I was excited to get back to Lima after having been there very briefly with my mom on our Peru trip three years ago. What I mostly remember was the delicious food we ate while there, the great weather we had (despite the fact that we were there during the winter when the city is usually completely overcast), and feeling pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the city that most people don't like and suggest skipping.
Lima is Peru's capital, situated on the coast in the middle of the country. It doesn't feel like a beach town though, because it is set upon cliffs towering upon the vast Pacific Ocean. As mentioned above, for about six months a year, it is totally overcast but does not rain (a phenomenon that I'm sure is caused by El Niño- what isn't?!). We stayed in Miraflores, which is a pretty and bustling neighborhood full of restaurants, bars, shops, parks, tall apartment buildings, and expensive condos and houses. We were told by a friend of the family, whom we met up with and who has lived there for several years, that as a Peruvian, if you've made it to Miraflores, you've made it in life. I can see why this is the case!
Lima also has an attractive old downtown area, with colonial buildings and a cathedral situated around - what else?- the Plaza de Armas. Barranco, the 'bohemian' neighborhood where artists have their galleries, is also full of character and a great place to walk around, albeit a bit further from the center. Sprinkled around this huge city are some of the country's best museums and upscale shops. Bottom line: there is a lot to do in Lima, but all I could think about was the restaurants. There was no doubt in my mind that our stay in Lima was going to be a food crawl. I had several restaurants picked out that I wanted to try/return to, and my biggest concern was how we were going to manage to eat that much food in only a few days! To add to this serious concern, Nick had acquired some kind of stomach bug on our last day in Huaraz, and was in a lot of pain when we got to Lima. So much so that we spent our first day there at the Ricardo Palma Clinic making sure it wasn't appendicitis! Turns out it was just a good old case of travelers' GI that was treatable with Cipro, and Nick's tummy was back in action in no time.
So, without further ado, here's a photo tour of the mouth-watering food and drinks we enjoyed during our three-day stay in Lima... (do not read on if you are hungry!)
Day 1: Huaringas (Miraflores) for some of Lima's best pisco sours. Pisco is the national liquor, and it's quite strong. Peru's famous drink, the pisco sour, is made with fresh lime juice and simple syrup, shaken up with egg whites for some texture and foam, and topped with a few drops of Angostura bitters. It's a deliciously fresh drink that is all too drinkable! There are many variations on the classic, and Huaringas has a great selection. I tried the maracuyá sour (passion fruit) and another kind that was made with a type of fruit from the jungle. I was happy to find out that drinks were double for the price of a single until 9 pm, plus they have family-sized appetizers, so we ordered anticuchos (beef heart kebabs- a classic Peruvian dish) and marinated chicken kabobs, making for a great first dinner in Lima.
Day 2: La Mar (Miraflores) for lunch. Limeños love to lunch, and they love their fresh seafood, especially ceviche. Many restaurants are not even open for dinner, but you'll find people out to lunch until 4 or 5 pm! La Mar was one of my (and my mom's) favorites during my 2008 visit. It's one of the many creations of Gastón Acurio, the world-renowned Peruvian chef who has created quite a name for himself in the international dining scene. In 2008, I was lucky enough to have dinner at Astrid y Gaston, his original restaurant in Lima. La Mar's dining room is open and modern and the creative menu is fish- and shellfish-based, with a big emphasis on ceviche and a visible Japanese influence. I've been thinking about this restaurant for over three years now, and was beside myself with excitement about going back. My second visit did not disappoint: upon being seated, we were served a basket of plaintain, potato, and sweet potato chips with three kinds of delicious ají dipping sauces. Next we enjoyed a simple but delicious ceviche, scallops served in the shell with a "salteado" sauce, and a creative shrimp tempura sushi, as well as a pisco-based bloody mary and a chiclano (pisco, ginger ale, and lime). For those of you in San Francisco, you are lucky enough to have a La Mar: go immediately! For the New Yorkers, La Mar is coming to you shortly. Definitely check it out, preferably when I am there visiting you!
Day 2: LA73 (Barranco) for dinner. This was a great meal, not least of all because we were taken there by Nick's good friend Matt's wife, who is from Lima. Matt spent a year in Lima and while there met his wife Fio. We had never met her, but were really excited to be able to meet her for the first time and enjoy dinner together. LA73 reminds me of a spot you'd find in New York: sleek and simple design, local art on the walls, short but smart menu written on the chalkboard above huge mirrors. The dishes are Peruvian classics, modernized: not too many ingredients like you find on many modern fusion menus, but everything was cooked perfectly and full of flavor. We enjoyed various causas (different kinds of grilled meat and fish on a spoonful of soft, but not mashed, potato), avocado/potato/octopus (palta/papa/pulpo) salad, a Peruvian take on the American cheesesteak on delicious crusty bread with an ají dipping sauce, and of course, pisco sours. But the real highlight of this meal (aside from the company) was the churros: perfectly fried tube-shaped pieces of dough covered in cinnamon and sugar, filled with manjar (dulce de leche) and accompanied by a chocolate dipping sauce. I die.
Day 3: Maido (Miraflores) for a late lunch. One thing that's really interesting about Peruvian cuisine, especially prominent in Lima, is the Japanese influence. Many of the country's most well known chefs specialize in Peruvian-Japanese dishes, and awesome sushi and other Japanese specialties can be found in Lima. The combination of Peru's expert use of different types of peppers, potatoes, and corn, with Japanese cuisine's masterful handling of fish and shellfish makes for an exquisite outcome. Matt (Nick's friend) recommended Maido to us as his favorite restaurant in Lima, so there was no way we were going to miss it. We walked in at about 3 pm (of course there were several people in there lunching!), and immediately thought, uh oh, we're a bit out of our league here: this place is fancy. But in typical Peruvian fashion, we were welcomed, despite the fact that we were wearing our casual travelers outfits. Nick ordered 25-hour braised short ribs, while I opted for one sushi roll with pork belly/cole slaw and another with tempura onion, very thinly sliced beef, avocado, and shrimp. Hands down the best sushi I've ever had. I'm not sure I want to eat sushi that does not have beef or pork belly on it ever again!
Day 3: Ayahuasca Bar (Barranco) for an early-evening cocktail. This is the most gorgeous and creatively decorated bar I've ever been to. It's not even fair to call it a bar: it's practically a museum. It's in a beautiful mansion and has several rooms, each decorated uniquely with some of the most amazing furniture, lighting, and artwork I've ever seen. We were there early and one of the waiters gave us a tour of the entire place, during which we took a ton of photos-- it's simply too photogenic not to. Here we enjoyed (more) fruity pisco sours and a complimentary plate of classic Peruvian appetizers.
As you can see, our 2011 Lima Food Crawl was a success! If you like food and enjoy trying new cuisines, you have to make Lima a stop on your Peru itinerary. I am somewhat irritated by the bad rep that this city gets; I find Lima to have all the attractions of a large, cosmopolitan city without any of the attitude or snobiness. We walked into all of these restaurants without a reservation, dressed quite casually, and were treated extremely well. The service was top-notch and the food to die for. You bet we'll be back; I've barely scratched the surface of the tasty dishes Lima has to offer!