Eat List: Cusco & The Sacred Valley, Peru
The culinary scene in Cusco and the Sacred Valley of Peru has come a long way in recent years. Andean cuisine is in the midst of a resurgence as young chefs from the region are returning home from the coast to reclaim their culinary heritage, while some star Peruvian chefs are also moving in. The result is a rapidly expanding network of artisan producers, many of them indigenous, and ingredients of increasingly higher quality. For those easily impressed by restaurants with a few alpacas and pan flute music this list is not for you.
Calle del MedioWith one of the most privelaged views of the Plaza de Armas from its long colonial balcony, Calle de Medio’s consistent menu of Peruvian comfort foods has made it a Cusco favorite. Opt for bar snacks like an alpaca burger and choripapas, mains like alpaca done two ways, or oversized share plates like a seco de asado de tira with tacu tacu. The resturant’s bar area, more of a lounge really, features endless combinations of pisco sours and chilcanos with their jars of native fruits and herbs soaking in pisco. Calle del Medio 113; cuscorestaurants.com.
ChiChaGastón Acurio’s take on regional cuisine has quietly become one of Cusco’s most reliable restuarants since opening in 2010. On the second floor of a colonial building overlooking Plaza Regocijo, in a two-room space with an open kitchen and bar on each end, Chicha, serves updated Andean classics like adobo de cerdo, lawa de maīz, tamales, and lengua atomatada, alongside new creations like alpaca curry and Pekin cuy. There’s also a second location in Arequipa. Plaza Regocijo 261, 2nd floor; chicha.com.pe.
ChullpiChullpi, which opened on the Plaza de Armas in 2017, is one of the most promising new restaurants in Cusco’s city center in years. Chef and author José Luján Vargas, one of the strongest culinary voices in the region, has transformed a former disco space into a Novo Andina fine dining temple that pays tribute to local producers and ingredients through dishes like Huarocondo lechon and a black quinoa estofado with mushrooms and tarwi. There’s a second location in Aguas Calientes, as well. Portal Harinas 191, Plaza de Armas; Facebook page.
CicciolinaSince 2003 Cicciolina has been on the forefront of Cusco’s restaurant scene, merging Peruvian and Mediterranean flavors in a farmhouse setting where bushels of garlic and peppers hang from the wood-beamed ceiling. There are rotating tapas at the bar, while the dining room menu, mostly house made pastas and a few meat courses, has changed little over the years. Cicciolina’s ground-floor bakery is one of the best breakfast spots in town. Triunfo 393, 2nd floor; cicciolinacuzco.com.
FaustinaHuancayo born chef and artist Noemí Cristóbal is known for her use of herbs and regional ingredients like chicha de jora that have been used in Andean cooking for centuries. The intimate space features wood floors and original stone walls, while the menu changes daily. Calle Arequipa 159; faustinaperu.com.
KionThe chifas in Cusco tend to be quite average, though this upscale chifa is one of the better versions of updated Peruvianized Cantonese food. The restaurant, resembling a typical Chinese supper club, is a good spot for a cocktail and dim sum, like roasted duck steamed buns or the saucó covered chicken wings, while the rest of the menu is mostly split between straightforward rice and noodle dishes. Calle Triunfo 370, piso 2; cuscorestaurants.com.
La Bodega 138There are wood fired ovens in dozens of restaurants in Cusco’s historic center, though many use such poor ingredients that the resulting pizzas are rather poor. One exception is La Bodega 138 on a narrow side street about five minutes from the plaza with several dozen options, along with house-made pastas (try the spaghetti with huancaína sauce), hearty soups, and Peruvian craft beers. Herrajes 138; labodega138.com.
Limo Cocina NikkeiWhen Limo, part of a local restaurant group headed by chef Coque Ossio, first opened on the Plaza de Armas, it was more of a sushi bar. It has transitioned into a far more interesting Nikkei restaurant with touches of the Andes. There’s still sushi, though now with temaki hand rolls too, but the menu has expanded to include a list of tempura, ramen, tiraditos, and yakimeshi. Portal de Carnes 236, 2nd floor; cuscorestaurants.com.
MAP CaféSet within a glass box inside of the cobblestone courtyard of the Museo de Arte Precolombino (MAP), MAP Café is one of Cusco’s great restaurant spaces. The menu is one of the more creative in town, with tortelloni stuffed with guinea pig in a Cuzqueña brodo, local charcuterie, and an Andean version of arroz con pato. Plaza Nazarenas 231; cuscorestaurants.com.
Museo del PiscoThis three-level ode to Peru’s signature spirit has one of the widest selections of artisanal piscos anywhere in Peru, served in flights, straight, or in cocktails. There’s a decent menu of tapas and small plates too: butifarras, fried Ayaviri cheese, anticuchos, etc. There’s occasionally live music in the evenings and they also recently expanded to Arequipa. Santa Catalina Ancha 398; museodelpisco.org.
Nuevo Mundo Draft BarThis narrow bar on the plaza hasn’t changed it’s look since the legendary bar Cross Keys Pub held it for many years prior. Lima based Cervecería Nuevo Mundo has simply expanded the draft menu, focusing on mostly Peruvian craft beers beyond just their own, while the grub menu remains focused on sandwiches and fried snacks. Portal de Confituria 233.
PachapapaInside a rustic whitewashed building across from the Iglesia de San Blas, Pachapapa is an updated version of a traditional Cuzqueña quinta or picantería that manages to not feel Disney-ish. Many of the dishes – aji de gallina, seco de cordero, chairo – are baked in clay pots, while meat dishes (oxtail, suckling pig, lamb, and guinea pig) are cooked over a wood fire. Plazoleta San Blas 120; cuscorestaurants.com.
Papacho’sYou probably shouldn’t go to the Andes to eat a burger, but if you do skip the McDonald’s and Bembo’s on the plaza and hit up this gourmet burger joint from Gastón Acurio. The menu is extensive with plenty of non-burger options like aji charapita spiced chicken wings, chicharrón tacos, and broasted chickem, plus there’s a great bar with original cocktails and craft beer. Portal de Belén 115, 2nd floor; papachos.com.
Tamales JosefinaGenerations of women selling tamales and humitas out of a wicker basket since 1924 at this spot below Papacho’s on the Plaza de Armas. The options are limited to just dulce (sweet) or salada (salty), which have a touch of pork, ají amarillo, and an olive in them. Portal de Belen; Facebook page.
TaytafeThis meat-centric restaurant from young chef Paul Rivera is a bit off the beaten tourist trail, but if it is beef you are after it’s the best option in Cusco. Meats are sourced nationally, Argentina, or the U.S., are aged 40-50 days and includes cuts like tomahawk steaks, rib-eyes, and Brazilian-style picanha. There’s also an aged burger on house made papá amarilla and chia bread and regional dishes. Considering this is a restaurant aimed at locals, prices are considerably cheaper than resturants near the plaza. Av. La Cultura A-9, Marcavalle; Facebook page.
Three Monkeys CoffeeCusco’s premier coffee roaster, which is also working with Virgilio Martinez’s Moray restaurant Mil (see below), serves from a cart from the courtyard of art space Rica Chicha. They work with growers near Quillabamba, following the beans from the plant to the cup. Calle Arequipa 159; Facebook page.
Mercado Central de San PedroCusco’s central market is a lively Andean market used by the local population, aside from a handful of handicraft stands aimed at the occasional tourist that stumbles in. What it lacks in specificity it makes up for in the vastness of its products: cacao from Quillabamba, native tubers from isolated valleys, medicinal herbs from Puerto Maldonado, cheeses from Ocongate, breads from Abancay, and more. There is a section of food stands, mostly serving rice and protein plates or stews. Cascaparo s/n.
Quintas and PicanteriasHidden on side streets and through colonial courtyards are relics of Cusco’s culinary history that continue traditions that existed long before Machu Picchu became a tourist attraction. These are rustic eateries serving hearty local dishes with recipes that extend back generations to local clientele (read more about Cusco’s Quintas and Picanterías here):
- El Maldito Rocoto: Come in the morning for Cusqueña style rocoto relleno (battered and fried rocoto peppers) at this secret eatery down a maze of alleyways not far from the plaza. Calle Marquez.
- La Yoli: The specialty here is the adobo cusqueño, a stew made with ají panca rubbed pork and chicha de jora. Calle Teatro 352.
- Quinta Eulalia: Open since 1941, Quinta Eulalia is a good place to sample a range of regional dishes, like Andean stews such as chairo or cuy chactado (roasted guinea pig). Choqechaka 384.
- Quinta Waly: You’re reward for a 15-minute walk from the center is an enormous plate of guiso de rabo, or oxtail stew. Avenida Alta 506.
- La Chomba: One of the most classic picanterías in Cusco, La Chomba has lots of regional dishes, but the classic order is their chicharrón (fried pork) with a glass of frutillada, strawberry flavored maize beer. Avenida Tullumayo 339.