Lima is a city of fish eaters. The advice is to eat the freshest fish of the day. But, what is it? Usually, the waiter explains that it is a local white-fleshed fish. Here is list of some of the fish I’ve seen served in restaurants here in Lima. I’m not a fisher so most of my research is from the worldwide web and my local subject matter experts (who are better than Google!). Also useful sites were the FAO and this blog.
Recently, I got asked about suggestions for where to eat seafood in Lima.
Eating seafood is an integral part of life in Lima. And no, it’s not all raw.
First, take the recommended fish of the day — it will be the freshest. Also, remember that salmon is not from Peru (in the highlands, they do have a lake trout which is similar). While they eat a lot of tuna here, it is more in the Japanese “Nikkei” style food, and most recently, in the rise of the Poke! Typical seafood dishes to try here are: ceviche (done in many ways but go with “el classico” — although now they do versions of ceviche with “pork rinds of seafood” = deep fried seafood) and tiradito (carpaccio of fish). The scallops are so tender that they’ll make you go weak at the knees (“conchas a la parmesana” is classic and resounding puts to bed any idea that seafood and cheese aren’t delicious together). Peruvians love soup of all kinds but I find many of them are too fiercely fishy for my palate. Most places will serve fish in various other styles including , “a lo macho” which is when the fish is served with manly red spicy seafood sauce — note: almost nothing in Peru is spicy like in Thailand — it’s just a touch of spice unless you eat one of the chili peppers).
Try some of these restaurants (and keep in mind that most cevicherias close at 5 p.m. or earlier as traditionally fish is only fresh for breakfast or lunch. I’m trying to think of when I’ve seen a Peruvian order ceviche at night). Lastly, Peruvians love franchising so don’t worry that many of these places are chains. I’ve listed the daytime places in relative order of “But, it’s RAW! And I’m willing to try it… but only one tine of my fork…” to “No AC and no ingles! Gotta talk to the local sitting next to me? Bring it on!”
“But, it’s RAW! And I’m willing to try it… but only one tine of my fork…”
El Mercado (considered the best restaurant by many) – international star chef and this place usually ranks on the “50 Best” list. Line up at 12:15 or make a reservation.
La Mar (by Gaston Acurio) – I like this place because it’s got it all. Also good lighting for photos. Go at 12:30 p.m. or 4 p.m. if you don’t want to wait.
El Segundo Muelle (a seafood chain)
El Seniorio de Sulco (old school place that old-time Limenos go to)
Francesco (very old school)
La Red – my favorite old school place – part of the legend in making the Lima food scene so great. Also, they have a good “lomo saltado” for those who don’t eat fish. The sons of the legend opened La Isolina (located in Barranco and open at night) which also has great food, including fish.
La Preferida (this is my secret place for fettucine pasta with a creamy seafood sauce)
“No AC and no ingles! Gotta talk to the local sitting next to me? Bring it on!”
La Picanteria – Internet famous. Good food too. One has to buy the whole fish by weight and then choose two methods of preparation. The inside of the restaurant is not scary but the location of this restaurant is in Surquillo right behind the market, so going there is probably by taxi. If you are the sort of person who visits the market (for photos and to try new fruits), then the restaurant is only two streets away (but hold your buddy’s hand when crossing the street, and look both ways).
La Leche – hidden gem in Surco and San Isidro.
Toke Pez (hole in the wall)
If you want to eat seafood at night (most restaurants serve fish and seafood but serving ceviche at night is a sign of a modern restaurant catering to foreigners, or moving with the times since there is this thing called refrigeration):
Pescados Capitales – a chain of high-end seafood restaurants
Las Brujas de Cachiche – open late and has everything Peruvian on the menu
Cosme (also one of those secret places not on the “50 Best” lists). Not many fish dishes but they do ceviche, tiradito, and a cooked fish of the day dish.
Lastly, eating seafood in Lima may spoil your ability to eat seafood in other places.
Food in Lima. I finally created a book with some of the foods I’ve tried on my many visits to Lima these past few years. Buy it here, on Lulu, if you wish. It’s just a little book, 7×9 inches, so it will fit in a bag easily (that way I can carry it around with me).
In reality, since my first visit, when I first had the classic ceviche as seen in the photo, all of my visits to Lima have been “food tours.” Some day, I’ll even get to Mistura, the food festival. I will, I will!
“How is the food?” “Delicious, but it makes me sad.” “Why?” “Because I can only eat this.” “But, we have more food in the kitchen.” “But I have only this one night.”
This was the conversation I had with my young waiter who looked like he had stepped out of a commercial for polo and Polo.
I had wandered around Colonia for a few hours when I heard the lap of waves at the end of a cobblestone street. Charco restaurant is down at sea level, perhaps even a bit below. They have a counter along the windows so that one can sit facing the waves while eating.
I managed to get a table because I wanted to eat dinner at 5 p.m. Apparently later that evening, all the (seven) tables were reserved. Charco is the “house” restaurant of a hotel. The hotel only has seven rooms (or something like that) and next time I visit Colonia, I might try to stay there.
But, what I really impressed me was the freshly baked mini breads (and the olives) which came out as an appetizer. The bread had been baked like Italian pizza with corn meal on the bottom. This helps to keep the bread from sticking to the oven but it also adds a crunchy sweetness to the rolls. Warm, buttery, and sweetly corny. All six for me!
When I chatted with the waiter, who spoke beautiful English, I asked him if he was from Colonia. He was. I asked if he had seen some of the world. He had. I asked if he thought that Colonia was the best town in the world. That was why he came back.
The United Nations got there first. It’s a World Heritage site. But, Colonia, unlike, say Cartagena, may not seem so obviously a world heritage site. It is quiet in Colonia. Even sleepy. The contrast is great if you take the Buquebus ferry from the loud metropolis of Buenos Aires.
When you get off the ferry (which takes about an hour), it’s a twenty minute or so walk (depending on how much luggage you are carrying) to the old center of the town of Colonia. The international passport control for leaving Argentina and entering Uruguay are both done in Buenos Aires so it’s easy to just walk off the ferry and be on your way. Likewise, when you leave Colonia, the passport control to depart Uruguay and enter Argentina is literally at the same window. The two officials stand one foot from each other. It’s a little surreal in that bureaucratic way.
I really liked Colonia. A lot. I liked how civil and nice everyone and everything seemed to be. I understand that many folks from Buenos Aires take a day trip to Colonia when they need a really quiet day. I stayed overnight and I’m glad I did. I wandered around enjoying the fort, watching the local’s try to catch fish, the hand made ice cream, the seafood, and all that. But, mostly I enjoyed walking down cobble stone streets. There were so many and each one had a secret wine tavern or hidden artist’s studio or some other treasure for the photographically inclined.
An example of how unusual (to me) Colonia felt to me was what happened when I tried to cross the street. I was on my way to find the post office and I was following verbal directions so I stopped at an intersection. I got distracted by a kiosk in a park. Then I noticed something very odd. The few soft sounds of traffic had died down. I looked around at the intersection. All, wait, ALL, the cars and bikes had stopped. Waiting for me, the pedestrian, to make my move. Wow. I was flabbergasted. I did cross the street so that I didn’t cause a rush hour.
Another reason to visit Colonia is for the restaurant down by the sea wall where the waves lap up like silver applause (I’ll have to blog about it another time once I’ve dug up the card).
Next time I’ll rent a golf cart so I can explore more of the city. And feel the wind in my hair.
Plus, I want to stay at the lemon grower’s bed and breakfast. Also, I need to go back to that restaurant. AHA! I remember now. It was called Charco. I had one of the saddest eating experiences there. But more about that some other time.