Peru: An International Culinary Star

With Lima’s Central winning the coveted Best Restaurant in the World Award for 2023, the culinary spotlight is shining brighter than ever on Peru. But the Peruvian capital isn’t the only city to boast extraordinary dining. 

Cusco and Arequipa also offer standout opportunities to savor Peru’s unique and distinctive gastronomy. It features traditional Peruvian dishes; chifa and Nikkei cooking influenced by a 19th-century influx of Chinese and Japanese immigrants, respectively; and Peruvian cooks who trained and apprenticed abroad before coming home to Peru as seasoned chefs ready to succeed at running their own kitchens. 

Here’s a guide to where to sample the best of Peruvian cuisine in Lima, Cusco, and Arequipa.


Since first opening in the Miraflores district in 2012, Central has been a hotspot, making the Fifty Best Restaurants list every year since 2013. Virgilio Martínez has long been known for his impressive tasting menus but also for constantly experimenting, researching native ingredients, and raising the bar with his partner and co-chef Pía León, who happens to be his wife.

With their 2018 move to a culinary complex they built in Barranco to house Central, León’s first solo restaurant Kjolle upstairs, and their research lab Mater Iniciativa, the couple unveiled a new concept that altitude dictates the way an ingredient should be used. Central’s 17-course tasting menu whose dishes each feature ingredients that are all grown at the same elevation — from sea level at the Pacific coast to the Amazon rainforest and higher elevations in the Andes. It’s about more than exceptional food. 

Relying on ingredients sourced only from Peru — such as tubers including yucca, olluco, and local potatoes — Kjolle has also racked up accolades. This year León’s restaurant made the Fifty Best Restaurants in the World list at No. 28 after earning the No. 1 spot on the Fifty Best Restaurants in Latin America in 2019, and León being named best female chef in Latin America in 2021. 

Two additional Lima restaurants made the Fifty Best list this year, Maido at No. 6 and . Lima-born Japanese chef Mitsuhara Tsumara studied culinary arts in the U.S. before moving to Japan to train in sushi-making and izakaya (Japanese tapas) in kitchens all over the country. In 2009, he came home to Lima and opened Maido to showcase a fusion of Peruvian ingredients prepared with Japanese techniques. That’s how Tsumara became Peru’s Nikkei master chef. 

Another Peruvian chef among the best, Jaime Pesaque apprenticed in Michelin-star kitchens in Italy and Spain before opening his contemporary Peruvian restaurant and pisco bar Mayta that relies on produce grown at his family’s pisco vineyard two hours south of Lima. 

Le Cordon Bleu-trained Rafael Osterling chose an old Art Deco townhouse in Miraflores for his first restaurant, Rafael, opened in 2000. Elegant meals ranging from pasta and pizza to ceviche, sashimi, and carpaccio served in intimate art-filled dining rooms have made Osterling a favorite. It’s the kind of place that calls for savoring every bite and lingering. 

Dining choices in Lima would have a big hole without Gastón Acurio. The influential chef led the way for the next culinary generation by rejecting law school in Spain for training at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and returning to his homeland with his German pastry chef wife Astrid. Once in Lima, the couple focused their elegant menu at their flagship restaurant Astrid y Gastón on the beloved traditional Peruvian dishes Acurio grew up on, honed to perfection with his refined training and French cooking techniques.

Located in a restored 17th-century mansion in the San Isidro neighborhood, Astrid y Gastón serves an ambitious 45-course tasting menu. Acurio has received a score of honors and worldwide credit as an ambassador who popularized Peruvian cuisine abroad. He also created a handful of other restaurant brands including Tanta and La Mar, his Miraflores cevichería (an eatery that specializes in ceviche). In a historical home on a corner near the plaza in Barranco, José del Castillo found the perfect spot for his restaurant named after his mother, Isolina, whose Lima cevichería La Red was an early training ground for him. There always seems to be a line for Peruvian comfort food at Isolina with a menu designed for sharing generously sized stews, saltados, and other traditional dishes.


Due to roadless isolation from the rest of the country during its first few centuries, Arequipa developed an independent character and unique spicy cuisine. Known for a wide selection of original dishes such as rocoto relleno, a spicy rocoto pepper stuffed with minced meat, cheese, eggs, raisins, peas, and carrots typically served with pastel de papa, layers of thin-sliced potatoes with eggs and cheese; and adobo, a pork chop stew cooked in a clay pot on an open fire. Arequipa is a happy place for those who enjoy spicy food and rich flavors.

With a barrel-vaulted stone ceiling and circular iron staircase said to be designed by Gustav Eiffel, Zig Zag rates as a cool place for Swiss and Peruvian fusion — small plates, fondue, plus fish, alpaca, ostrich, and beef cooked and served on a sizzling volcanic slab. 

Near Mirador de Carmen with an impressive view of three towering volcanoes (Chachani, Misti, and Pichu Pichu), Salamanto serves contemporary Peruvian food cooked with modern techniques, imaginative style, and ingredients sourced from the Arequipa region, such as 
octopus slow-cooked in olive oil with native potatoes. Integrated into the massive Santa Catalina Monastery, La Trattoria del Monasterio has three dining rooms with views into the interior of Arequipa’s oldest cloister. The menu offers a mix of traditional Italian and Arequipa cuisine: pastas, lasagna, pizza, risottos, and Arequipa-style soups and stews; Old World wines from Italy and Spain; and New World wines from Peru, Chile, and Argentina. 

Another restaurant with a mix of Italian and Peruvian specialties and fine wines, upscale Sambambaias has been a favorite in Arequipa for 30 years with live music in the garden on weekends. Off the courtyard of an old mansion, Chicha puts an inventive spin on regional cuisine by star chef Gastón Acurio, whose menu here focuses on regional dishes, seasonal products, and corn-based breads.

For hearty home-style cooking and the most authentic local specialties, dine at picanterías, which are typically open only for lunch, especially in the countryside and Arequipa’s Yanahuara district. Here are three standouts: For regional dishes such as grilled alpaca, shrimp soup, and stuffed ricoto, try La Nueva Picantería. Named for the owner’s mother, Laurita Cau Cau serves family recipes handed down for 50 years. In the cloisters of the Church of La Compañia, La Benita de Characato has been passed down from mother to daughter for eight generations of picanteros.


There are two reasons for great dining in Cusco: a wide variety of cuisine you wouldn’t expect to find here, such as chifa (Peruvian/Chinese fusion), Indian, Israeli, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, and vegetarian, and restaurants close enough to organic farms in the Sacred Valley to receive just-picked produce every morning. Almost any ingredient chefs want is grown or raised in the area. Several Cusco restaurants even operate their own farms. Anywhere you eat you’ll probably notice that produce has so much more flavor than it does at home.

One of the best restaurants in town, Cicciolina is a fine-dining spot near Plaza Nazarenas and the Plaza de Armas. It’s a swanky tapas and wine bar that serves Italian-style dishes and Peruvian favorites. The chef is a biochemist who understands the science behind adapting recipes that are cooked at high elevation, such as different methods for making light croissants, al dente pasta, and crisp baguettes than at sea level. Cicciolina Café, two blocks downhill, is a wonderful casual spot for breakfast, lunch, and delicious baked goods.

On the West side of the Plaza de Armas, dine on the balcony at Calle Del Medio and be mesmerized by the magical lights around the cathedral and the hillside San Blas neighborhood while savoring classic Peruvian dishes or international fare. Two favorites are the 24-hour lamb shank and pumpkin risotto. 

On the north side of Plaza de Armas, Inka Grill serves flavorful modern versions of Peruvian dishes inspired by the Inkas with a vibe to match — high ceilings, large windows, stone walls, and spicy scents wafting from an open kitchen. Also on the north side of the square, Morena sticks to classic Peruvian fare but also offers vegetarian options that include some pastas and risottos and excels at appetizers and sauces such as uchucuta, a creamy spicy sauce made from hot rocoto peppers served on sauteed pork belly, and creamy huancaina sauce made from mild yellow chiles. 

In San Blas near the church, Pachapapa occupies an old colonial house with small dining rooms and courtyard tables. Expect classic Peruvian dishes such as lomo saltado and rocoto relleno, plus pizzas, calzones, and dinner rolls cooked in a wood-burning oven on the terrace. 

Just below Plaza Nazarenas, Uchu Peruvian Steakhouse may specialize in steak but it’s not a classic chophouse. Uchu’s sophisticated, whimsical design sets the mood for enjoying alpaca, beef, chicken, fish, and shrimp that are still cooking/sizzling on a volcanic stone when brought to the table. 

Gastón Acurio has two restaurants in town, Chicha for a modern twist on Peruvian classics, and Papacho’s, which specializes in huge, juicy burgers.

Yearning for Chinese? Go to Kion for chifa cuisine (a fusion of Cantonese techniques and Peruvian ingredients) whose colorful Chinese décor sets the mood for ordering off a menu with 43 dishes. 

Destination Peru: Visit some of the most astonishing flora and fauna in the world

Peru contains 84 of the 104 ecosystems on Earth and 28 of the world’s 32 climates, making it among the 10 most biodiverse countries on the planet. Almost one-third of all animal and plant species living on Earth inhabit just the Peruvian Amazon. From water lilies that can hold the weight of a small child to snakes as long as a school bus and tarantulas as wide as a foot-long sub sandwich, some plants and animals are so enormous that seeing is not believing. 

Here are some astonishing creatures and plants that will open your eyes to Peru’s many living wonders. Happy plant and animal spotting!

Marvelous Mammals

Llamas and alpacas may be the country’s most familiar mammals, but Peru is also home to some strange mammalian creatures, such as the giant armadillo, a 5-foot-long shelled animal found in the country’s eastern Andes and Amazon Basin. The world’s largest armadillo, this Peruvian jungle giant has as many as 100 teeth for chewing plants and small vertebrates. But its primary diet is termites; it has the longest claw-to-body length of any mammal and uses the 8-inch center claw on each forelimb to open up termite mounds and dig for termites, ants, and worms. Good swimmers that can hold their breath for six minutes, giant armadillos aren’t easy to see because they’re nocturnal and sleep 18 hours a day in deep burrows that always face west. 

The giant river otter inhabits the Amazon rainforest and tributaries year-round but is easier to spot in June, July, and August when water levels are lowest. More than twice the length of the North American river otter, Peru’s giant otters are 6 feet long, weigh between 48 and 70 pounds, and feast mostly on fish. They live in family groups of three to 15 that include monogamous parents and several generations of offspring. 

A delightful highlight of cruising the waters around Iquitos and Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve is spotting the playful Amazon pink river dolphin, which is born with translucent gray skin that gradually turns pink. These Amazonian mammals can reach 9 feet in length and weigh up to 400 pounds. They feed on crabs, shrimps, turtles, and fish. Out of five freshwater dolphin types, this species has the largest body and brain, with 40 percent more brain capacity than humans. 

A beloved mammal that lives only in Peru, the spectacled bear is the only remaining short-faced bear in the world and South America’s only bear. Named for the white/yellowish rings that encircle their eyes like glasses, these shaggy-furred bears are non-aggressive toward humans and excellent tree climbers, due to front legs longer than hind limbs. They live on fruits, bromeliads, cactus, and the soft parts of palm trees in the dry forest environment of the Chaparrí Ecological Reserve in northern Peru and the Andean cloud forest. Spectacled bears are commonly spotted along the Inca Trail and sometimes roaming between the terraces of Machupicchu, where approximately 70 inhabit the surrounding forest. If you’re lucky enough to spot one, know that this rolly-polly bruin inspired the classic British children’s books about the adventures of an adorable, orphaned bear named Paddington that was sent as a stowaway from Lima to London. 

The world’s slowest animals, three-toed sloths are so sedentary that algae grows on their furry coats, which gives them a greenish camouflage tint. Considered lazy because they sleep 15 to 20 hours a day, sloths spend most of their time hanging from tree limbs with the help of their long claws. They even mate and give birth there. Nocturnal herbivores, they feed on fruit, shoots, and leaves. Three-toed sloths, in particular, have a singular distinction: Their extra neck vertebrae allow them to turn their heads some 270 degrees. You can spot them in the Peruvian Amazon.

Stealthy Snakes

Another astounding Amazonian animal is the green anaconda. At up to 550 pounds, it’s the largest snake in the world. Green anacondas are also long; they can grow to more than 29 feet, or the size of a school bus, and measure more than 12 inches in diameter. They live in the tropical rainforests of the Amazon and Orinoco River basins, where they feast on wild pigs, deer, birds, turtles, capybara, caimans, and even jaguars. Notoriously, they asphyxiate their prey by coiling around it and squeezing until it dies, after which they swallow it whole.

Freaky Fish

The monstrous paiche (also known as arapaima and pirarucu) is king of the Amazon. The world’s largest freshwater fish, paiche can grow up to 10 feet in length and more than 400 pounds. This torpedo-shaped fish with an upturned mouth, red tail, and copper and green head must surface to breathe but can stay underwater as long as 30 minutes. While cruising the Amazon, you may spot one coming up for air. Often called arapaima on restaurants menus, paiche is a flavorful, mild-tasting fish with firm flesh. 

On the Marañón River in the upper Amazon basin, the Ucayali River, and the Huallaga River, keep your eyes focused on the shore for the wood-eating Peckoltia pankimpuju. This armored catfish approximately 15 inches long uses its oversized pectoral fins to crawl single file across land for 24 hours as it seeks new pools with plentiful sustenance. 

Show Birds

The national bird of Peru, Andean cock-of-the-rock can be found in protected areas of the Andean cloud forest at elevations between 1,600 and 8,000 feet, including Machupicchu and Manu National Park in the Madre de Dios region of southeastern Peru. Compared to the monochromatic, chestnut/orange-feathered females, the males are flashy birds with orangish-red heads, necks, breasts, and shoulders; black bodies; gray wings; and large crests of feathers that hang down to their bills. They’re more likely to be heard than seen. The males are noisy during their rambunctious group mating ritual when they present their showiest performances for the females — bowing, wing-flapping, head-bobbing, bill-snapping, and making bizarre squeaks and grunts. Fruit-eaters that nest on ledges and cliffs, cocks-of-the-rock are a prized checklist species for international birdwatchers. 

A bird with prehistoric roots, the hoatzin is the last surviving member of a bird species that lived around the time dinosaurs became extinct. About the size of a chicken, the hoatzin has a mohawk crest, clawed wings, and two stomachs. The chicks are born with two claws on the digits of each wing, which enable them to crawl by alternating front and rear legs on opposite sides of their body. Hoatzins are the only living bird species that has mastered alternated walking coordination of four limbs by using its claws. It’s also the only bird with a digestive system that ferments vegetation like a cow does, which enables it to eat just leaves and buds.

Awesome Insects

The Amazon basin has its share of crazy and eye-catching insects your guides may point out. They include the Amazonian tarantula, the world’s largest at 13 inches wide; the small decoy spider that uses leaves, debris, and dead insects to build a larger, fake spider in its web to confuse or frighten predators; and the vibrant, iridescent blue morpho butterfly, whose wingspan ranges between 5 and 8 inches and whose wings have a brown underside that camouflages the insect to protect it from predators. 

Wondrous Plants

With its enormous biodiversity, Peru has a wider variety of plants than most countries. Some are surprising, like puya raimondi, a bromeliad also known as the queen of the Andes that grows in the high Andes. Out of 3,000 species of bromeliads on Earth, this one is a standout. The world’s largest and slowest growing bromeliad, puya raimondi blooms only once when it has lived between 50 and 100 years and the stalk has grown 50 feet high. But the flowering spike that takes so long to bloom can last a couple of years. 

Another flowering plant in Peru that will leave you wide-eyed is the giant water lily. Its circular leaves grow as wide as 8 feet in diameter and are strong enough to hold the weight of a small child. You will find this lily in the slow-moving, shallow waters of the Amazon. The large flowers (16 inches across) are fragrant and white on the night they bloom, while some turn pink on the second night. 

One of the rarest orchids in the world, the monkey orchid grows in Peru’s cloud forests and can bloom in any season. The blossoms, which smell like a ripe orange, really do look like the face of a monkey, each one as unique as a snowflake.