Lima, Peru, is one of the world’s great food cities. Find out what to eat, what to drink, and where to find the best food in Lima.
Considered one of the best food cities in the world, Lima combines the diversity of the Amazon and Andes with fresh seafood from the Pacific Ocean and the influences of its Chinese, Japanese, African, Arabic, and French immigrants. The result is a vibrant culinary scene that I found intimidating on my first visit. After all, there are so many unique dishes, outstanding restaurants, and a limited number of meals to enjoy. This is a guide to help you know where to find the best food in Lima.
What to Eat in Lima
Although Lima gets fresh vegetables and fruit year-round from the Amazon, Andes, and local sources, dishes here revolve around meat, potatoes, and rice. Salads are an afterthought, and veggies are often an accent.
Prepare to be wowed by the diversity of flavors. Dishes often include ingredients you won’t likely find elsewhere. Watch for some of the country’s 4,000 different potato varieties or 55 types of corn to make an appearance on your plate. Not to mention unique fruits or meats like cuy (guinea pig).
Ceviche is One of the Best Foods in Lima
Said to have originated with the Moche, a pre-Incan civilization in Peru and Ecuador, ceviche consists of the morning’s catch of fresh fish marinated in lime juice and spicy rocoto peppers. It is then garnished with onion, corn, and sweet potato. You can find it on the menu at restaurants serving traditional dishes or seafood.
If you want to eat like a local, drink the leche de tigre, the leftover marinade, if offered in a separate shot glass. It is better to order ceviche before lunch as it is freshest in the morning. However, don’t worry if you can’t resist having some for dinner. I did, and it was just as tasty, in my opinion.
Papa a la Huancaína is One of the Best Foods in Lima
Papa a la Huancaína features boiled Peruvian potatoes topped with a spicy cheese sauce called huancaína and a boiled egg cut in half. The sauce gets its kick from ají Amarillo, the nation’s favorite pepper, and appears in other dishes. But it’s most associated with this dish.
Restaurants usually serve papa a la huancaína as an appetizer. While you can find it at restaurants serving traditional Peruvian food, it’s also sold by street vendors.
Pollo a la Brasa is Another Top Food in Lima
Lima families that don’t indulge in chifa, on Sunday enjoy pollo a la brasa, a soy-and-spice-marinated whole roast chicken. Traditionally, the chicken comes with French fries, salad on the side, and aji verde dipping sauce. Not only is it tasty, but it’s also wallet-friendly. And it’s distinctly Peruvian.
The dish dates back to the 1940s when a Swiss immigrant decided to roast some of his chickens to earn extra cash. He set up a restaurant and sold all-you-could-eat roast chicken for a low price. Soon, others followed his example, opening restaurants in Lima. Today you’ll find restaurants dedicated to Pollo a la Brasa all over the city.
Pan con Chicharrón
Another cheap option, the pan con chicharrón, is probably one of the best late-night foods you’ll find in Lima—or anywhere. This tasty sandwich features a fried pork belly topped with sweet potato and a salsa made of onions, aji chilies, and cilantro all between thick French bread. I recommend getting it with an order of French fries if that’s an option.
Lima residents also eat pan con chicharrón for breakfast. Whether you order it early in the morning, late at night, or sometime in between, you can find pan con chicharrón at sandwich shops and food markets throughout the city.
Lomo Saltado Serves some of the Best Food in Lima
Inspired by the Chinese immigrants who came to Peru in the 19th century, lomo saltado is a stir fry of soy sauce-marinated tenderloin, sirloin, onions, and red peppers. The two versions I had both came topped with a fried egg and potatoes (or French fries) on the side. Like Chinese food in the US, it can also be served with white rice.
Lomo saltado is one of the most popular forms of chifa. Ask anyone born in Lima, and they’ll tell you chifa is a distinctly Peruvian cuisine. However, many chifa dishes look similar to what you’d get at an old-school Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. More on that in the next section.
A fusion of classic Chinese dishes and local ingredients, chifa is the Sunday dinner of choice for many Peruvians. Families share large plates of dumplings, noodles, stir-fries, and fried rice at restaurants dedicated solely to chifa. Or they’ll make their favorite dishes at home to share on a smaller scale.
Because chifa are so popular, you’ll find chifa restaurants everywhere in Lima. These range from higher-end restaurants with sleek interiors to no-frills mom-and-pop shops. However, the dishes are mostly the same. While you won’t see kung pao chicken on any chifa menu, the dishes should seem familiar. Think lo mein, fried rice, and safe selections from a 1970s Chinese restaurant.
Nikkei Serves some of the Best Peruvian-Chinese Food in Lima
Just as chifa is a Peruvian-Chinese fusion, Nikkei pairs Japanese techniques with Peruvian ingredients. Many of these ingredients come from the Amazon and Andes. As a result, the presentation and flavor combinations can’t be duplicated elsewhere. In fact, several Lima restaurants rank among the best restaurants in the world. This includes Central, the world’s second-best restaurant according to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and Maido, which takes place No. 11.
Dishes vary at Nikkei restaurants but look for sushi showcasing colorful potatoes, peppers, and corn. Chefs also put a Peruvian spin on Maki rolls and tiradito, thin strips of fresh fish, or add Japanese ingredients to traditional Lima favorites. Just know that you will need to make reservations well in advance at Nikkei restaurants, which will be a splurge.
Many travelers think cuy when you mention Peruvian food. While you can find guinea pigs on the menu at some restaurants, it isn’t common in Lima. If you want to try it, you’ll have more luck finding it outside of the city.
What to Drink in Lima
It isn’t just about the food in Lima. The city is known for its drinks as well. Be sure to try these beverages when you visit.
The national drink of Peru starts with three ounces of pisco, a white brandy made from Peruvian muscat grapes. Add an ounce of lime juice and an ounce of simple syrup combined with one ounce of egg white. Shake and top with three drops of aromatic bitters when poured into a glass. It’s frothy and markedly sour but oh-so-tasty. Pisco sours were my drink of choice, especially with ceviche.
For a less sour version, try the maracuya sour, which replaces some of the lime juice with passion fruit juice.
Created in 1935 by British transplant Joseph Lindley, this bright neon yellow drink is Peru’s favorite cola. It is technically lemon verbena, a combination of 13 plant-derived flavors. But most Americans, myself included, describe it as tasting like bubble gum. (Some also say cream soda.) It’s overly sweet and not something I’d seek out but worth a try.
Tip: My host told me that it was a faux pas to order a Coke with chifa. Peruvians drink Inca Kola when at a chifa restaurant. That’s just what you do.
Where to Dine in Lima
Nine of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants are in Lima, but you don’t have to eat at one of these top restaurants to have an incredible meal here. Any of these restaurants are worth seeking out.
According to The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, Central is as good as it gets, placing No. 2 on the list. (It comes in at No. 1 on the Latin American list.) The contemporary Peruvian restaurant’s tasting menu leads you through the country’s farmlands, jungles, lakes, and coastal areas, one course at a time. Be prepared to pay at least $175 per person for the 12-course experience ($250 with wine pairings). And be sure to make your reservations several months in advance.
Ortega & Huamán
Located inside the Iberostar Selection Miraflores, this restaurant wows diners with traditional Peruvian dishes like ceviche and lomo saltado. But you’ll also find grilled octopus and other Mediterranean-influenced dishes on the menu. Many of the restaurant’s casual dishes, like its ceviche, are also served upstairs at the hotel’s rooftop bar, 27 Tapas. I highly recommend visiting the bar, especially at sunset, even if it’s just for a drink before dinner downstairs.
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the Barranco neighborhood, Cala Restaurante specializes in fresh seafood and serves beef, pasta, and risotto. I suggest starting with a seafood tower or ceviche. Then, try the salmon. The excellent-but-reasonably-priced food is reason enough to visit Cala, and so are the sunsets. Make a reservation to ensure you get a table on the patio or at a window.
Maido restaurant ranks No. 11 among The World’s 50 Best Restaurants and is no less challenging to get a reservation for than Central. Helmed by chef Mitsuharu ‘Micha’ Tsumura, it features Nikkei cuisine that applies Japanese techniques to Peruvian ingredients. Choose from the Nikkei Experience ($141) or Veggie Experience ($88) tasting menus. There’s an option to add wine to the Nikkei Experience for an extra $100. Again, make your reservations early to ensure a table.
Chifa Hou Wa
For more than 25 years, friends and families have gathered around the large, red-clothed tables at Chifa Hou Wa to share platters of noodles, rice, and stir-fries. Resign yourself to the fact that you will have leftovers and go ahead and indulge. Since Huaca Pucllana is nearby, you may want to visit the ruins in the morning and drop by Chifa Hou Wa for lunch.
La Lucha Sanguchería Criolla
When I first saw La Lucha Sanguchería Criolla in Miraflores, I thought it was a 50s-style diner. But the sandwich shop is one of the best places in Lima to sample the pan con chicharrón. Since you’re already risking clogged arteries when you order this fried pork belly sandwich, go all in and order fries. The restaurant also serves chicken and ham sandwiches as well as hamburgers.
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Plan Your Trip for Dining in Lima
While you can’t possibly try everything Lima’s amazing culinary scene has to offer or visit all of the city’s best restaurants in one visit, these suggestions are a great start. If you are looking for other things to do in South America or seeking out great restaurants wherever you travel, Wander With Wonder is an excellent resource. Did I miss one of your favorite Lima finds? Please let me know in the comments below so I can try it on my next visit.