It rarely rains in Peru’s capital city, the second largest desert city in the world after Cairo. However, a cold Pacific Ocean current and high humidity keep skies overcast much of the year. Although the weather can sometimes be gloomy, the city’s vibe is anything but. Limeños have an infectious enthusiasm for life and for food—particularly ceviche (fresh raw seafood and hot chilies marinated in citrus juice) and frothy pisco sours (the national cocktail made with Muscat-grape brandy). Ride the Metropolitano rapid transit bus system to explore this sprawling coastal city and experience its distinctive Criollo flavors—a blend of indigenous, African, and Spanish.
Plaza Mayor and the Historic Centre of Lima World Heritage Site
Photograph by HUGHES Herva, Getty Images
Lima's main square, Plaza Mayor (or Plaza de Armas) is the birthplace and colonial heart of the city, and part of the Historic Centre of Lima UNESCO World Heritage site. To reach the square, start at Plaza San Martín and walk north along Jirón de la Unión, the city center's bustling pedestrian-only thoroughfare. Surrounding Plaza Mayor are some of Lima's most important heritage sites, including the Palacio de Gobierno (presidential palace), and the Cathedral of Lima. A couple of blocks northeast of the park is the Church of San Francisco, where you can tour the catacombs—the final resting place of an estimated 30,000 souls.
Unexpected food option: If you've dined at one of L'Eau Vive's locations in another city (such as Rome or Marseille), then you know the drill. If not, you're in for a treat. The simple food—primarily French classics, such as onion soup, quiche Lorraine, and coquilles St. Jacques (broiled scallops in a creamy sauce topped with bubbling cheese)—is prepared and served by cloistered French Carmelite nuns. The daily lunch special (served 12:30 to 3 p.m. daily, except Sundays) includes a starter, main course, drink, and dessert for less than ten dollars. Pay a little extra and go for dinner (7:30 to 9:30 p.m.)—that's when the sisters serenade guests with a sweet rendition of "Ave Maria." Reservations are recommended. The restaurant is located in a small pink building, steps away from Iglesia de San Pedro (St. Peter's Church).
Trendy food option: Order a pisco sour Ernest Hemingway-style—in an oversize catedral glass (big enough to hold two standard cocktails)—at the cocktail lounge inside the old-school Gran Hotel Bolivar (pictured above). The Bolivar bar makes the seemingly endless list of Hemingway's watering holes, and the bartenders here make one of Lima's best piscos.
Classic food option: Don Juan, a big and bustling eatery near the Cathedral of Lima—it gets packed during weekday lunch—serves generous portions of authentic Peruvian favorites. Try the causa rellena (a layered yellow potato tapa filled with seafood or chicken salad) and a tall glass of fresh suco de morango (strawberry juice).
By Maryellen Kennedy Duckett
Photograph by Nicholas Gill, Alamy
From the historic city center, ride the Metropolitano or drive along the Vía Expresa (express highway) south to Miraflores. This modern hotel-and-tourist district boasts several shopping centers—including the multi-level Larcomar, well known for its swanky shops and ocean views. Miraflores also is where you'll find many of the city's top cevicherias (ceviche cafés), particularly along the tree-lined Avenida La Mar. Perhaps the biggest attraction, however, is the district's green spaces. Parque Central and Parque Kennedy form the leafy heart of Miraflores. On the neighborhood's western edge, El Malecón—a six-mile-long ribbon of parks and recreational paths—stretches along the cliffs overlooking the Pacific.
Classic food option: At seaside Costa Verde it can be difficult to settle on a single seafood, risotto, or pasta dish—so don't. Instead, go for a midday meal (12:30 to 4 p.m.) and order the lunch buffet. Available Monday through Saturday, the bountiful spread typically includes multiple fresh seafood options—including ceviche and sushi—plus salads, pasta and risotto dishes, desserts, and more. You also get to choose either an appetizer, a pisco sour, or a carob—a creamy, non-alcoholic cocktail made with algarrobina, or carob syrup, from the algaroba tree. The buffet is pricey, so take your time sampling different items and savoring the Pacific Ocean views.
Trendy food option: Just off the coast is Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino's Ámaz. There are no sea views here; instead, you'll be treated to the exotic tastes of the Amazon such as ensalada de chonta (a salad made with sustainable pijuayo, or peach palm hearts) and tacacho Ámaz (mashed green plantains, crunchy beef jerky, and pork rinds). Reservations are recommended. Book a table online, and use the restaurant's handy glossary of Amazonian ingredients to prepare for your visit. Opens at 12:30 p.m. daily.
Unexpected food option: Further north in Miraflores (about 15 minutes by car from El Malécon) is Harry's Fuente de Soda. Don't let the "soda fountain" name fool you: This is not a mom-and-pop ice cream shop, although the ice cream is homemade and the generous-size brownie sundae bowl qualifies as a meal. Menu items—such as quinoa burgers, pesto fettuccine with sirloin au gratin, spicy chicken croquettes, and turkey with mashed potatoes—are artfully presented on square white plates and bowls, adorned with colorful drizzled sauces.
Photograph by TucaPress/Getty Images
From Miraflores, walk south on the Malecon to Barranco, one of Lima's trendiest neighborhoods. The former seaside resort for the city's elite is reemerging as an artsy, hip neighborhood. Barranco draws in tourists with its spectacular sunsets and sea views, surf beaches, historic boutique hotels, small art galleries, intimate cocktail bars, avant-garde eateries, and must-see museums including MAC Lima, the new contemporary art museum opened in 2013. Follow the stone Bajada de los Baños walkway toward the sea to see—and cross over—Barranco's iconic Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs). Legend has it if you make a wish and cross the 102-foot-long wooden bridge without taking a breath, your wish will come true.
Classic food option: Sit on the balcony at Santos Café & Espirituosos for the views of the Bridge of Sighs and for the house specialty pisco-based cocktails. The fizzy, macerated chilcanos (pisco, ginger ale, and fruit) hit the spot on a hot summer day. Or, try a tangy pisco punch made with Andean aguaymanto (gooseberry).
Unexpected food option: The aptly named Twist Gourmet Burger Bar puts a Peruvian spin on some of its avant-garde creations. Try the alpaca burger served with fried sweet potato and salsa criollo (tangy red onions mixed with sweet lime juice), or the Arequipena—a beef burger topped with lip-searing rocoto (hot chili pepper) sauce and Peruvian cheese.
Trendy food option: The cozy, wood-paneled dining room inside artsy Hotel B—a restored belle époque mansion—evokes the look and feel of Barranco's golden era as a seaside enclave for Lima's elite. Internationally celebrated Peruvian chef Oscar Velarde designed the Peruvian-Mediterranean menu, which features seasonal ingredients and fresh-caught seafood. Reservations are a must, as is sharing a selection of small plates, such as seared tuna served over an almond and garlic purée or grilled octopus and crostini with avocado and anchovies.
Punta Hermosa, Peru
Photograph by Susana Raab, The New York Times/Redux
Lima’s best beaches and sunniest skies are south of the city. In summer (November to March), Punta Hermosa’s three beaches—Playa Norte, Playa Negro, and Playa Blanco—are buzzing with surfers, swimmers, and sunbathers. On weekends during the busy beach season, you can mingle, munch, and sip pisco sours and blue chilcanos with the surf crowd at La Curva Food Truck Court. The mobile kitchen enclave typically hosts about a dozen vendors, including Baruva, a cocktail bar on wheels, and La Burreria, a build-your-own burrito place.
Classic food option: Trattoria Don Angelo is a multigenerational labor of love for the Cicala family. Opened in 2004, the restaurant celebrates the Peruvian-Italian culinary heritage of family patriarch Don Angelo Cicala Carella. Try one of chef Doña Carmela Cicala’s hearty Peruvian stews such as chupe de mariscos—a thick soup packed with local seafood (such as shrimp, squid, white fish), potatoes, and corn, topped with a fried egg. Or, go directly to the dessert menu and order a slice of torta Don Angelo (a gooey chocolate layer cake dripping in caramel sauce) or another one of pastry chef Nina Cicala’s homemade creations.
Trendy food option: It’s no wonder there’s a relaxed, homey vibe at Don Nico Steaks and Burgers. The rustic, stone space is the former home of Don Nico owner Nicanor González, who collected comfy couches and chairs, framed prints, and accessories from various family members to furnish much of the restaurant. Most guests settle in for a leisurely meal, so arrive early (opens at 1 p.m. for lunch and 7 p.m. for dinner Tuesday to Friday, and at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; closed Mondays). The house specialty is beef (such as tender rib eye steaks and juicy burgers) grilled over fire-red charcoals. Add a side of hand-cut Peruvian Tumbay potatoes or a caprese salad topped with handcrafted mozzarella.
Unexpected food option: La Casa De Gloria is one of those places that will become “your” breakfast, lunch, or dinner place—or all three—if you spend a week at the beach. The menu includes several fresh fruit options, such as a seasonal fruit bowl topped with flaxseed, chia, sesame seeds, wheat germ, and honey. Credit cards are accepted, but if you want to make this place your own, owner Gloria Sayan suggests paying in Peruvian soles. “Not that we don’t accept [U.S.] dollars,” she says, “but having soles and knowing the value of every coin and every bill will make you look like you are here long enough to know your way around.”
La Punta, Callao
Photograph by Stephen Collector, Alamy
Considered part of metropolitan Lima, Callao is a separate province located along the coast west of Lima's city center. The province is home to Peru's largest port, Lima's international airport, the city of Callao, several islands, and smaller districts such as La Punta. Originally a fishing village, La Punta is an upscale neighborhood sitting almost entirely on a peninsula. Spend an afternoon here after the fog clears to see the Fortress Real Felipe, a Spanish colonial fort built between 1747 and 1774 on a promontory overlooking the harbor. Tour the Peruvian Army Museum inside the fort, take a boat ride around the harbor, and visit the nearby Peruvian Naval Museum.
Classic food option: Make reservations for lunch on the outdoor terrace at El Mirador (open 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. daily), located upstairs and overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Club Náutico. Fresh seafood is the specialty of the house. Order dishes for sharing, such as fried calamari, arroz con mariscos (rice with seafood) and ceviche quarto (a four-plate ceviche sampler), and a glass of passion fruit juice. After lunch, walk along the pier and small beach to look out over the water, sailboats, and the neighboring Peruvian Naval Academy.
Trendy food option: See the naval vessels entering, leaving, and anchored in the port of Callao from the dining room at Cabos, Restaurante del Puerto. The harborside restaurant is known for its fresh seafood, Argentinian steak, and other international dishes, such as Milanese osso buco (tender veal shanks braised in white wine). Try the Peruvian jalea porteña, a mound of lightly breaded and fried fish, squid, prawns, octopus, and mussels.
Unexpected food option: From La Punta, drive about 30 minutes east to the Museo Larco (pictured above) for the world-class, pre-Columbian Peruvian art and artifact collection, and for lunch. The museum's terrace café gets rave reviews for its traditional Peruvian dishes, such as lomo saltado with tacu tacu (beef and vegetable stir-fry served with refried beans and rice) and suspiro limeño ("sigh of Lima"), a silky smooth caramel-like pudding topped with a fluffy liqueur meringue.
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