Lima, Peru – A True Culinary Destination

In July, 2017, my husband, let’s call him ‘K’ and I decided to stop through Lima en route to and from our Machu Picchu hike for no specific reason other than to explore. I had no idea that we were about to embark on an amazing culinary journey.

Our only real plan for Lima was to spend the first day with K’s coworker who graciously offered to give us a tour of the city. However, during my layover to Lima, K called excitedly and said that he was going to try to get us reservations at Central, Maido and Astrid y Gaston – three of the top 50 restaurants in the world.

K and I love food. We aren’t at the top of our game when it comes to following restaurants but will always try our best. I was familiar with Central, less so with the other two, but I was  surprised that three of the world’s top 50 were in Lima!

I had checked the availability at Central when we booked our Lima flights, but it was booked until November. Until K physically went to Central and got us dinner reservations on July 10th thanks to a cancellation, and for the same reason was able to book Maido for lunch on the 10th and Astrid y Gaston for lunch on the 11th.

We were staying at the Swissotel Lima because K’s office was literally a block away. I loved it. It was a great cushy start to our Peruvian holiday especially given that we would be camping in the Andes mountains by the end of the week. It’s also fairly close to the main areas of Lima so was easy to walk around or to take an Uber.

K’s coworker picked us up in his car on Sunday morning, July 9th, for brunch at the Cala Restaurante, located on a cliff that overlooked the ocean near Playa Barranquito. The ambiance inside the main part of the restaurant had a clean feel with modern decor, but the best area of the restaurant is on the ocean side. It has large windows that overlook the ocean and make you feel as though you’re sitting in a fancy beach-side cafe but from a much higher vantage point. The food was amazing. The fresh ceviches and the pisco sours were all so good that I can still taste them from memory.  

It was a windy low 60 degrees F/15 degrees C during the day which made it pleasant to walk around. So we decided that we would spend the day walking around three main areas: 1) the government area of Lima, 2) Miraflores, and 3) Barranco.

We made our way from the restaurant to the Basilica de San Francisco where we parked the car and began our meandering. We walked from the Basilica to the Biblioteca Nacional, then to the Iglesia San Pedro and Plaza Mayor where we stopped at the Gran Hotel Bolivar for a pisco sour.

The Gran Hotel Bolivar is an old hotel, built in 1924 and still maintains a lot of the decor from when it first opened. We did a quick tour and then headed to their lounge for a refreshment; you could definitely see and feel the age of the hotel. We were still too full for an actual snack but were told that the pisco sours there were just as famous as the hotel itself, specifically the ‘Catedral’. But I opted for something different – a coca pisco sour. If you’re not familiar with the coca leaf, check out my Machu Picchu post for an explanation. I was intrigued by the combination mainly because I was feeling a bit tired, but it turned out to be tastier than a normal pisco sour.

From there, we walked through the Plaza Mayor to the Government Palace and then headed to Miraflores.

Miraflores was much livelier. Centered around the Kennedy Park, there are shops and restaurants everywhere. Our hunger pains resurfaced so we stopped at the Nuevo Mundo Draft Bar for a quick bite. They’ve unfortunately closed down since then, but there are several Peruvian draft beer bars all around the city, so it’s worth looking up if you’re interested.

After resting a bit, we made our way to Barranco for the last part of our day “tour”. My favorite part of Lima.

I’m a sucker for street art and it’s everywhere in Barranco. It was starting to get dark by the time we got there, which made it hard to get good pictures, but I still loved it. It was all very “Brooklyn”, including the feel of the cafes and shops. The only downside was that a lot of places were closed since it was Sunday, but thankfully the last place we wanted to go to was still open – Hotel B.

Hotel B is artsy, much like everything else in Barranco. We were told by the waitstaff that some people come to the lounge specifically to take their coasters because of the artwork on them. I  didn’t think the coasters were super special, but we brought some home anyways. They also had a variety of pisco sours that we hadn’t yet seen.

We headed back to our hotel super excited about the next day because our culinary journey had only just begun.

Government area of Lima
Plaza Mayor

As I mentioned above, K had gotten last minute bookings at Maido, Central, and Astrid y Gaston. This is literally all we had planned and had time for in the next day and a half.

Each of the restaurants were 7-12 course seatings which was a lot, but were they worth it?

  1. Maido – Amazing. Maido is a Nikkei style (Japanese Peruvian) restaurant beautifully decorated in colored ropes in the formation of the Japanese flag. I love Japanese food, especially when it’s mixed with other cuisines. My favorites more specifically were the uni rice (chiclayo rice, atico sea urchins, avocado cream, wan yi, baby corn), the catch of the day nigiri (which happened to include otoro tuna) a fish choripan (steamed bread fish and octopus sausage, pickled vegetables, Japanese mustard, native potatoes), and the wagyu short rib that was cooked for 50 hours (served with egg yolk, cecina fried rice,and amazonic chili) – they give you a small piece with so that it’s not overwhelming). The menu was so magical that I wasn’t bored by any of the courses. I say this because there are times when I get too full before I reach the end a prix fixe menu, but that wasn’t the case at Maido. I actually savoured every last bite of each course.

2. Restaurante Central – Also loved it! The purpose of the restaurant is to showcase Peru’s biodiversity (there’s a great overview on Netflix – Chef’s Table Season 3). The menu is structured to take you on a journey through different altitudes of the Andes mountains by displaying ingredients only found at those specific levels. For example, one course revolved around purple potatoes found at one altitude, while another revolved around mosses found at another level. There was also on course that just looked crazy as it was decorated with piranha heads, but it was so good. It’s not a place with stunningly different flavor profiles but it was interesting to taste and see what they had done with these specific ingredients as I had never tried them before. Also, two side notes: 1) I would recommend getting a tour of the restaurant as it is its own ecosystem – this was really interesting to see, and 2) it’s the most affordable option of the three restaurants.

3. Astrid y Gaston – K had work meetings at the time of this booking so I went alone. It was great overall, but I didn’t love it as much as the first two, perhaps because I was still stuffed from the day before. They do, however, serve cuy here (guinea pig) in taco form in case you’re interested to try. The restaurant itself is also stunning; set within a brilliant-white 17th century former plantation house, and the food was great but I was beyond stuffed as I approached the last few dishes. They also offer an amazing selection of Peruvian chocolates as part of the dessert course but I was too stuffed to truly enjoy them.  

Needless to say I felt like a massive glutton after all of this, but it was so worth it. I was thankful that we were about to embark on a 4-day hike where I could work it off.

To walk some of it off, I toured around Larco Museum in the afternoon (it had a stunning courtyard and garden), and then met K and his coworker for dinner in Barranco at Ayahuasca Restobar Lounge. I watched them eat while I continued to digest the last day and a half of food. Ayahuasca is also a really interesting lounge if you have a chance to go. It’s actually a house where each room has its own vibe from decor to music. My favorite room was the one in the center as it has poetry written all over the mirrored and un-mirrored walls.

And just like that our trip to Lima came to an end. We went back for a day and a half with family after Machu Picchu, though with less time to roam.  We did, however, try restaurants that we missed the first time: La Picantaria, Huaca Pucllana, and Chifa Titi. La Picantaria (ceviche) and Chifa Titi (Chinese Peruvian) were superb, but we found the the Huaca Pucllana restaurant to be underwhelming especially after all we had tried at that point. That said, the ancient Peruvian ruins right next to it are worth seeing during the day time.

Before arriving to Lima, we had only known of it to be the land of ceviche and pisco sours when it’s actually so much more. There were a bunch of sites that we had missed while we were there, but I wouldn’t trade my culinary experiences for any of it.

Blog edited by: Betty Ho

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