Cuzco has always been a bit of a wild card in terms of restaurants. While quality products are there, few restaurants have really put them to good use and instead have tried to serve tourist friendly food. That’s beginning to change. This year Cuzco saw the launch of several excellent restaurants from top Peruvian chefs, such as Senzo by Virgillio Martinez and Calle de Medio from Jaime Pesaque. On top of a few already decent spots and some new pisco bars, Cuzco’s culinary scene is taking on new life. Here’s where to go…
Senzo: If there was one restaurant that I would say is a must in Cuzco right now, it would be Virgillio Martinez’s Senzo in Orient Express’ beautiful new hotel Palacio Nazarenas. Martinez, who also heads the kitchen of Central in Lima & Lima London in London, has, with the help of head chef Karime Lopez Moreno Tagle, created stunning multi course tasting menus that utilize the products from the region. It’s like Central in the Andes. There’s also vegetarian tasting menus and the hotel has a culinary package that includes a market tour, cooking lesson, and 3-course meal with wine pairing. Calle Palacio 144.
Los Bachiche Pizzeria: Gastón Acurio will be opening a pizza centric version of his successful Lima Peruvian-Italian restaurant Los Bachiche on Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas sometime in 2013. I can almost guarantee that this is going to be a restaurant that is full every night.
Calle del Medio: Jaime Pesaque is quickly amassed a worldwide restaurant empire that includes Mayta in Lima, Raymi in NYC, and restaurants in Punta del Este, Miami, and Hong Kong. Calle de Medio, his first foray into Cuzco, is a sprawling restaurant and lounge with Pesaque’s signature pisco infusions lined up behind the bar. One lengthy side of the 2nd level, corner spot looks over the Plaza de Armas. The menu is almost a smaller version of Acurio’s Chi Cha with dishes like trout ceviche and glazed pancetta with figs and aji panca over quinoa. Calle de Medio 113.
Museo del Pisco: New in 2012, the Museo del Pisco isn’t exactly a museum, but something better. The two level bar, just beside the new JW Marriot a block from the plaza, specializes in catas (flights) of pisco, which are organized by grape, region, distillation, and staff favorites. With walls painted with graphics that detail the history or pisco and the distillation process, staff describes each pour that is presented to you when it arrives to your table. There are one hundred or so varieties of pisco to sample, more than any other place that I’ve seen, and a truly excellent cocktail menu, many using fresh fruit juices (beet!) and house made syrups. Calle Santa Catalina Ancha 398.
Limo Cocina & Pisco Bar: On the second floor over looking the plaza above McDonald’s is Limo, a restaurant from Coque Ossio that opened a couple of years ago and I don’t hear much of though I have had several great meals there. The cocktails are superb, there’s a lengthy sushi and Nikkei side to the menu, and the ceviches, tiraditos, causas and Novo andina plates are all quite creative. Portal de Carnes 236.
Chi Cha Cuzco: Open since February 2009, Chi Cha was Acurio’s first Cuzco restaurant and is still a consistently great place for high quality Andean dishes. There’s just one dining room with a beamed ceiling on the second floor of colonial building on Plaza Regocijo. Calle Plaza Regocijo 261.
Cicciolina: Cicciolina is Cuzco’s original great restaurant and is still one of the best. With a farmhouse feel that includes huge bundles of aji peppers hanging from the ceiling and a downstairs bakery and brunch spot, the elegant restaurant in San Blas, with one of the city’s best wine lists, is all around pleasant. The food is a combination of Mediterranean and Novo Andina. A blackboard bar menu also serves a handful of tapas. Calle Triunfo 393.
MAP Café: A glass box surrounds the dining room here, which is set in the colonial courtyard of the MAP, the Museo de Arte Pre-Colombino. Also headed by Coque Ossio, of Limo, Map Café serves a combination of ingredient driven Andean dishes (Sopa de Quinoa, Milanesa de Alpaca, etc) to sandwiches, wraps, and pasta. The menu is a bit more basic than in years past. Plaza Nazarenes.
La Bodega 138: Everyone is always surprised about the quality of pizza that can be found in Cuzco. Every place has a wood fired oven pies and is generally inexpensive. This small pizzeria hidden on a sloping side street is the best in my opinion and has a decent selection of wine and small plates. Calle Herrajes 138
El Pisquerito: Hans Hilburg was one of Lima’s best known bartenders, one of the first great pisco mixologists, but a few years ago moved to the Cuzco to open El Pisquerito, a pisco bar near Plaza Regocijo. A bit off the beaten tourist track, it draws in mostly locals and expats living in town. The cocktails top out at around 20 soles and are probably better than at any other bar or restaurant in town. Calle San Juan de Dios 250.
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.