dishes. I walked away with an absolute appreciation, not only for Peru’s phenomenal biodiversity, but also for this chef who translated that complex diversity into a food journey across Peru’s multitude of ecological regions.
Lunch at Central was our very first stop on a 2 week trip around Peru that took us to Cusco and the Sacred Valley and onwards by train to Lake Titicaca. And throughout, whenever I closed my eyes, I saw chef Virgilio Martinez at work in his open kitchen, making magic with those very raw materials I spotted along the way: roaming alpaca, tree tomatoes ripen in a garden in the Sacred Valley, Titicaca villagers soaking and drying potatoes to an abundance of fruits, herbs and vegetables in local markets.
The full tasting menu at Central—a comprehensive experience that takes you around Peru’s 11 ecological regions in some 19 dishes—is 510 Peruvian Sol, or about $160.
Central, Santa Isabel 376. Miraflores, Lima, Perú
Wherever you eat in Lima, whichever restaurant you pick: save some room and time for street food. At night, parks in Lima light up with people, food carts and often live music or performances. Like Park John F. Kennedy: the night we came here the park was abuzz with street acts and music and … food carts on every corner. Try a traditional butifarra, essentially a turkey sandwich with chopped onions and lime juice; piquarones, Peru’s version of a donut, often made with sweet potato or squash; or dig into a bowl of Arroz con leche, or another version of rice pudding.
Finally, before you travel to Lima: make a reservation at a restaurant you fancy if you want to make sure you get a table!
Next post in the making is a taste of Cusco and its Sacred Valley.