Beto is a big man, whose big man hands nearly swallow the spoon he’s using to ladle fish out of a beat-up blue cooler. He is famous in his area, his restaurant an unremarkable double-story hall in a not entirely savoury part of the seaside neighbourhood of Chorrillos, standing out only because of the constant flow of people that fill it every single day.
Ceviche’s the simplest thing, he reckons, and grins a big man’s grin. Fresh fish, cubed and kept cold till the last moment, red onion, plenty of lime juice, chilli and salt – he scoops as he talks, his oversized spoon turned into a precision measuring instrument by years of making this dish. A quick stir, a wedge of sweet potato on the side and it’s done. It’s perfect; acid, fire, fish and the giving crunch of onion – this is the flavour of Peru that will live in your food memory for many years.
It’s not so simple, as any foreigner who has tried making ceviche for the first time will tell you, and that’s why we come here, to this city on the edge of the Pacific. Everywhere, from a little hole-in-the-wall in the chaotic centre, to a stall in a market, to a lady with a bicycle cart on the street, to the slickest restaurants whose names are muttered and chewed on by the global food elite, there are so many amazing things to eat that even locals have no chance of trying them all.
There’s a passion for eating and a certain gastronomic democracy unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. The taxi driver, art director and the construction magnate talk of food – eating it, making it and where to get the very tastiest – before politics, crime, football or even sex. And it’s not unlikely to find them sitting shoulder to shoulder at a little counter in a market, “because this guy, this guy’s just the best.”
Currently considered comfortably among the best restaurants in the world, chef Virgilio Martinez creates impressive tasting menus that showcase the biological and geographical diversity of Peru.
Anticuchos Doña Grimanesa
Every evening, little charcoal grills are wheeled out onto street corners and parking lots all over the city to serve up one of Lima’s favourite street foods – anticuchos (slices of beef heart, marinated in cumin, garlic, dried chilli and vinegar and grilled on a skewer).
Chancho al palo, Mistura
Every September Lima hosts its most famous food festival, Mistura, which sees hundreds of thousands of visitors come flocking to sample the best dishes from all over Peru. The chancho al palo, whole barbecued pig, is one of the most popular, with queues of up to four hours at peak times.
Mitsuharu Tsumura is at the forefront of the still-developing Nikkei cuisine, a local fusion of Peruvian and Japanese food born of a large immigrant Japanese community. At Maido, Tsumura has elevated a simple meeting of cultures to fine dining, and his elaborate tasting menu is one of the unmissable culinary experiences in Lima.
Another beloved huarique, Mi Peru has been serving up Lima’s best crab soup for over 40 years.
Although the central fish market is the place for serious buyers, the small pier at Chorrillos (the district next to the trendier Barranco) is a great spot to chat to some fishermen, grab fresh fish for dinner or eat a ceviche, prepared in front of you.
A bright new face in Barranco, Isolina is at the forefront of a trend of quality chefs opening up more traditional, tavern-like restaurants that serve up old-school creole favourites like hearty stews, plenty of tripe dishes, or easier-going sandwiches like (pictured) fried smelt.
Astrid y Gaston Casa Moreyra
Vying with Central for the top spot of contemporary Peruvian cuisine, A&G Casa Moreyra is headed up by chef Diego Muñoz and owned by Peru’s most famous chef and restaurateur, Gaston Acurio. The décor of the restaurant changes to suit each new tasting menu, but the test kitchen (pictured) out back is where the magic all comes together.
Al Toke Pez
Chef Tomás Matsufuji turned away from the successful restaurant empire run by his family to instead open up a tiny hole-in-the-wall spot on a busy avenue to serve up some of the best, and best priced, seafood in town.
Fiesta, now a fine dining icon in the city, is the home of chef Hector Solis, who brought spicy, aromatic northern flavours from his hometown of Chiclayo down to Lima.
Another great, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino has for over ten years been among those who led and defined modern Peruvian cuisine. His restaurant Malabar in San Isidro serves consistently stunning food and is simply a must-visit.
Renzo Garibaldi made meat cool in Lima, opening a trendy butchery serving the best beef in town. Recently he expanded to a restaurant, where visitors can stop by and taste the beef he ages from 30 days to several months.
Soñia’s grew up from a beachside stall selling ceviche made with fish brought in by her husband, to an expansive restaurant where the city’s wealthy queue patiently to get inside and tuck into a quality seafood menu.