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 Medio
With 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.
Gastón 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.
Chullpi, 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.
Since 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.
Huancayo 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.
The 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 138
There 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 Nikkei
When 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.
Set 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 Pisco
This 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 Bar
This 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.
Inside 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, secode 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.
You 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.
Generations 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.
This 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 Coffee
Cusco’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 Pedro
Cusco’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 Picanterias
Hidden 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.
Saylla and Poroy
In the district of Saylla near Cusco’s airport and along the road to Poroy are dozens of chicharronerías, which are often little more than a tent with a metal cauldron filled with hot oil, plus a few tables and chairs. The deep-fried pork is usually served with moté (corn) and boiled potatoes.
I consider a visit to this restaurant from Lima chef Virgilio Martínez of Central and his research team Mater Iniciativa an experience as powerful as visiting Machu Picchu. Overlooking the circular Inca agricultural terraces of Moray, one of the Cusco region’s greast attractions, the minimalist restaurant and research facility is a fulkl immersion into Andean foodways and flavors. Sources directly from the surrounding communities, the restaurant serves 8-course menus ($145 per person) paired with local distillations or infusions and extracts (additional fee). Service is during lunch only and there are only a handful of tables, so reservations are a must. milcentro.pe.
Opened in 2018 by the crew from Destilería Andina, Chuncho is the kind of restaurant that should have opened in the Sacred Valley years ago. Their refreshing take on regional Andean recipes uses mostly organic ingredients from their farm attached to the El Albergue hotel, while their bar makes the best cocktaisl in the region, utilizing their own cañazo (a regional sugarcane based spirit), whiskey, and herbal liquors. The clever décor features phone charging stations built into the tables and a bar redesigned out of an old truck. Plaza de Armas; Facebook page.
El Albergue Restaurant & Café Mayu
This restaurant and café in the El Albergue Hotel, which began with a few straw mats for beds in an abandoned train station decades ago, has a reliable international menu (house made pastas, Ollanta’s best burger, a great brunch) with touches of the Andes (alpaca steak, tacu tacu). It’s a good place to set up a pachamanca lunch at their farm and you can also pick up coffee that they roast on-site, have a Cervecería del Valle Sagrado while waiting for a train, or pick up a lunch box for Machu Picchu. Beside the train tracks; elalbergue.com.
Cervecería del Valle Sagrado
Just outside of Ollantaytambo, this tap room from the region’s best brewery has a menu of draft beers that are produced in the back (ask about a tour), like a red ale made with the seeds of the airampo cactus fruit and an American style pale ale, among others. They have a pub menu with dishes like yogurt fried chicken livers, a BBQ platter, and a few burgers. www.cerveceriadelvalle.com.
Pío Vásquez’s farm to table restaurant in an adobe building has managed to stick around in Urubamba for more than a decade without resorting to tour groups and pan flutes. The menu has been tweaked gradually over the years and standout dishes include a Pumahuanca trout tartar, alpaca carpaccio, and a mixed meat saltado. Jirón Arica 620; elhuacatay.com.
An American and Peruvian chef couple with experience cooking in restaurants around the U.S. came to the Sacred Valley to raise their kids and opened this cozy restaurant just off Urubamba’s plaza. The eclectic comfort food menu includes things like fried green tomatoes, coffee rubbed ribs, and a fried chicken sandwich, am ong other things. There’s Cervecería del Valle Sagrado beer on tap. Facebook page; Jirón Grau.
The products are more localized at Urubamba’s primary produce market than in Cusco’s Mercado San Pedro. Much of the produce is grown or foraged for in the Sacred Valley and tends to be highly seasonal, so – aside of the standard tubers, corn, and chiles – you might see things here you rarely see elsewhere, like a wild curcubit called acocha or the red berry called capulí. Jirón Comercio at Jirón Sucre.
Hornos Coloniales: On a corner of the Pisac’s plaza and elsewhere around town (you’ll see them as you wander through the market) are several colonial-style clay ovens, such as Horno Colonial San Francisco, which dates to 1830. Most bake empanadas and breads, though several will also cook cuy (guinea pig) and potatoes in the ovens.
Aguas Calientes/Machu Picchu Pueblo
The sister restaurant to José Luján Vargas’ Cusco eatery of the same name (see above). The menu is quite similar, though the setting more relaxed. Avenida Imperio de los Incas 140, Facebook page.
The Tree House
Up a staircase a couple of blocks uphill from the Aguas Calientes plaza in the Rupa Wasi hotel, the cozy Tree House is one of the better options in a sea of bad ones in Aguas Calientes. The rotating specials are the best option, though tamarind glazed pork ribs and quinoa crusted trout with a sauco sauce are reliable. Calle Huanacaure 105; rupawasi.net.
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