After a relaxing and recharging 10 days in Florida, and an all-too-brief layover in our most recent hometown of Atlanta, we arrived in Lima for the beginning of the end of our trip. We were surprised how easy it was to get here. Just a 6 hour flight from Atlanta — shorter than our drive home to Florida for holidays — with no change in time zones and loads of movies to watch along the way, and before we knew it — Bienvenidos a Peru!
To be frank, Lima was not our favorite place. It’s shrouded in grey skies half the year, it’s crowded and polluted, there is a serious lack of public transit making (unmetered) taxi rides a requirement to get around, and our guesthouse happened to share a wall with a night club with live salsa music until about 4:30 AM Thursday-Sunday. There is literally one bus line, going down a highway locals call “The Ditch.” For cultured people, there are museums and baroque churches to visit. For example, in Central Lima we visited the Catedral San Francisco, with an impressive collection of bones down in the catacombs and a huge fresco of the Last Supper where Jesus and the disciples are feasting on cuy (guinea pig)! But compared to other big cities, Lima is lackluster.
Two things caused us to linger. For one, we liked the neighborhood we stayed in — Miraflores, as well as neighboring Barranco — for it’s walkability, parks, and beautiful seaside malecon (seafront promenade). We walked or jogged the malecon every day of our stay, watching old folks walking their dogs, kids flying kites, and couples canoodling at the Parque del Amor.
But Lima’s incredible restaurants are what kept us in place for almost a week. As Anthony Bourdain noted on his latest trip to Peru on Parts Unknown, “[Lima] has long been considered to be one of the best food scenes in all of South America.” As our “must try” list grew, we kept extending our stay.
Sandwich-and-juice-bars seem to be a thing here, sort of like burgers and Cokes back home. At the old-school Bar Cordano, around the corner from the Plaza de Armas in Centro Lima, we ate sandwiches de jamon del pais (country ham sandwiches) along with the Peruvian national beverage, chicha morada, aka Purple Drank. It’s made from boiling purple corn, pineapple, and spices such as clove and cinnamon into a sort of mulled corn tea. Alberto, our extremely gracious guesthouse owner in Paracas, drinks it daily for its antioxidantes. We had another excellent ham sandwich at Sandwiches Monstrous in Barranco (thanks to reader Rita for the recommendation!).
At La Lucha, a sandwich shop owned by Peruvian super-chef Gaston Acurio on Parque John F. Kennedy, we had a delicious chicharrón (deep fried pork ribs) sandwich, fresh juices, and maybe the best papas fritas (french fries) we’ve had in our lives. We ate here a few times and everything we had here was great.
Peruvian Classics — raw fish, grilled chicken, and so many potatoes!
We had a simple dinner in Miraflores at Rincon Chami, a casual diner serving up the classics of criollo cooking. We shared aji de gallina, chicken stewed in a creamy pepper sauce, and tacu tacu, a brick of yesterday’s rice and beans fried in a pan, often topped with egg.
At the end of Avenida Jose Larco in Miraflores lies the Larcomar, an upscale shopping mall built into the seaside cliffs of Miraflores. It’s mostly filled with western chains, but there are a few good spots here, including another branch of La Lucha, and Pardo’s — a Peruvian chain that serves up delicious pollo a la brasa with a spectacular view of the ocean. Highly recommended around sunset!
Seafood is big in Lima, especially ceviche, raw fish that’s marinated in lime juice, red onion, and aji peppers, with a wedge of sweet potato and corn alongside. We enjoyed the plate we had at Cevichiera El Lobo del Mar, a no-frills, family owned spot around the corner from the Larcomar. We washed it down with an Inca Cola, the Peruvian soft drink that looks like nuclear waste and tastes like bubblegum.
You guys know we love hitting up the local markets. They’re a great way to get off the tourist trail and get a little local flavor. The Mercado Surquillo, just on the other side of The Ditch from Miraflores, is full of good eats. While we were there it was fresa (strawberry) season, selling for as low as 2 soles ($.75) a kilo. We stopped at one of the food stalls for lunch and tried causa, sort of a mashed potato terrine stuffed with chicken salad. Causa would make a good dish to take to a picnic/tailgate!
On the recommendation of Niko, an interesting guy who drove his motorcycle from Vancouver to Lima and now mans the front desk at the guesthouse we stayed at, we had our last lunch at Samantha’s Comida Criollo. Here, the chalkboard menu of dishes change by the day, even by the hour, depending on what’s available. If you don’t show up before 1 PM you might not find a seat. We had a delicious bowl of chupe de camarones (a shrimp, corn, and potato chowder), along with a palta rellena (an avocado stuffed with chicken salad), and a pair of alfajores (caramel stuffed cookies) for dessert.
Coffee and other bebidas
Peru produces a lot of great coffee, but unfortunately a lot of it is only for export, leaving us mostly stuck with Nescafe. We did find a few good spots for real coffee, though. The coffee shop connected to the bookstore on Parque Kennedy, near La Lucha, serves up a cortado (half espresso and half milk) perfecto. I also had an excellent Peruvian pour-over coffee at Bisseti in Barranco, and a another great cortado at El Pan de la Chola, a top-notch Miraflores bakery that also serves fancy sandwiches and Pervuian craft brews.
At Manolo, a 45-year-old Avenue Larco institution, we dipped piping hot churros into thick, rich, chocolate caliente. This wasn’t some powdered hot-chocolate mix, this was real deal coat-the-back-of-your-spoon melted chocolate.
Finally, the local cerveza isn’t very good but everybody seems to make a really good Pisco Sour. Made with pisco — the local grape brandy — fresh lime juice, simple syrup, egg whites, and a few drops of bitters on top of the foam, they’ll kick you on your butt. One of our bartenders told us Pisco Sours are like breasts, one is too few, three is too many.
Anticuchos means anything cooked on a kebab, but in Peru it typically means anticuchos de corazón, or skewered beef heart. I know we just lost some people there, but don’t knock it ’til you try it. Heart is a really flavorful, really lean meat that doesn’t taste “organ-y” at all. It just tastes like a more beefy filet mignon, in my opinion. We tried our first version at Anticucheria Grimanesa, run by a woman who started selling them out of a street cart, but attracted such a following that the local government forced her into a brick-and-mortar shop. The menu here was simple — 2 kebabs, 3 kebabs, a side of corn, a soda. Skyler and I split the plate of 3 and it was more meat than we could handle.
A few days later, on my birthday, we treated ourselves to a nice night out at Panchita, another Gaston Acurio venture, where we gorged on delicious tamales, more antichuchos, and grilled chicken with chimichurri. We washed it down with a glass of their take on sangria, made with Purple Drank, pisco, and tangerine juice. Like many places in Peru, the portions here are ENORMOUS, and we ordered so much food we didn’t eat the next day.
So … whose anticuchos will reign supreme?
We give the ever-so-slight edge to Panchita. Their anticuchos were trimmed thinner, providing more char and marinade surface area in each bite. But, we love the no-frills atmosphere of Anticucheria Grimanesa too. You really can’t go wrong, just follow your heart!
Whew…did we really eat all that in just a week? Still, we really only scratched the surface of the Lima dining scene. There are many restaurants here where you can easily drop $200/couple on a fancy tasting menu. That didn’t fit the budget this time, but considering what an easy flight it is, maybe we’ll pop back down to Lima sometime for an all-you-can-eat weekend. And when we’ll come when the weather’s better.