A quinta in Cuzco is like a huarique in Lima. It is a simple, traditional restaurant that provides regional dishes at local prices, usually with an open-or-partially-open air dining area. As much as Cuzco has grown and become a global city and home to dozens of massive hotels and contemporary restaurants, the old Cuzco has become more and more obscure. Still if you take a few steps off the beaten tourist paths, into the winding back roads of San Blas and away from the Plaza de Armas where Cuzqueños still live (as opposed to just work), there are still a few of genuine lunch only quintas to be found. If it’s the un-adulterated, un-Americanized, and beautifully rustic meals cooked on typical wood fired stoves, fogóns, served with homemade uchukuta (chile sauce), cheap beer, and chicha you are after, here’s where to go:
La Chomba: It’s amazing that a place like La Chomba can exists only a 10-minute walk from Cuzco’s Plaza de Armas. Worn wood tables and disastrous décor that barely holds the room together (paintings of the plaza de Armas, Christmas decorations, and plastic multicolored skylights) provide the setting for hearty, typical dishes like lengua con pure (beef tongue with mashed potatoes), chicharron (fried pork), cuy (guinea pig), trucha (trout), cabrito (goat), rocoto relleno (stuffed peppers), and malaya frita (fried, extra fatty cut of skirt steak). Wash it down with a giant glass of frutillada, a type of chicha de jora (a low alcohol, fermented maize beer), flavored with strawberries, which they make in giant vats. Portions are massive and most items on La Chomba’s menu average about 12 soles. There’s often live music. Calle Tullomayo 339.
Quinta Eulalia: In the heart of San Blas, Quinta Eulalia is one of the oldest quintas in Cuzco, open since 1941. Tucked away from Choquechaca in a partially covered, split level stone courtyard the menu here is quite similar to that of La Chomba, though there are a few regional plates here you won’t likely find anywhere else in Cuzco’s central hoods. Start with a bowl (or ½ bowl) of chairo, a flavorful Andean stew made of wheat, carrots, moté, lima beans, yellow potatoes, sweet potatoes, tripe, beef, and whatever other animal parts they have around that day. Other standards include cuy chactado (deep-fried guinea pig), chicharron, lechon (suckling pig), costillar (ribs), and pato (duck). Calle Choquechaca 384, San Blas.
Picantería El Secreto Sanbleño: You won’t find a sign for El Secreto Sanbleño, a hidden picantería on a narrow, dirt-lined path behind the San Blas market. You just have to walk in. If you you live here, you know it’s there and when it’s open, even though the hours are not marked. The blackboard list of menu items read like a look into a Cuzco you know exists but can never seem to find: montado (beef loin with a fried egg), lengua atomatada (beef tongue with tomato), ubre apanada (breaded cow’s udder), and tripa frita (fried tripe), as well as a number of less adventurous caldos (stews) and chicken plates. Chiwanpata.
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.