Cusco’s Quintas and Picanterías
A quinta in Cusco is like a huarique in Lima. It’s a simple, traditional restaurant with typical regional dishes at local prices, usually with an open-air or partially-open-air dining area. As much as Cusco has grown and become a global city and home to dozens of massive hotels and contemporary restaurants, the old Cusco has become increasingly 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 Cusqueños still live (as opposed to just work), there are still a few of genuine lunch only quintas and picanterias to be found. These are beautifully rustic restaurants that sometimes specialize in just a dish or two. Often an older woman runs the small kitchen, which will be anchored by a typical wood fired stove, a fogón. There will likely be homemade uchukuta (chile sauce), cheap beer, and chicha too:
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 puré (beef tongue with mashed potatoes), chicharrón (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 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.
A 15-minunte walk northwest of the plaza, Quinta Waly, open since 1976, is well of the tourist trail in Cusco. The menu is full of classic picantería plates like caldos (de gallina, de malaya, and de costillar), tripa dorada (golden tripe), sarza de patitias (pig’s feet stew), everything made soulfully from recipes that date back generations. Their star plate is the guiso de rabo, an oxtail stew that comes on a heaping plate with white rice and potatoes.Their frutillada is some of the best I’ve had.
In the heart of San Blas, Quinta Eulalia is one of the oldest quintas in Cusco, open since 1941. Tucked away off Calle 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 Cusco’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), chicharrón, lechon (suckling pig), costillar (ribs), and pato (duck).
It’s amazing that a place like El Maldito Rocoto can exists only a few steps from Cusco’s Plaza de Armas. A small sign ushers you into a small doorway and into a colonial courtyard full of chicharrónerias from where, if you look into an empty corner, another sign points to another hallway that twists around into a maze of stone alleyways where the simple restaurant stands. If you come at the right time you’ll walk into the kitchen as their rocoto relleno being is fried. It’s the Cusqueña version, which are smaller than the ones in Arequipa, plus are battered and deep fried. They sell for 2 soles each and are gone before the morning ends. You can find apanado de pollo and other basic dishes during lunch time. This is a place you will only find locals.
This basement picantería is always filled with regulars eating their Doña Yolanda’s adobo cusqueño, a pork stew that picks you right up off the floor. The pork is rubbed with ají panca and marinated in chicha de jora for a full day and is served with rocoto or ají amarillo.
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 Cusco 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.