Dining In Lima, Peru: Restaurant Alfresco

One of my favorite things to do when visiting a new city is to go straight to the locals: What should I see? How do I get around? Where should I eat? It's led me astray on occasion (the Florentines pointed to me to their favorite pizzerias, but no one told me that pizza marinara meant "no cheese"). But generally, locals are a great resource for getting the most "authentic" experience in a new place.

Lima, located on the Pacific coast of Peru, is known for its extremely fresh seafood. The city's many restaurants often showcase that bounty in ceviche, a mix of raw seafood, citrus, peppers, and often other herbs or spices. So on a brief stay in Peru's capital city with my family, we had to try a cevichería. The locals all pointed us to Alfresco, a seafood restaurant in the Miraflores district.

Alfresco's menu features an extensive array of seafood, both raw and cooked. There are various types of ceviche, tiraditos (also a raw fish dish, but the fish is sliced thinly, similar to Japanese sashimi), and even tuna tartare, but also curried salmon with fried rice, seafood risotto, and grilled steak for the fish-averse. 

We started with pisco sours, the traditional drink of Peru (though perhaps a touch too sweet as served here), and a bowl of cancha, the crispy, salty toasted corn kernels that are a favorite local snack. Our appetizer was the ceviche sampler, which includes four different versions: a traditional mixed ceviche, with octopus, scallops, fish, and shrimp; Alfresco's take, with the seafood in a creamy, spicy orange aji pepper sauce; cilantro ceviche, with the seafood in a green cilantro-and-lime sauce; and octopus ceviche, with fresh octopus mixed in a tangy white sauce. While the different sauces were flavorful, I liked the traditional ceviche most — the simple dressing of lime juice and spicy peppers allowed the freshness of the seafood to shine.

For dinner, we tried the pulpo al olivar, a cold octopus salad tossed in a creamy black-olive sauce. It was tangy and briny, though the octopus was slightly sweet, and I thought it was by far the most interesting dish we tried. We also tried the duo of tuna tataki and tartare — raw tuna marinated in soy sauce, according to Japanese style — but since I'm not a big soy sauce fan, I preferred the ceviche.

On the cooked side of the menu, we ordered the grilled snook with aji pepper and tarragon sauce, and the swordfish chateaubriand with spicy seafood. While these were both good, after eating fish in its most fresh form, it seemed unnecessary to cook it and then bury it under sauce.

To finish our meal, we tried the popurrí, a sampler of five of Alfresco's most popular desserts: flan, tres leches cake, a passion fruit cake, a chocolate torte, and suspiro a la limeña, the traditional Lima dessert of meringue and dulce de leche (or as it's called in Peru, manjar blanco). They were all delicious without being cloyingly sweet, a satisfying end to a great meal.

The restaurant's interior, with its wide wooden chairs and stone-lined walls, is rustic, though the quality of the food (and the prices) lend it a slightly more upscale air. The waitstaff is attentive and proficient in both Spanish and English. If you're looking for good, local-approved ceviche in Lima, look no further than Alfresco.