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Feb 4, 2009 09:01 PM

Eating in Peru, Recent Adventures

I just returned from a few days in Lima, Cuzco, & Ollantaytambo (January 2009).

I loved loved loved the food in Peru.

NOT from the tourist recommended restaurants, which tended to be watered down bland and kind of expensive. (Although one exception in Ollantaytambo, the dinner at my hotel the El Albergue was excellent).

I can understand why tourists would prefer to eat at these kinds of places, thinking there might be less chance of getting sick. After a few disappointments, I tossed out the guidebook recommendations and picked restaurants the way I do at home in Los Angeles, ..looks clean, smells clean and is full of locals, go for it! (The only thing I did was to avoid lettuce leaves and unpeeled raw fruits or vegetables, and of course the water).

Favorite things, in no particular order

Alpaca. Alpaca loin cooked medium rare at the El Albergue hotel restaurant. 29 soles with three sides including the green herb Huacatay and a sauce made of sauco berries (Peruvian elderberry, I had a few raw ones in Ollantaytambo also).

Choclo...the boiled corn with giant kernels from the vendors near the Ollantaytambo train station...2 Soles to Gringos. Hold the cheese.

Cancha..the toasted corn kernels, served before the meal at cebicherias.

Coca Tea. Tastes like green tea. Better than I expected. Nice also mixed with lemon grass tea. Nice side effect..appetite suppressant. But don't have more than two at night or you won'l sleep, and don't drink coffee in the morning.

Helados/Gelato from local fruits...Sauco, Chirimoya, Lucuma, Tamarindo. The Gelateria "4d" in the Lima Airport was the best I found. They seem to be open 24 hours.

Ceviche (Cebiche) in Lima! I was wandering around lost (in the vicinity of the Repsol station at Arenals and Rep. de Chile, and ate at a place called something like Rey del Mar which I think was on Rep. de Chile. For no more than $5 or $6 US, a delicious cebiche mixto with choclo kernels, some kind of yam or yuca, seaweed, the Peruvian scallops, a few whole shrimp, and white fish ( I don't think any octopus or squid), PLUS, a second course of fish soup, AND an Inka Cola.

Chicken. Grilled chicken, fries and a salad bar. Everywhere.

Hayden Mangos. Like the ones I grew up eating.

Limonada. Made with the Peruvian Key Limes

Inka Kola...and I don't normally drink soft drinks.

Pepino Melons from the Pisac Market. $3 a Kilo. In the US, they're $3 a Melon for a little one.

Didn't like...the food I had at Pucara, Cuzco. (Criollo Soup and Lomo Saltado) bland and overpriced. Tourist restaurant.

The green tamales I had at Tanta. Odd tasting, the ones that were on sample for free at a Metro supermarket were much better (and Soles 2.50 each, not 17 Soles for two). Tourist restaurant.

Coffee. Usually instant.

The plain chicha (tastes like cider, which I don't really like). Just my personal taste. The strawberry one was okay.

I keep thinking about that ceviche...and I know where a Peruvian restaurant in Los Angeles is..right next to my credit union in Gardena!

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  1. What did you like in Cusco? I will be traveling there next week.

    14 Replies
    1. re: MJE3

      The chicken place was in Cuzco, but I can't give an exact location. I was walking back from either the Artesania market or the Center for Traditional Textiles. I think it was along El Sol a few blocks south east of the Plaza de Armas, but it could have been a parallel side street. The place was on a corner, you can see the chickens roasting in a big wood fired oven, it had green & white checked tablecloths (which I only know because I took a photo of the meal). There was a little salad bar near the front door, which drew me in...veggie starved. Very nice service but casual. One order enough for two people.

      1. re: MJE3

        Cusco recs:
        Aji de gallina at Pacha Papa
        Causa Rellanos at Cafe Ayllu
        Anticucho and Estoufado de Pollo at Pucara
        Crawfish gnocchi w/Rocotto sauce at MAP cafe

        1. re: AimeeD

          I didn't think much of the food at Pucara, unfortunately.

          Folks I met traveling liked Pacha Papa but I didn't eat there myself.

          My chicken meal in Cuzco. The veg/marinated things were good..I liked the marinated sliced radishes (similar marinade to the onion salad I had at cebicherias, I think mostly the lime juice and cilantro), there was a green stalk veg (like a chard stem) that was nice, a little bitter contrast. And of course potato salad. Also a version of what we get in Mexican restaurants, the marinated peppers and carrots.

          1. re: mlgb

            I know know the name of the chicken place, it is Los Toldos, and they have a website


            1. re: mlgb

              I'm adding that place to my list. I'll be there next week. Did you try the mollejitas (gizzards)?

              1. re: Peter Cherches

       mother forced me to eat gizzards when I was little!

                Enjoy your trip and report back!

                1. re: mlgb

                  macchu picchu is clearly the new disneyland. i TOO will be travelling cuzco-sacred valley - M.P. next week (i look forward to meeting more chowheads than in santa monica)

                  thank you. although generally a food adventurer and big on street food i am a little concerned about ruining my trip, and that of others, looking for a toilet. however i am encouraged. i would certainly think the anticuchos "safe"

                  any and all other suggestions are most welcome. i just learned that Escoffier considered Peruvian food to be "second" only to France (no surprise from him) and Chifa.

                      1. re: gore_mutt

                        Just don't drink the water. Peel the fruits veggies

                        And bring a scrip for Cipro just in case

                        Try to spend a little time in the Sacred Valley, eg Pisac Urubamba Ollantaytambo, different climate and feel than either Cusco or MP

                        1. re: mlgb

                          Ollanta is great. I just got back to Cusco from there (&MP) last night. I had a good cuy al horno & chupe al horno at a place called Kero's Inka. They also do a combination plate with cuy, chicharon, rocoto relleno, tamales, chuleta de res, all for 50 soles. It's on one of the narrow streets off the Plaza. I couldn't get into Pukarumi, which is in the guidebooks and very popular, but at a place across the street I had a fabulous trucha al ajillo---sorry, cant remember the name, but they have a pizza oven up front. I don't regret staying in Ollanta instead of Aguas Calientes. It's still built on the original Inca plan, and most of the houses are on original stone foundations (some of the portals too--and I hope I don't get busted for the extra-culinary details). Right on the plaza, next to the Heart Cafe, there's a chicheria with a pole with a red bag tied to it. You walk into the courtyard and to the left you'll see mostly old folks in local garb sitting around drinking. A big gulp glass of chicha will cost you 50 centimos, about 17 cents. I made a little small talk with the proprietress and the patrons, but my Spanish is pretty poor. Heart Cafe, by the way, can make mixed fruit juices with ginger, which I always love.

                          At MP I tried to lunch at the a la carte restaurant at the Sanctuary Lodge, but even though it was empty they claimed they couldn't accommodate me unless I was a guest, and I could only do the buffet. To tell the truth, though $33 US, it was quite good, my favorite items being the whole roast pig, ceviche de dorado and the trout braised with shredded vegetables. There were a lot of choices. Basically, Orient-Express has a lock on the whole enterprise, from the train through the concessions. Bring a lot of water, otherwise you'll pay 8 soles for a 300ml glass bottle at the snack bar. So basically, after I finished my firest half liter in the morning, I had to pay over $5 for what should have cost me half a buck, and lug glass bottles no less.

                          I'll post in detail about meals in Peru when I get back to the states.

                          1. re: Peter Cherches

                            got back myself this week- did spend much time in sacred valley, certainly did M.P. and cusco (and yes the 8 sole small bottles of water @mp were a necessary BIG mistake)

                            Heidi's was excellent. (posted elsewhere on chowhound) she and her husband were excellent hosts

                            wasted some meals and then made it to

                            Gaston's new (sic) restaurant in Cusco- Chi Cha. ( is it really new- and am i really the first person to post it ? wow)

                            certainly the best we had on the trip

                            "three trouts"- 3 trout treatments rolled with papas, etc
                            lomo saltado- had to try it
                            ceviche- of course
                            chicarrones (these sure aren't the stuff in a bag) succulent pork ribs

                            delightful gracioius place stylish and first world hygiene

                            unfortunately did not do the street food that beckond to me (having spent much time in the markets and on the streets which cautioned us)

                            did eat well however in the sacred valley- and would recommend some of the guest houses and hosterias. we stayed with Hosteria Rummichaca (recommended by an anthropologist family member) the food was quite good- definately Peruvian- just not the usual, and street dishes.

                            1. re: Peter Cherches

                              In Cusco I enjoyed Pucara and Pacha Papa--which have been mentioned a bunch (I disagree with the OP and found the food at Pucara delicious), as well as La Chomba (had the cabrito). But I don't think La Quinta Eulalia (on Choquechaca) has been mentioned. It may have been my favorite place (service a bit brusque, but it was really busy on a Sunday afternoon). A quinta is a traditional courtyard lunch-only place. The menu of the day is on blackboards throughout the outdoor dining area. It's very popular with locals and families. I started with a soup, chairo, a meat and vegetable soup that was like a cross between a pozole and a sancocho. My main course, roast lamb (photo attached), was served with rocoto relleno, tamal, papas doradas and vegetables. The enormous plate was 18 soles ($6).

                              1. re: Peter Cherches

                                I don't mind that you disagree about was just ordinary compared to some of the other meals I had in Peru. Nothing terrible.

                                I'm going back in May..with plans to eat my way thru Lima..not sure if I will be back in Cusco though.

        2. That should be camote (sweet potato) and yuca with the ceviche.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            Thanks, I thought as much but was guessing.

          2. The original comment has been removed
            1. I will also be travelling to Cuzco soon for the week of Easter, and have heard that it's traditional to eat a 12 course meal on good friday as part of the celebrations. Does anyone know if this is available in any of the restaurants in Cuzco and if so, does anyone have a recommendation? My boyfriend and I would love to experience as much of the local culture as possible during the festivities.

              1 Reply
              1. re: jenchef

                Gaston Acurios's Chicha in cusco was great, sorry I didn't post it earlier, were there in June. I would also recomend Tres Keros in Sacred Valley, not many tourist, best pisco sours.

              2. Just bumping this up since I will be in Cusco on Tuesday morning. So far, the food in Lima has managed to surpass all advance billing. Would love more recs for Cusco, if anyone has them. Thanks.

                5 Replies
                1. re: baltoellen

                  I'm also in Cusco and looking for more recs. Have had a lot of good food here, but nothing great yet!

                  1. re: Lina

                    if you're headed for Machu PIcchu and looking for a 4-5 star dining experience, the Sumaq Hotel at the end of the row of hotels/hostels in Aguas Calientes has an outstanding dinner menu! We just got back from there and I haven't had a chance to do a full post on it, but I was very pleasantly surprised and delighted by their food and service. It's Peruvian food and ingredients gone upscale in a very good way. The highlights of the dinner was the quinoa chowder (light, very flavorful and homey in an elegant way) and chicho morada ice for dessert. Portions were generous and I left dinner in pain b/c I ate so much.

                    Sumaq also has cooking classes, so if you're headed to Machu Picchu, this might fit the bill. The hotel itself is well-kept up and charming.

                    1. re: Lina

                      I am guessing you are likely no longer in town, but for the benefit of others in the area, here are a few reviews from Cusco:

                      Pacha Papa-first night in Cusco. Very much caters to tourists. Decent food, but not outstanding, especially considering it's one of the more expensive spots in town. Started out with alpaca brochettes, which were cooked appropriately but were so salty I had a hard time tasting the meat. We also had a cold quinoa salad which was refreshing. For an entree, I had a pork stew. The pork was tender but did have a bit of gristle in it. Husband got trout which was very nice and flaky. For dessert, had a local specialty: mazzamora morada, a pudding made from purple corn with dried fruit mixed in. Very enjoyable, with plenty of fruit mixed in for contrasting texture. Overall, I felt that the food was over-salted (stew and alpaca) and, while offering Peruvian specialties, a bit too touristy feeling.

                      Granja Heidi: After our trek, we were in the mood for some light eating, so we went to this highly recommended spot. WOW. I want a place like this in NYC (for the same price) Started off with a forgettable amuse bouche, then I had a hearts of palm/asparagus salad, which turned out to also have mounds of fresh red tomatoes, a fantastic carrot slaw, in addition to white asparagus and heart of palm. Crisp and fresh. Husband had quinoa soup, which was also quite good. For dinner, I combined a chicken crepe with yogurt. The crepe was appropriately thin, with fresh veggies, though I have to admit the chicken was cut very small and therefore somewhat dry. However, the side of yogurt made up for all the crepe's flaws. With a local sweet syrup on top, the sweet/tart combination combined with richness of fresh yogurt was incredible. For dessert I had an apple milkshake, which was good but confused me a bit, as on the menu was listed as "helado." (ice cream)

                      Witches Garden: the last night, we still were in the mood for relatively light meals, so we tried this spot out for something more quirky. I hadn't yet tried Pisco, so I tried a "Piscoraina" (sp?) which combined Pisco with simple syrup, lime, and mint. I usually think mojitos are too sweet, but the pisco cut through the sweetness nicely and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Re the food, we started with quinoa soup (again) which was good though not as good as the Granja Heidi version, as well as roasted/mashed sweet potato. I opted to have this minus the cheese, and it was actually quite fantastic. Rich in an earthy way without being rich, this was my favorite dish of the night. For entree, I got an option which is no longer on the menu (the menu recently switched out), while my husband got alpaca in an herb/mushroom sauce. The sauce was solid, but the alpaca was cooked well and not as enjoyable as it otherwise might have been. Overall, this was a bit hit and miss, but in their defense, there were only 2 people both taking orders and running the kitchen that night, so this may have affected service.
                      Granja Heidi: yes, we returned, this time for dessert. They only have a few cakes at any one time; I opted for a slice of chocolate "mennonite cake," a sort of torte. Let me say they know how to do chocolate as well; I promised myself I would only eat part but could not help from polishing off the whole thing. Dense but not overwhelming chocolaty or sweet, nice balance. Husband got the yogurt with syrup I had gotten the night before, and was similarly impressed.

                      Other food finds: tamales! There was a fantastic tamale bought outside the pisac market, which was savory and had olives within. Also tried a dulce tamale from a woman on the Plaza de Armas, by Gato's: while good, not as satisfying as the prior. From the market, we got mini carrots, a small purple melon (not sure of the name, but looks more like a tomato) some green oranges, and quinoa. All was amazing, especially for the price. We also had a lunch at El Buen Pastor (San Blas region), having an empanada and a ham/cheese. Bread in the sandwich was amazing-light and fluffy, and the empanada seasoning was spot on. Also nice in that it benefits a childrens charity.

                      It appears that Cusco is filled with a lot of touristy restaurants, but it is fun to try and sample Peruvian specialties, and I highly recommend Granja Heidi and trying out some street!

                      1. re: Lina

                        We were in Cusco for about five days, and didn't find anything outstanding to eat, but did have good, solid, home-cooked and cheap meals at the central market, and on this street with a bunch of chicarrones.

                        We also didn't find anything too amazing in Arequipa, although it's a stunningly beautiful city and famous for its food.

                        But, while I found those two cities a bit disappointing on the eating front, the incredible food in Lima definitely made up for it!

                      2. re: baltoellen

                        Also, any cooking classes in town?