Over the last 20 years, Lima's best restaurants have helped propel Peruvian food onto the world's culinary stage.
Chef Gastón Acurio is credited with raising awareness of Peru's cuisine, most notably ceviche. He has since built a global restaurant empire on that authority.
Younger chefs, many of whom are behind the restaurants on this list, continue to innovate, scouring the country for novel ingredients to prepare using modern techniques.
I used Lima, specifically, as a base to explore both Peru and other parts of South America from 2011-12. And I've returned every few years since for good eats.
My list of Lima's best restaurants is based on nearly a decade of travel to Peru's capital, the City of Kings.
My single best meal in Lima was the Mater Elevations tasting menu at Central when it was still located in the Miraflores district.
Chef-owner Virgilio Martínez's menu showcased ingredients from Peru's three main regions: the Pacific coast (desert), Andes mountains, and the Amazon.
I absolutely loved the creative use of ingredients combined with the artistic presentations. Every course was a work of art.
Highlights included colorful cactus milk, edible clay, octopus (pictured above), and beef heart (anticucho) with milk.
Martínez trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa and London before working in a series of high-profile restaurants, including Astrid & Gastón in Bogotá and Madrid.
He then returned to Lima and opened Central in 2008. Three years later, he met his wife, chef Pía León, and the two worked together for several years before getting married.
Soon after I ate at Central in late 2014, it was named the best restaurant in Latin America by the World's 50 Best Restaurants. As of 2020, Central is ranked number three.
Another rockstar of a restaurant is Maido by chef-owner Mitsuharu ‘Micha’ Tsumura.
Chef Tsumura specializes in Nikkei cuisine, a combination of Peruvian ingredients and Japanese cooking techniques.
Maido is the only restaurant on my list that I've been to three times.
Highlights of the tasting menu from my third visit include two courses of ceviche, cuy (guinea pig), miso-marinated cod, and tofu cheesecake ice cream.
Maido was voted the best restaurant in Latin America by The World's 50 Best Restaurants for three straight years (2017, 2018, and 2019). In 2020, it ranked number two.
Astrid & Gastón
In 1994, Gastón Acurio opened his flagship restaurant, Astrid & Gastón, with his German wife Astrid, a pastry chef, who he met at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.
Together, they grew their restaurant into the number one place to eat in Lima.
I dined there in 2011 while the restaurant was still in its original Miraflores location.
Since 2014, Astrid & Gastón has occupied a 300-year old mansion in nearby San Isidro.
Highlights of the 11-course tasting menu included tubers, a cuy taco, two ceviche courses, Wagyu beef with raspberry sauce, and cannelloni with aji (pepper) ice cream.
In 2013, following his sustainable butchery training in San Francisco and France, Renzo Garibaldi returned to Lima and opened Osso in the La Molina district.
Located on the city's eastern edge, La Molina is one of Lima's safer, cleaner, and more upscale districts. It's also less touristy than Miraflores and Barranco near the coast.
After gaining some success, he opened a second, more convenient location in San Isidro's business district.
It's this second location where I dropped in for a lunch of medium-rare tenderloin with a truffled puree of potatoes and a rich chocolate fondant cake with vanilla ice cream.
Diners can choose from an a la carte menu or a tasting menu. An on-site deli offers fresh meats and sausages for purchase, as well as house-made sauces and condiments.
In 2020, Osso was ranked the #10 best restaurant in Latin America.
Related: Best Restaurants in Latin America
Named after an orange-flowering tree from the Peruvian Andes, Kjolle reflects chef Pía León's ever-evolving culinary style.
León previously worked in the kitchen of Astrid & Gastón and abroad at the Ritz Carlton in New York City.
She began working at Central at age 21, contributing to its ascent to the #1 restaurant in Latin America in 2014 (displacing her former employer, Gastón Acurio).
Following her success with husband Virgilio Martínez at Central, she opened Kjolle adjacent to their flagship restaurant in Lima's bohemian Barranco district.
There, she continues to showcase Peru's biodiversity through creative a la carte and tasting menus. Kjolle was ranked #18 in Latin America for 2020.
Note: Kjolle is the only restaurant on this list I haven't eaten at personally, however it atop my list of places to try on my next visit to Lima.
In the 90s, Rafael Osterling traded lawyering for chef whites when he studied at Le Cordon Bleu.
Upon graduating, he worked at kitchens in London and Paris before returning to Lima and opening his eponymous restaurant.
Rafael is housed in a townhouse in the Miraflores district, a block west of Maido. The menu reflects a confluence of Peruvian, Italian, and Asian influences.
Whether you order the ceviche with the fish of the day and avocado or the cacio e pepe gnocchi as an appetizer, expect excellence.
I still think fondly of the roast duck foie gras with toast and peaches I ordered on my last visit, followed by grilled yellowfin tuna with basil emulsion and a chocolate dessert.
La Mar Cebichería Peruana
Named after the avenue on which it's located in Miraflores, La Mar Cebichería Peruana is one of Gastón Acurio's many celebrated restaurants in Lima.
Here, you'll find a menu full of ceviches and seafood. After all, "La Mar" means "the sea" in Spanish.
To ensure you're getting the freshest ingredients, La Mar is only open for lunch. Drop by between 12 to 5 pm Tuesday to Thursday or 12 to 5:30 pm Friday to Sunday.
I recommend going early as La Mar is a perennial favorite among Lima's residents.
Note: while "cebiche" is typically spelled with a "b" in Lima, I've chosen to use the more common variant outside of Peru, which is to say I spell "ceviche" with a "v."
The San Isidro location occupies a below-ground space complete with a chic outdoor bar and lounge.
For a heavenly bite, try the tuna with foie gras. I also enjoyed the grilled shrimp with leek and red curry (pictured above).
Even the dessert I ordered was decadent -- Amazon chocolate dulce de leche with lemongrass ice cream and meringue.
In addition to its two restaurants in Lima, Osaka has expanded to Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Quito, Bogotá, Miami, and London.
When you think of Peru, Machu Picchu surely comes to mind. Mountain enthusiasts will think of the Andes, while surfers gravitate to the long Pacific coast.
But did you know the Amazon rainforest covers 60% of the country? There's an immense amount of biodiversity that's often overlooked.
Opened in 2012, ámaZ Restaurante is chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino's effort to promote and preserve the Amazon's natural resources and culinary traditions.
A year later, Anthony Bourdain featured ámaZ on a Peru episode of Parts Unknown.
My dinner experience included wild boar empanadas, wild Amazonian fish wrapped in bijao leafs, a side of turmeric rice with Brazil nuts, and chocolate and Brazil nut ice cream for dessert.
In 2018, ámaZ ranked #48 on the list of Latin America's best restaurants.
Chef José del Castillo has turned a 114-year old house in Barranco into Isolina, a traditional Peruvian tavern "where the spontaneous laughs and the freedom to eat as everyone wishes are celebrated."
Named after his mother, herself a restaurant owner, Castillo's focus at Isolina is "the forgotten recipes in old notebooks," harkening back to a time when family-style meals relied on less costly organ meat.
Interesting items from the current menu include pickled pig's feet and onions, a beef brain omelet with nutmeg and parmesan, and beef kidneys simmered in red wine.
If offal isn't your thing, try the suckling pig sandwich based on a family recipe or the short rib stew cooked in a cilantro-based sauce.
As you can see, the best restaurants in Lima, Peru run the gamut from modern, world-class fine dining to casual, family-style cevicherias and tavernas.
There's a reason I continue to return to Lima again and again...the Peruvian food.
Go to the source and you'll be richly rewarded.