At a time when it's possible to travel halfway around the world and find a Chicago-style pizza, it's rare to hit upon a place where the food is worth the flight. And it may seem all the more surprising to discover that place is Lima—formerly known as a jumping-off point for adventure seekers. "Lima used to only be regarded as a transit hub," notes Giovanna Maggiolo, a pastry chef who, in October 2008, opened Xocolatl, a gallery-like artisanal chocolate shop selling candies and cakes stuffed with Amazonian fruits (xocolatl.pe, bonbons 90¢). "Travelers would come, spend a night, and then go off to Machu Picchu. Now they stay—and they're here to eat."
Lima's first celebrity chef, Gastón Acurio, came onto the scene 15 years ago. Acurio, who made his name putting new spins on traditional Peruvian cooking at his institution Astrid y Gastón, is best known for his inventive flavor combinations. For example, he adds pickled daikon to seared cuy—better known as guinea pig (astridygaston.com, entrées from $10). But even fixtures like Acurio are finding new inspiration. His latest venture, the year-old Panchita, turns out refined interpretations of street foods like anticuchos, or beef-heart skewers, and crisp suckling pig with pan-fried rice and beans (Av. 2 de Mayo 298, 011-51/1-242-5957, entrées from $7).
While Acurio is redefining Peruvian staples in modern ways, others are creating surreal but delicious one-of-a-kind concoctions. At Malabar, a warmly lit space in the financial center of San Isidro with edgy, contemporary nude paintings and photographs of buildings in decay, chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino incorporates ingredients from the Peruvian Amazon (river snails, gooseberries) into his seasonal dishes; standouts include the seared mackerel with chilled alpaca ham and cucumber in a vermouth vinaigrette, as well as the baby goat braised in artisanal corn beer and served with yucca pastry (malabar.com.pe; entrées from $12). And in the Barranco neighborhood to the south, in a renovated early 20th-century mansion decorated with antique barber chairs, mismatched tables, and multimedia collages, hip Limeños gather at the year-old Ayahuasca Bar for coca-leaf sours and cocktails made with purple corn and Peruvian pisco, a distilled grape brandy (ayahuascabar.com, cocktails from $6).
Smart hoteliers are also seizing the opportunity to attract the new foodie crowd: In October 2008, the Duo Hotel Boutique, a contemporary 20-room inn, opened on a quiet side street in San Isidro and hired up-and-comer Javier Paredes to create the cafe's Peruvian-Mediterranean menu (duohotelperu.com, from $120). Specialties include a chicken salad drizzled with a sauce made from aguaymanto, a berry native to the Andes—available here, and here alone.
KEYS TO THE CITY
Taxi from Jorge Chávez International Airport (LIM) to Miraflores: about $19 (30 minutes)
Lingo to Learn
Novoandina (no•vo•an•dee•nah): the term for New Peruvian cuisine
Best Low-Cost Carrier
Spirit Airlines, for service from Fort Lauderdale
Expect to Pay
A high-end meal in Lima, with three to four courses and wine or coffee, usually runs about $40 to $50 per person.
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