Ceviche, or cebiche as it is better known in Lima, is Peru’s national dish and an iconic symbol of Peru. While preparations vary across regions, Lima has without a doubt the most to offer. Again and again I am asked what my favorite restaurant for cebiche is. I don’t have a straight answer. My lust for raw fish marinated in lime juice is changing all the time, not to mention more cevicherias are opening all the time. Here are my 13 favorites:
- La Pescaderia – Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, considered one of the top chefs on the continent, isknown for his use of obscure Amazonian ingredients, but shifts his focus to the Peruvian coast in this concept cevicheria/fish market in the port of Callao (and soon another in Barranco). His dishes range from bite sized orders, like fried oysters with tapioca or octopus carpaccio, to heartier rice dishes like tacu tacus stuffed with shellfish or blue marlin in tamarind sauce. Callao.
- El Mercado – The hottest restaurant in Lima of 2010 is Rafael Osterling’s El Mercado. The chef has attempted to convey a market atmosphere with large chalkboards adding dozens of market driven specials to an already massive menu that could serve as a what’s what of Peruvian coastal cuisine (plus dishes influenced from the chefs travels in Thailand, Japan, and the Mediterranean). Miraflores.
- Amor Amar - The impossible to find closed door restaurant in the bohemian quarter of Barranco opened in April 2010 and is headed by two of Lima’s greatest culinary minds: former La Gloria chef Alberto Luis Schilotto and Pescados Capitales founder Victor Away Chang-Say. The leafy walled compound holds a 110-year-old house turned art gallery surrounded by an open-air modernist dining patio and bar. It’s cool and pricey and the average Peruvian wouldn’t even dream of knocking on the 12-foot door to the street. Schilotto is fond of using charela (a mild white fish from the north of the country) and does an incredible tuna tartar and even better toasted foie gras with jumbo shrimp. Barranco. www.amoramar.com
- Punta Arenas – It’s less buzzed about than Sonia a few blocks away, but Punta Arenas is one of my standbys. The fish are extremely fresh and of superior quality, yet the price is rather inexpensive and the atmosphere is pleasant. Nothing on the massive menu really stands out, but the general quality of every dish is superb.Chorrillos.
- Chez Wong – Sankuay, nicknamed Chez Wong, is inside chef Javier Wong’s two level house and features one simple, brick wall dining room and terrace with an open kitchen on one end. There’s no menu, but everyone gets two courses. The first is the chef’s renowned flounder and octopus ceviche, which curiously adds fresh ground pepper and is my favorite cebiche in all of the world. For the second dish Wong usually prepares some sort of saltado, or stir-fry, based on what’s fresh. La Victoria.
- Canta Rana – Canta Rana (Singing Frog) is a classic cevicheria with wood floors, photos of Latin American soccer players on the walls, and minimalist, rustic furniture. The jalea (fried seafood), seviche (fish marinated in lime juice, onions and chilies), and arroz con mariscos (rice and seafood) are pricey, but well worth it. Be sure to wash everything down with a jar of chicha morada, a purple corn drink. Barranco.
- La Rosa Nautica – Although La Rosa Nautica is packed with busloads of tourists during lunch hours several days a week, there is no denying the charm of the place and the quality of the food served. It’s the only restaurant in Lima set on a dock actually over the Pacific Ocean. The traditional Peruvian and international seafood dishes, such as tiradito, seviche and risotto with squid ink, are excellently prepared and lauded throughout Lima. Miraflores. www.larosanautica.com.
- Sonia – This Lima institution was formerly a shack near the Chorrillos fish market that became so popular it moved farther onshore. This rustic cevicheria is credited with developing several styles of cooking such as a la chorrillana and a lo macho, which are now well-known throughout Peru. Ceviche is best there, but some of the other dishes fall short. Chorrillos. www.restaurantsonia.com.
- La Red – The oldest cebicheria on this street has expanded and cleaned up a bit since its opening. It’s not as swanky as La Mar, but it’s not unattractive by any means. Rocoto Relleno, Tacu Tacu, Arroz con Mariscos, cebiche, tiradito, Pulpo a la Parrilla, and quite a few criollo dishes. Everything is of fine quality and dishes come out exactly how you would expect they would. You won’t find a Thai variation here. Miaflores. www.lared.com.pe
- La Mar – Gastón Acurio’s 2nd Lima restaurant, La Mar, is the one that has had the most impact around the world now that it can be found as far away as San Francisco and New York. Dishes range from traditional criollo, Asian fusion, chupes, arroces, and a generous selection of ceviches and tiraditos. The cocktail list combines pisco with native fruits. Miraflores. www.lamarcebicheria.com
- Cinco Esquinas – Rodrigo Conroy, whose Rodrigo is considered on of Lima’s top fine dining restaurants, heads this one room cebicheria towards the San Isidro end of the avenue. To, start, I recommend their causas – one of which is wrapped in plantains, stuffed with bacon, and topped with tuna and yauco – and won 2nd place Causa from Mistura in 2009. The Black Conch Ceviche is superb here, as are the Tacu-Tacus, and just about anything else. Miraflores.
- Pescados Capitales – A play on the name Pecados Capitales (Capital Sins), Pescados Capitales (Capital Fish…not as clever in English) is one of the most respected cebicherias in Lima. The menu is organized by sins: Greed, Gluttony, Vain, Ire, Envy, etc. The menu is massive and you can expect to find almost any seafood recipe from Peru’s central coast to appear in some form or another. Some consider it the best in Lima and it’s definitely up there. Miraflores. www.pescados-capitales.com
- Caplina – Another long time favorite. Try their Uñas de Cangrejo Rellenas de Langostinos, crab claws stuffed with prawns that are then breaded and fried. Their Mariscuyá is served in single bite spoons, passionfruit and lime marinate raw seafood such as conch for an aphrodisiacal way to start a meal. Other specialties include Risotto de Lomo Saltado and Chita al Ajo, though they have a standad list of ceviches, tiraditos, grilled fish with various sauces. Attractive setting. Miraflores. www.caplina.com
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.