Lima is a cool coastal city that’s rough around the edges, with pockets of charm and beautiful views. Small crowds of tourists crowd around the palace in Old Lima to watch the changing of the guards each day at noon, which is part brass band concert and part actual changing of the guards, but it’s definitely all show. Miraflores, the chic beachfront neighborhood with the city’s most modern shopping mall, boasts the fanciest hotels, nicest cafés, and chicest boîtes, as well as some pretty seedy looking casinos on every corner.
Bordering Miraflores is the new and hip neighborhood of Barranco — writers and travelers have likened it to the Brooklyn of Lima, but that’s leaving out part of the story. Barranco was once where wealthy Limeans had second homes, and those homes now sit in disrepair right next to gleaming new, modern apartment complexes with ocean views. Then, there’s San Isidro, the financial heart of Lima, though that’s not to say it’s filled with tall buildings and little else. There are modern apartment buildings, residential streets with tons of greenery, and cool eateries throughout.
Despite its reputation as a mere stopover city for tourists heading to Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu, Lima is starting to become a destination in itself, and for good reason. Here are five (of the many) bites that won me over last month.
Breakfast: Ease into the life of the city with an espresso and a heavy dose of people-watching at Café Haiti. Before any naysayers pipe up, it should be known that Café Haiti needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Diners hear as much English, German, and French as they do Spanish because the bistro-style sidewalk tables and bow-tied waiters have been around for nearly 50 years. It’s packed with tourists, local businesspeople, and quietly gossiping tables all day, and is a popular place to start a night out. But their strong kick of coffee in the morning comes with a cast of characters to start any good day of exploring.
Lunch: Rafael Osterling is one of Lima’s celebrated chefs, if behind Gastón Acurio in international renown. His chic and casual El Mercado is a prime lunch spot for enjoying not only mouthwatering dishes, but for taking advantage of Lima’s stunning Southern Hemisphere weather. The architecture is modern and cool, with rustic touches like dark wood cabinets, stone floors, white wire chairs, and an easy indoor/outdoor atmosphere. Of course, the food is excellent, with traditional Peruvian dishes that need no update on offer. The restaurant is known for its ceviche and other seafood dishes like shrimp soup, Peruvian causas, and scallops.
Evening Drinks: There was little that could have pulled us away from the evening drinks and snacks we had at Cala Restaurante right on the beach in Barranco. The restaurant is ultra-sleek and at night, it becomes a very see-and-be-seen scene, but around the time of sundown, only a few small tables were filled and the focus was all on the myriad of oranges and yellows splayed across the water. Of course, the Pisco sours were delectable and their bar menu consisted of classic dishes like causas and sushi with a Peruvian spin. (Photo courtesy of Jon Jackson)
Dinner: Gastón Acurio is arguably Lima’s best known and most celebrated chef. His La Mar Cebicheria has outposts throughout Latin America as well as in San Francisco and New York. But his first restaurant, Astrid y Gastón, has been called the Spago of Lima, which is to say it’s an endlessly worthwhile and delicious meal despite the fact that the chef is pulled in many more directions now.
Our menu consisted of traditional causas (a familiar dish after a week in Peru); grilled alpaca; a lightly grilled butterfish with artichokes, chorizo, and a creamy rice with asparagus; and lamb prepared three ways (each of which were better than the last). Finally, a brightly colored, very '70s-inspired little set of drawers was placed on the table and four drawers were opened to reveal a selection of very small, very flavorful desserts — the best of which were the two small alfajores cookies. Tip: Sit in the back room where the wine is stored and ask for recommendations from the walls, which are organized by country. (Photo courtesy of Fliclr/LWY)
Dinner and Drinks: If you’d rather do dinner first and drinks after, head to LA 73 in Barranco. The atmosphere is easygoing and funky, and the kitchen churns out delicious, hearty dishes like a rich corn cake with shredded beef, succulent chicken soup, and a truly indulgent ravioli filled with sweet carrots and buttery spinach. The restaurant may not be gaining international renown, but that’s not for lack of style or talent in the kitchen. It’s the perfect place to set up camp for dinner, drinks, and churros — which are ridiculously good and filled with a creamy caramel. It’s relaxed and filled with locals.