Lima's Food Scene From Three Perspectives
Central is the world’s #1 restaurant yet by most accounts Lima’s food scene remains underrated.
There are already plenty of lists of places to eat in Lima. You can get off the plane and enjoy some of the best meals of your life by just doing some quick searches and Uber-ing everywhere. Honestly, that’s how I saw Lima the first few times. However, if you’re willing to dedicate a few more meals, do a little more research, you can discover much more. With this post, I hope to offer an alternative to chasing lists.
If you want to develop an understanding of Lima’s multi-faceted food scene, I suggest try viewing Lima’s food scene from these three perspectives:
Lima by Neighborhood
Lima like many metropolises has distinct neighborhoods, each with its own personality. One way to start learning about Lima is to explore its neighborhoods:
Miraflores is a starting point for many visitors to Lima for a good reason. It is relatively safe, walkable, and features some of Lima’s most renowned restaurants, many of which regularly top many of the World’s Best Restaurant lists including but not limited to La Mar, Maido, and Rafael.
Barranco tends to be the next neighborhood visitors head to after Miraflores. Here, you can find a range of small cafes, bars, and craft restaurants. One street alone features Isolina, Awicha, and Siete. Barranco is also the home of Central and Kjolle.
Surquillo is the home of the famous market with the same name as well as many great cevicherías.
Chinatown, Barrio Chino, is a historic neighborhood famous for its Calle Capon, home to legendary Chifa restaurants like San Joy Lao and Salón De La Felicidad. Now, Chifa restaurants have cropped up all over Lima. Nowadays, even in the most distant neighborhood, you’ll find a Chifa restaurant. However, Barrio Chino is where it all started.
Bordering Chinatown, Downtown (Cercado de Lima) is known for its historic attractions but also has a couple of classic bars and sandwich shops including Hotel Bolivar and Bar Cordano.
Callao is famous for its ceviche. There’s even a distinct style of ceviche named after it (chalaca). Many parts of Callao remain gritty, but a section of it has become an emerging touristic area.
San Isidro has a bustling restaurant scene that trends towards upscale.
I used to associate Pueblo Libre mostly with Antigua Taberna Queirolo but I’ve found myself visiting this neighborhood more and more often as new restaurants here appear on our radar.
Magdalena has a market that we enjoy. In addition, we enjoy this neighborhood as an alternative to Cercado de Lima for seeing a slice of local life. We’ve found some of the best anticuchos and picarones here.
I can easily name half a dozen other neighborhoods that are worth exploring for the food. On each visit to Lima, my radius for exploration widens. Every neighborhood we’ve explored has revealed real gems.
Themes and Variations
Following themes is my favorite way to get to know Lima’s food scene. I absolutely love how restaurants in Lima are able to take a handful of concepts and explore the infinite variations within them. Here are some of my favorite themes that run throughout Peruvian food and are intertwined with Lima’s history and identity1.
Cevicherías are Lima’s quintessential eateries like the sidewalk bistros in Paris or the taco stalls of Mexico City. Although Sunday is the busiest day, it’s my favorite day to go to a cevichería because of the energy that comes from all of the tables united by the same passion for fresh seafood. I would recommend trying one of the iconic cevicherías like La Mar and El Mercado and then try a few neighborhood cevicherías. Sometimes, the best cevichería is the one closest to you.
Nikkei, Peruvian-Japanese food, developed as Japanese immigrants migrated to Lima starting around the late 1800s. The Nikkei tradition remains strong with a new generation of Itamae innovating and adding their own flourishes. More traditional Nikkei includes Costanera 700 and Matsuei while Tomo and Sutorīto Māketto are taking Nikkei in new directions.
Chifa has spread far beyond Chinatown (Barrio China) to practically every neighborhood in Peru (not just Lima). San Borja has several quality Chifa restaurants (Four Seas, Chifa Yue Hao, and more) but we’ve found next-level Chifa restaurants in Miraflores (Chifa Titi, Chifa Fu Jou) and Pueblo Libre (Master Kong).
The cocktail scene in Lima spans from traditional tabernas like Antigua Taberna Queirolo and Juanito to innovative cocktail bars including Lady Bee and Ribeyro. If you want a good show, drop by Carnaval Bar in San Isidro.
The Gourmet Circuit is not limited to Central, Kjolle, Maido, and Astrid y Gaston and has not been for a while. More and more chefs from these restaurants have opened up restaurants of their own (Gaijin, Siete, and more). In addition, chefs like Jaime Pesaque and Rafael Osterling are perpetually continuing to innovate and bring new offerings to the table. To say the least, it’s a constantly evolving scene.
Quest for the best—you can find practically any dish in Lima and with the intense competition that comes from the sheer number of restaurants, you can find many great versions of your favorite dish. A favorite pastime of Limeneans is debating where to find the best Lomo Saltado, Anticuchos, etc. I’ve joined some of these debates as an excellent way to practice Spanish.
There’s a ton more to say about all of these themes. In fact, I’m currently working on deep dives into many of these themes. Subscribe below so you don’t miss out.
Lima as a Gateway to the Rest of Peru
Lima has restaurants featuring regional specialities from all over Peru. They are also a good opportunity for you to try dishes you might not otherwise encounter in your trip.
Amazonian Food was a big trend a few years ago and remains popular. There are two options just blocks from each other-El Encanto de la Selva and El Bijao. Both offer a variety of jungle dishes and the ability to try jungle fruits and fish.
Food from the Northern Coast has really taken off. Just about every new cevichería nowadays in Lima seems to be Northern style. Cumpa, Pueblo Viejo, and Fiesta are three of the premiere Northern style restaurants.
Picantería food in the Arequipa style can be found in restaurants like La Estrellita del Sur and Rinconcito Punto y Sabor Arequipa.
More to Come
First, if you missed this story about how I personally got to know Lima’s food scene, check it out. These two pieces are meant to go together.
This post represents some of the starting points that I used to dig deeper into Lima’s food scene. Over the next few months, I will feature more in-depth stories about the constantly evolving food in Lima in addition to stories about food in Arequipa, the Sacred Valley, Iquitos, and the Northern Coast.
I’m working on a couple of stories that I’m especially excited about where we’ll get close to some of Lima’s chefs.
Look for in-depth neighborhood guides soon. The first couple won’t focus on the neighborhoods that might expect. If you’re not a subscriber yet, subscribe today so you don’t miss out.
I’m continue to write about my impressions of restaurants we recently visited in the restaurant notes (new note every Thursday).
The restaurants mentioned are just for examples. I also tried to not list any restaurant more than once which accounts for some of the omissions. My guidebook features a more comprehensive indexing of restaurants for each category.