Often dubbed “La Gris” (The Gray) because it’s almost always shrouded in fog, Lima has long been considered just a gateway to other attractions such as mystical Machu Picchu, the ancient city of Cuzco, and the towering Andean mountains in the Sacred Valley. Only in recent years have people started to pound Lima’s pavements with more enthusiasm.
Many of them come for the unofficial headquarters of Peruvian culinary revival: the revolutionary restaurant Central, which consistently ranks on the 50 Best list and is considered one of the top dining destinations in South America. Chef and founder Virgilio Martinez creates inventive, elevated Peruvian plates highlighting traditional flavors while working to save indigenous ingredients from extinction. “When I heard about what [Martinez] was doing back in South America, I was blown away,” says Juan Luis Martinez (no relation), Venezuelan-born chef and cofounder of Lima-based Mérito. But he wasn’t the only one taking note.
Central, along with Maido, Astrid & Gastón, and other Peruvian culinary institutions, has transformed Lima into a gastronomic hot spot. And with an evolving food scene, a wave of new shops and hotels has emerged, transforming Peru’s capital from a city to stop in to a city to stay in. Here’s what to do on your next visit.
Coffee connoisseurs Roberto Larrabure, Pedro Solis, and Jay Muente opened Café Negro, a nook of a coffee shop inside the unassuming El Capullo Market in the bohemian Barranco neighborhood, late last year. The tiny kiosk, which is wedged between market stalls, serves up fragrant coffee brewed from organic Peruvian beans. “We are passionate about working with local producers, who can exhibit their product,” says Solis. Grab one of the wooden tables that spill into the marketplace. Then order a coffee, a sweet, slightly creamy lacuma fruit juice, and an acai bowl and watch local life pass by.
Central, Kjolle, and Bar Mayo
Travelers book a reservation at Central before they even book their plane tickets to Peru. Virgilio Martinez is one of the most influential chefs in South America right now, and a meal here will more than live up to the hype. If the tables are all booked, check out Kjolle, the less formal, seafood-driven restaurant upstairs opened by his wife, culinary queen Pia Leon. Either way, be sure to go early and grab a botanical cocktail from the moody Mayo bar downstairs.
Want to know where Virgilio Martinez eats during his limited time off? Look no further than Mérito, the cool, earthy restaurant opened by Venezuelan chefs José Luis Saumeo and Juan Luis Martinez. “Locals like to share food and we [at Mérito] like to eat that way, too,” says Martinez of the sharing-style plates. Martinez, who used to work at Central, cooks up Peruvian dishes with a Venezuelen spin—like quesadillas made with local yucca and goat cheese, fish tartare with Peruvian amaranth-and-quinoa crackers, and Venezualen-style cornmeal arepas—and pairs them with funky wines.
Opened by Noma alum André Patsias, Statera offers up fancy fare in a sophisticated industrial space. Chef Patsias, a local, prepares dishes like octopus with quinoa and Peruvian lobster with Andean chestnut, which are served by waiters in jet black outfits. The à la carte menu has some solid options, but the tasting menu offers a thoughtful array of new flavors and is certainly worth the extra cost.
Minutes from Lima’s breezy promenade, which winds along the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean, this new hotel’s location in the ritzy Miraflores neighborhood couldn’t be better. The 168-room Aloft, which opened in late 2018, is bright, modern, and artsy with sprawling murals on the outside walls; it offers everything you want from an uncomplicated urban stay, including a pool. The simple rooms are reasonably priced (starting at $109), which means you can splurge on Central’s tasting menu.
Bottles of blended herbs and plants line the shelves of Barranco’s airy essential oil shop, Herbario, which was inspired by old apothecaries. The handmade Peruvian products incorporate local ingredients like aguaje (a type of bitter fruit with yellow pulp) and muna (mint) and are devised to ease various ailments. The packaging is also super chic, so be sure to take some bottles home.
An art gallery and store, Puna stocks a range of local, design-focused goods such as rugs, bowls, scarves, and totes. Opened by artist and designer Yerko Zlatar and interior designer Mariana Otero, their aim is to promote Peruvian art, design, and craft. Expect to find cushions made from natural fabrics, incense, ceramic soap holders, and more in a contemporary, light-filled space.
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