In 2012, when I was 30 years old, I took an eight month hiatus from work. For six of these months I was on the road, making stops in places like Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay and more.
There were so many highlights during this unforgettable journey, but one in particular really caught me by surprise.
In the early portion of my travels, which began in South America, several people had enthusiastically encouraged me to alter my plans to include Lima. They said this city was the ultimate food capital of not just Peru, but of all of the continent and maybe the world.
My initial route went from Lake Titicaca to Cusco to Bogota. The new and improved journey would drop Lima in after Cusco in the form of an extended layover scenario, and cut off a few days from Colombia. Crazy? Maybe.
But it proved to be one of the best stops I had during those eight memorable months.
Lima is different. It’s not a fashionable city, it’s not particularly pretty city. But it is a city that is charming in it’s own way, is kind and welcoming, and will leave you smiling if you know where to look.
Watching a sunset along the black stone beaches in Miraflores is not to be missed. Wandering the Barranco area by day, and going to a jazz club by night will reel you in even further. And most importantly, of course, you have to make the time to explore and be bewildered by the food that makes it famous.
Before I touched down in Lima I watched a friendly yet passionate debate via email unfold, between a NY Times food writer, a frequent visitor to Lima named Francesco, and my friend Tom who was living in Santiago, Chile at the time. Tom connected us all for the forces to collectively weigh in on where I should eat during my time here.
Lima is home to some of the top spots in the world; Central, Maido, Astrid y Gaston.
Surprisingly I was actually talked out going to these. Maybe the fact that I was a backpacker at the time didn’t scream high end restaurant seeker to them, but they also genuinely seemed to think there was more value and would be more insight into the local side of things with going to those listed below.
Peruvian food in Lima can be incredibly eclectic, yet centered around the most basic ingredients like fish, sweet potato and corn. The capacity each dish had to be completely mind blowing both upon site and actual taste was remarkable. One day I’ll go back, and I’ll up the food game.
Here’s my top three places for the best food in Lima!
– El Mercado –
El Mercado is a buzzing Sunday lunch spot, open daytime only. I loved it the moment I walked in; there’s a powerful, energetic vibe that is gripping.
I made fast friends with the chefs and was given a sizzling plate of grilled scallops served in open seashells on the house to start me off. Followed by that was the causa, a Peruvian specialty, and the original hot and cold ceviche, a two-textured dish of fried calamari and tuna.
I also went back here at the end of my Lima trip for some white wine and the churros, served with three sides; vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and dulce de leche sauce.
– Pescados Capitales –
Pescados Capitales is housed in a sprawling space that is half indoors, half outdoors, that is a more formal feel than El Mercado, but still with an air of excitement and fun. I started with the crispy grilled calamari and finished with the tuna ceviche with corn, sweet potato, and salad.
I remember feeling palpable happiness as I worked my way through each dish, feeling that I was literally tasting greatness. This remains one of the more memorable meals I have ever had in life, and it takes a lot for statements like that to be made.
– Canta Rana –
Canta Rana is a very local feeling, very hidden and very casual spot in the Barranco district. It has a more old school feel than anywhere else I tried, with flags of different countries and mis-matched old photos hung on the walls.
I had the parmesean soaked scallops to start and the polpo ceviche as the main.