The largest city in the world not connected by roads is a hotbed of interesting restaurants and markets. Peru’s Amazonian capital is a good place to sample the oddities and range of the region’s fruits, vegetables, meats, and traditional plates along with several rather bizarre takes on North American restaurants.
Where to Eat in Iquitos, Peru:
Fitzcarraldo (Malécon Tarapaca) On the corner of the malécon, this stylish open air restaurant with sidewalk seating is decorated with movie posters and prints of Herzog’s movie Fitzcarraldo. Tecina con Tacacho (salted pork with mashed and fried green banana) is quite good and impossible to finish alone. Regional plates include Venado (deer), Sopa de Motelo (turtle soup), Ensalada de Palmito (Heart of Palm Salad), and Juanes (rice, chicken/pork, olives, and yucca steamed in a bijao leave), though they also serve numerous national Peruvian dishes.$$$
Gran Maloca (Lores 170): The most upscale of Iquitos restaurants, this is the common vote for the city’s best restaurant, partly because it is air conditioned. National plates and fine versions of regional dishes including venison steaks, mushroom risottos, and even filet mignon. Decorated inside and out with Portuguese azulejo tile, this is the best restaurant to re-imagine the height of the amazonian rubber boom. $$$
Ari’s Burger (Napo and Raymondi): Ari’s doesn’t seem to fit in Iquitos at first glance, but after several visits I’ve come to the conclusion that no other restaurants is no more fitting. Ari’s is a 50’s style diner that opens up on to the sidewalk. Waitresses wear white sock hop style uniforms. The menu is massive: Lebanese dishes, amazonian fare, burgers, shakes, pie, fresh juices including Acai, pizzas, sundaes, and almost anything else you can dream up. $$
The Yellow Rose of Texas (Beside the Iron House, just off the plaza): Gerald Mayeaux, the former director of tourism in Iquitos, runs this bar and grill between the malécon and the plaza. I always opt to eat on their sidewalk tables for the people watching, but the inside is rather interesting and filled wall to wall with knick-knacks, old photos, anaconda skins, taxidermy, etc. The range of dishes is quite bizarre: Texas BBQ, Cajun, Alligator nuggets, burritos, ceviche, burgers, sandwiches, and fifty other things.$$
El Buccanero (Avenida de la Marina): Overlooking the port of Iquitos is this superb cevicheria. Fish is both from the coast and the likes of river fish such as Paiche and Dorado. Open only for lunch and is usually full during the week. $$$
Rustica (Beside Ari’s): This far offshoot of a Lima chain opened in 2005. Wood fired pizzas and pastas are the specialty. The rough log cabin theme is standard for the chain. $$
Amazon Cafe (Plaza de Armas): On the second floor of the Casa de Fierro, the famous Iron House that was designed by Gustav Eiffel and then shipped in pieces to Iquitos and reconstructed. The food here is just alright, but it’s cheap and the view over the plaza is superb. The menu is similar to Ari’s but one tenth the size and the ingredients not as fresh.
The Belén Market (Upper Belén District): Even if you can’t stomach the food, this is a good place to come, maybe better than anywhere else in the Amazon, to see the range of fruits, vegetables, plants, and animals in Peru’s Northern Amazon.
Shambo (Roving vendors and numerous storefronts): This creamy Popsicle is an Iquitos original (decades old) and comes in dozens of natural flavors such as coconut, aguaje, camu camu, banana, maracuya (passionfruit), and the typical chocolate and vanilla. Their mascot is Arturini Shambini, a shambo adorned in native dress.
Where to Drink in Iquitos, Peru:
El Musmuqui (Raymondi 382): For drinks with Amazonian elements, the “Night Monkey” is the place. The walls are filled with glass jars of roots, fruits, coca leaves, and herbs that are macerated in aguardiente. Cocktails, even served in pitchers if desired, are made with the heady concoctions.
Amauta Café Teatro (Nauta 250): My favorite bar in the entire Amazon. The theater like stage faces the sidewalk, not the interior of the bar. There’s live music almost every day of the week with a different theme: criollo, criollo with amazonian flavor, jazz, folkloric, chicha, etc. If Gilberto Gonzales and his band are playing and they usually are; GO. The sidewalk is filled with tables and waitresses serve cheap beer, cocktails, and the standard Amazonian cocktails like Chuchuhuasi and Siete Raices.
Arandú Teatro Bar (Malecón Tarapacá 113; 065/243-434): This spot on the malecón is the most happening of five or so bars that sit side by side and is usually busiest around sunset.
Noa Noa Disco Pub (Fitzcarraldo 298): This is the most popular of the Iquitos discotecas and the one you will more likely spot other travelers from abroad and elsewhere in Peru. Usually a 15 sole cover on the weekends.
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.