Cusco, once a culinary wasteland, is increasingly becoming a high watermark of Peruvian cuisine. No other places in the Andes apart from maybe Quito, Ecuador has such an impressive gastronomic scene. While restaurants like Bistrot 370 are redefining the city, outside in the Sacred Valley where things have always been a little bit more laid back. Named after Andean Black Mint, a common herb used in Peruvian cooking, Urubamba’s El Huacatay has become the Sacred Valley’s landmark restaurant chef Pio Vazquez de Velasco opened in early 2006.
Not on the main square nor on the main road, if you’re not looking for this superb restaurant you probably won’t find it. Down a narrow street in the center lined with adobe walls you see a small sign and a door. Walk in and you see a small garden and turn right into a tiny dining room with a handful of wooden tables and small bar. The décor is simple and cosy.
While the menu changes every so often and specials are offered daily, there are a few mainstays and many infuse touches of Southeast Asia and the Mediterranean. A stuffed tuber selection is a nice way to take in your surroundings: sweet potato stuffed with Andean cheese and slathered in a sweet algarobbina sauce, yucca filled with blue cheese, etc. At least it keeps the menu lively, as does their purple corn chicken soup.
Main courses such as Gnocchi made of coca flour with strips of teriyaki beef and cashews scream of a more sophisticated dining experience than the typical buffet and pachamanca of typical valley tours. In four or five visits over several years I have never been disappointed with any dish. Peru’s seemingly national fusion dish, lomo saltado, has an Andean take that replaces the beef with much less fatty alpaca meat. It works. So does the wok fried trout with a soy crème.
A small yet careful selected list of Argentine Malbecs insist the rest of the meal will go that much smoother.
Restaurant El Huacatay
Jr. Arica 620
Urubamba, Cusco, Perú
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.