Lima in Five Meals


Indigenous ingredients and ancestral cooking techniques have shaped the menus of the city’s most renowned restaurants.

Once a blip on the world culinary map, Lima has evolved over the past decade into much more than a stopover on the way to Machu Picchu. It’s a place where Indigenous ingredients from the Andean highlands to the Amazon tell a story of cultural melting pots and influences from Europe, Africa and Asia – and where every meal is an exploration of the region’s rich heritage.

February 28, 2024
The ingredient table at Central, in Lima, Peru
The interior of Central in Lima, Peru
Central   Photos: Gustavo Vivanco


If there’s one reason Lima is the most buzzworthy culinary city on Earth, it’s Central, which was named the number–one restaurant in the world by The World’s 50 Best in 2023. Here, husband–and–wife team Virgilio Martinez and Pía León also made history, helming the first South American venue to take the top spot, and León was honoured as the first female chef to co–claim the crown. Since it opened in 2008, Central’s menu has evolved to offer a culinary journey across Peru’s diverse ecosystems, categorized by altitude – ranging from the depths of the Pacific Ocean to the lofty Andes peaks – with each dish showcasing ingredients native to these environments, from pacu fish to Amazonian nuts to sea lettuce and octopus. If it grows in Peru and it’s edible, there’s a good chance it’s on the menu.

The Black Rocks plate from Central in Lima, Peru
Black Rocks, Central   Photo: Ken Motohasi

Our tasting menu began with a dish named Black Rocks, from 10 metres below sea level (sargassum seaweed, clams and squid resembling shards of raw lapis lazuli), and culminated in a dessert of deconstructed chuncho cacao fruit (mucilage, seeds and husk) from 1,800 metres above sea level.

The flavours of each dish felt true to origin, from the saltiness of the ocean delicacies to the earthiness of the ancient tubers. Unconventional flavours are part of the experience at Central. As writer Nicholas Gill noted in the 2017 Chef’s Table episode about the restaurant: “Virgilio’s cuisine is not always about cooking food that is tasty. Sometimes there are dishes that are uncomfortable, but Virgilio feels it’s important that you have a taste of all these ingredients to understand these different regions of Peru.”

A plate from Astrid & Gastón in Lima, Peru
Astrid & Gastón   Photo: Carlos Vallejos

Astrid & Gastón

The first thing you’ll notice about the flagship restaurant of another celebrity chef couple, Peruvian Gastón Acurio and German–born Astrid Gutsche, is the grand design: palatial steps, archways and white columns leading to an expansive and airy inner courtyard of the 17th–century hacienda that originally served as a plantation house. But it’s the restaurant’s quirky charm and warmth that will stay with you long after a visit – particularly the inner courtyard “yunza” tree festively decorated with brightly coloured streamers, lanterns and presents.

And yet the real gifts are in the menu offerings. Astrid & Gastón ranked number one in the inaugural Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2013 and has been credited with starting the shift in modern Peruvian cuisine. The breadbasket here deserves its own mention: freshly baked purple cornbread filled with aguaymanto (Peruvian ground cherries), croissants stuffed with ají panca peppers, and distinctive Andean buns studded from oca tubers, all complemented by homemade butter and dips, some infused with Peruvian peppers or black mint (huacatay). Also perfect for sharing are the iconic Peking–style guinea pig bao, roasted duck breast over a green cilantro rice, and a sopa seca – a “dry stew” of crawfish and shrimp in a sea–urchin aioli that should not be missed. For dessert, save room for the famous Santa Bomba. In this show–stopping sweet ending, warm syrup is delicately poured over a sculpted chocolate orb to gracefully unveil a treasure trove of flavours and textures of turrón ice cream, smoked chocolate with palo santo, golden berries, starfruit compote and mazamorra morada pudding that tastes like blackberry pie.

Cala's inviting interior in Lima, Peru
A vibrant shrimp dish from Cala in Lima, Peru
Cala   Photos: Claire Sibonney


Cala is a rare find in a city with an extensive Pacific coastline but surprisingly few spots where you can enjoy a meal or a drink by the ocean. This sleek, contemporary restaurant is perched over a pebbled beach that’s a hot spot for surfers. Its standout feature is the outdoor terrace, which offers breathtaking views and is almost always filled with a stylish crowd.

Among the menu highlights is the Overdose ceviche, a delightful choose–your–own–adventure of traditional, cilantro, chili–cream and scallop varieties, each bursting with fresh local seafood flavours. The panko shrimp, served with sweet potato purée, and the crab–infused causa – a chilled mashed–potato terrine layered with popeye crab, avocado, tomato confit and hard–boiled egg – are also must–tries. Hot tip: Make a reservation for a late lunch and sip pisco sours, Peru’s dangerously delicious signature cocktail, as the afternoon sun sets over the Pacific.

Shrimp causa from Museo Larco Café–Restaurant in Lima, Peru
Shrimp causa, Museo Larco Café–Restaurant   Photo: Jose Vallejos

Museo Larco Café–Restaurant

Go for the treasures of ancient Peru, but stay for the exquisite meal at Museo Larco’s restaurant, overlooking the heavenly bougainvilleas and courtyard gardens of the converted 18th–century Spanish colonial mansion. The menu hits all the high notes – from shrimp causa to cappelletti made with Peruvian loche squash and ricotta – while somehow leaving room for dainty servings of passion–fruit tart and chocolate or lucuma mousse. Before you leave, make sure to check out the museum’s stunning collection of ceramics, clothing, jewellery and metalwork from the Chimú, Inca, Nazca and other empires. Don’t miss the jaw–dropping gallery of erotic pottery or the chance to wander through the museum’s visible storage – rows and rows of library–like shelving containing 30,000 meticulously catalogued ancient pottery artifacts.

An exquisite dish from Mayta in Lima, Peru
The colourful wall of bottles behind the bar at Mayta in Lima, Peru
Mayta   Photos: Carlos Vallejos; Karina Mendoza


Mayta means “noble land” in Aymara, one of the local Indigenous languages in the Andes. Chef Jaime Pesaque opened the restaurant in 2008, and in recent years he’s propelled it to new heights. Like Central, the concept is contemporary Peruvian fine dining with an emphasis on local ingredients, but the vibe is more relaxed (even if your server refolds your napkin with tongs when you’re not looking). Pesaque honed his skills at El Celler de Can Roca in Girona, Spain, and some of the most compelling dishes here are the stunning culinary illusions – a concoction of clam, asparagus and cauliflower dusted in codium that looks uncannily like a rosette–shaped succulent till it practically evaporates in your mouth; or a mochi–like dessert made with chaco, an edible clay, that resembles grey pebbles. Not surprising as a restaurant that also functions as one of the best pisco bars in Lima, Mayta’s bartenders take their drinks seriously. While the vintage wine selection is perfect, what’s more impressive are their inventive non–alcoholic drinks, made with everything from extracts of potatoes to algae and coastal pineapple.

The entrance of Hotel B, in Lima, Peru at night
Hotel B   Photo: Karina Mendoza

Where to Stay

For a stay that’s like stepping back into Lima’s glamorous early–20th–century heyday, Hotel B, in the hip Barranco neighbourhood, is the place to be. This historic two–storey belle époque mansion, built in 1914 by French architect Claude Sahut as a posh summer home, exudes eccentric charm and history and is practically a live–in art gallery, offering an upscale yet quirky vibe.

For something a little more minimal and conventional, the AC Hotel Lima Miraflores (in the adjacent and equally upscale Miraflores district) is your go–to. It’s right on the Malecón walkway that winds around Lima’s dramatic cliffs, so ask for a room with an ocean view – the sunsets over the Pacific are epic.

Excavation grounds at Huaca Pucllana in Lima, Peru
Huaca Pucllana   Photo: Giancarlo Revolledo

What to Do

Besides taking in the magnificent cliffs and ocean scenery, take your time to stroll through Barranco for its colourful main square and street art, as well as the historic centre. In the latter, you’ll see some colonial baroque and neoclassical architecture such as the iconic 1920s Gran Hotel Bolívar. There are truly special sites, given that Lima has lost many colonial buildings due to natural disasters, urban development and lack of preservation policies. Also in the historic district and not far from the government palace is Casa de Aliaga, an opulent colonial mansion turned museum.

For archaeology enthusiasts, Huaca Pucllana is an impressive pre–Incan mudbrick pyramid nestled in the modern Miraflores district that is still being excavated to turn up astonishing, mummified remains. When you’re ready to take a break from sightseeing, head to El Cacaotal in Barranco, a charming shop specializing in Peruvian chocolates, coffees and tastings.