When it comes to fine dining, the best restaurants in Latin America are often found in the capital cities, including Lima, Mexico City, Bogotá, and Buenos Aires.
A notable exception is Brazil, where the best restaurants are found closer to the coast in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
Many of Latin America's top chefs have trained in Europe or the United States and then brought those skills home to start restaurants.
As a result, they're able to help train the next generation of chefs, making such experience more accessible.
I began spending time in Latin America in my late twenties, first on vacations to Costa Rica, Belize, and Guatemala, and later living in Medellín, Colombia, and Lima, Peru.
I loved living in Latin America as an expat and may return one day to do so again.
There's a wonderful energy to it. Music infuses daily life. Dancing fills the nights.
Every day is an adventure living in a culture and country that is not your own.
One of the ways I educated myself was through the local food, whether eating from street vendors in Colombia or fine dining establishments in Peru.
This article features restaurants I've been to that have appeared on Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants list since its launch in 2013.
My Best Meals
November 18, 2014
If you asked me to pick my overall favorite spot in Latin America, it'd be Central Restaurante in Lima based on my 2014 lunch there.
The Mater Elevations tasting menu features ingredients sourced from over a dozen of Peru's ecosystems, including the ocean, Andes mountains, and Amazon jungle.
The creativity in plating also stood out for me.
As Central has grown in popularity, it has become harder to get a reservation, so it's essential to plan a few months out.
Central ranked #1 in Latin America from 2014-16, before Maido took over the spot. It has ranked a close second from 2017-19.
February 5, 2018
Maido is the only restaurant on my list that I've been to three times.
However, it was only the most recent visit in 2018 that I was able to experience the full tasting menu.
Nikkei cuisine marries Japanese cooking techniques with Peruvian ingredients, and you'd be hard-pressed to find a better place to experience it than Maido.
In 2019, Maido was ranked the #1 restaurant in Latin America for the third straight year.
Astrid y Gastón
December 18, 2011
It was my second time ordering a tasting menu, and my first time committing to a three-hour meal by myself.
Highlights included the maracuya sour cocktail, fresh bread, tubers with shredded almond, guinea pig taco, ceviche, and desserts.
The 11-course lunch at chef Gastón Acurio's flagship restaurant, which he opened with his wife Astrid, was just 170 soles ($63).
Astrid y Gastón has since moved to a new location, and I'm looking forward to returning the next time I'm in town.
February 23, 2018
Chef-owner Renzo Garibaldi opened Osso in 2013 after training in sustainable butchery in the US and France.
Osso has two locations, the original in La Molina and the newer spot in San Isidro (where I ate).
Needless to say, you go to Osso for the meats, sausages, and burgers, all of which are grilled to perfection.
Osso ranked #25 in 2018 and jumped up to #9 in 2019.
La Mar Cebicheria
November 22, 2014
There's no dish more synonymous with Peruvian food than ceviche, and perhaps no better place to order it than La Mar (which means "The Sea" in Spanish).
Opened in 2005, La Mar is a part of Gastón Acurio's global restaurant empire.
The first location opened on La Mar Avenue, a neighborhood known for ceviche restaurants in the Miraflores district.
He's since expanded La Mar to Buenos Aires, Bogota, Santiago, Miami, and San Francisco.
My first few experiences with ceviche weren't that great.
But, as I continued to give it a try at nicer restaurants such as Astrid & Gastón and La Mar, I came to appreciate it.
La Mar ranked #15 in Latin America in 2014 and has slipped to #26 as of 2019.
November 20, 2014
Former lawyer turned chef Rafael Osterling opened Rafael in 2000 and has been serving modern Peruvian food ever since.
The restaurant, located inside a red townhouse in Miraflores, feels bright and spacious.
Beautifully tiled floors, modern art, and white tablecloths add touches of elegance.
I had a fantastic 3-course a la carte meal:
- roast duck foie gras with toast and peaches
- grilled yellowfin tuna with basil emulsion, creamy potatoes, and baked tomatoes
- praline, Guanaja chocolate, emulsified cacao, and Toblerone ganache (one of 14 options on the dessert menu)
Rafael ranked #27 in Latin America in 2014 and has since moved up to #19 in 2019.
Isolina Taberna Peruana
February 15, 2018
Located in the bohemian Barranco district of Lima, Isolina serves traditional Peruvian food family style.
My friends Eric and Karen said they excel at dishes including organ meat.
On a dinner date, I wasn't feeling too adventurous.
I ordered a meat-stuffed deep-fried potato to start and the reliably delicious, Asian-inspired lomo saltado (beef stir fry).
Isolina is one of the most casual, least expensive restaurants on this list.
It ranked #13 in 2018 and moved up one spot to #12 in 2019.
July 27, 2016
When he decided to become a chef, Pedro Miguel Schiaffino trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
He returned to Peru and, in 2004, opened Malabar, a modern Peruvian restaurant that sources fresh, in-season ingredients for its dishes. I had a pleasant 7-course dinner here.
Malabar ranked #38 in 2016 when I dined there and #47 in 2019.
July 26, 2016
In 2012, eight years after opening Malabar, chef Schiaffino opened Amaz to highlight, promote, and preserve the natural resources and culinary traditions of the Amazon.
That same year I visited the Peruvian Amazon for the first time, spending a week at several jungle lodges in Tambopata National Reserve.
Chef Schiaffino's fellow CIA-grad, the late, great Anthony Bourdain, featured Amaz Restaurante on a 2013 episode of Parts Unknown.
Like Isolina, Amaz is on the more casual, inexpensive end of the spectrum. In 2018, it ranked #48 in Latin America.
See also: 15 of the World's Best Restaurants
May 4, 2013
Pujol has long been considered the best restaurant in Mexico City, and one of the best in Latin America.
In 2013, during my first visit to Mexico City, I had the pleasure of dining at the original 13-table restaurant in Polanco, one of the capital's wealthier districts.
I delighted in the 10-course tasting menu, which featured signature dishes like Mole Madre, Mole Nuevo. It was an incredible deal at the time, just 890 pesos ($69).
In 2013, Pujol ranked #3 in Latin America and #17 in the world. It has maintained its high standards and standings, ranking #12 in the world and #3 in Latin America in 2019.
August 15, 2017
Vallejo manages the kitchen and menu while Flores handles the front of house.
Together, they've grown Quintonil into one of Mexico City's top restaurants.
I invited a friend to join me for the tasting menu, and we both enjoyed it, though we agreed Pujol was the better of the two restaurants.
I had planned to return in March to give it another shot, this time for lunch, so the lighting was better, however world events put those plans on hold.
In 2017, Quintonil ranked #6 in Latin America. In 2019, it ranked #10 in Latin America and #24 in the world.
April 15, 2018
One of my new favorite restaurants in Mexico City is Sud 777, which is about a 30-minute drive south of Condesa, the park-filled neighborhood where I usually stay.
It's worth the trip to experience the creative dishes coming out of chef and co-owner Edgar Nuñez's kitchen.
Highlights from my 11-course lunch included:
- cucumber and clarified melon tart
- smoked watermelon
- Marlin donut with Xcatix mayonnaise and fried leek
- onion, caramel, and salted yogurt ice cream
The two-story interior is a cool, casual space as well. Happy hours with DJs are held on the lower level, while meals are served on the second floor overlooking the action.
In 2018, Sud 777 ranked #14 in Latin America and it held steady at #16 in 2019.
April 19, 2018
Chef Elena Reygadas opened Rosetta in 2010 after training at the French Culinary Institute in New York and working abroad in London.
By 2014, she was recognized as Latin America’s Best Female Chef.
Rosetta offers diners a charming interior, which includes a two-story, light-filled dining room and several smaller rooms. It's a great date spot.
I had a terrific 3-course a la carte lunch here, including a fresh heirloom tomato salad, sumptuous braised short rib with creamy polenta, and pretty pink mole dessert.
Reygadas also operates a small bakery, Panadería Rosetta, a block away.
Rosetta ranked #41 in Latin America in 2018, jumping up to a well-deserved #26 in 2019.
April 23, 2018
Mexican chef Martha Ortiz's Dulce Patria restaurant features plush red seating, which stands out all the more amidst white walls and tablecloths.
The colorful experience extends into the menu, too.
I enjoyed multi-colored quesadillas, pork loin medallions in a yellow mole, purple rice, and stellar charred maize and cacao ice cream.
In 2018, Dulce Patria ranked #48 in Latin America.
April 24, 2018
I had my eye on Maximo Bistrot in Mexico City's Roma neighborhood for a few years, as it was a block away from my friend's apartment.
When we finally made a dinner reservation during my last visit, I found it entirely too dark inside to take photos without relying on a flash.
We ordered the 4-course tasting menu, which included several seafood dishes, a meat dish, and two desserts. I'd like to try Maximo Bistrot again for lunch.
The restaurant ranked #20 in Latin America in 2018 and #27 in 2019.
July 18, 2018
Three years after I left Colombia, I returned to visit friends and explore the exploding restaurant scene in the capital of Bogotá.
A highlight of my trip was a culinary tour of Colombia via the tasting menu at Leo, the flagship restaurant of chef Leonor Espinosa.
The experience was similar to the Mater Elevations menu at Central in Lima, with ingredients for dishes sourced from across the country. I also partook in juice pairings.
Colombia is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet, and like Peru, its geographies include oceans, deserts, the Andes mountains, and Amazon jungle.
Chef Espinosa makes full use of the country's bounty with creative dishes that are beautifully presented in a stylish, modern restaurant.
It's a family affair, too, with her daughter working as sommelier.
In 2018, Leo ranked #10 in Latin America. In 2019, it moved up to #7 and cracked the world's best restaurant list at #49.
July 19, 2018
Tucked in a faux-Tudor mansion in the heart of Bogotá's trendy Chapinero Alto neighborhood, chef Harry Sasson has been serving Colombian diners for 24 years.
Walking into the building through the main entrance, you'd never suspect a gorgeous rear dining room encased in glass and white steel beams.
Natural light floods into the space, which would be just as relevant if it were attached to a modern art museum.
Here, meat is king, so I dined on a phenomenal filet with green and black peppercorns, served with tarragon butter and brandy sauce.
In 2019, Harry Sasson ranked #22 in Latin America.
February 4, 2019
Opened in 2017 in Chapinero Alto, El Chato is a contemporary bistro, and the first restaurant by chef Alvaro Clavijo.
Clavijo studied at a hospitality school in Barcelona before moving on to working in some of the world's best restaurants in the US and Europe.
I took a date to El Chato for dinner, so in all honesty, I can't say I focused much on the food, nor did I get decent photos due to the dim lighting.
I'd like to return for lunch the next time I'm in Bogotá to give it the full Feastio treatment.
In 2018, El Chato ranked #21 in Latin America, before moving up to #6 in 2019 (which made it the top restaurant in Colombia that year).
São Paulo, Brazil
November 15, 2016
I first visited Brazil in 2016 for a friend's wedding, a grand event that took place on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
I'd arrived a few days earlier, which allowed for enough time to dine at D.O.M., Brazil's best restaurant, with the soon-to-be newlyweds.
Seated at the chef's table near the glass-encased kitchen, we were treated to a wonderful dinner, which included the signature palm heart fettuccine pictured above.
Chef Alex Atala was featured in Season 2, Episode 2 of Chef's Table.
In 2016, D.O.M. was ranked #3 in Latin America and #11 in the world. In 2019, it ranked #9 in Latin America and #54 in the world.
There you have it, my ever-growing list of the best restaurants in Latin America.
It's been amazing to watch the various cuisines of this region, including Peruvian, Mexican, Colombian, and Brazilian grow in popularity internationally.
While many of these restaurants are expensive by local standards, for international travelers coming from the US, Europe, and Asia, they can represent an excellent value.
That cost-to-quality ratio is one of the many reasons I keep going back for more!