The food in Peru blew me away.
Before arriving in South America I had set my expectations low, envisioning plates heaped with gallo pinto and guinea pig. Boy, was I wrong. In fact it wasn’t until we reached Peru that dining became travel priority numero uno.
Here are our most memorable bites in Cusco, and where I think you should dine too:
Address: Plateros 309
Location: Centrally located, just off the main square
Price: Mid-range, very good value
Website: Click here
This quaint eatery is flooded with warm, low light and flickering candles. A few blooms sit atop each table and clay pots with small wooden spoons dish up Peruvian salt, pepper and granulated brown sugar.
At S/8 per glass, the house wine satisfies budget-minded travellers though wine snobs might take a pass.
Start with one of the many enticing soups; I recommend sopa de ajo (garlic soup with poached egg and a slice of baguette). Other options include sopa la criolla (a mild and milky Creole soup), sopa de quinua (quinoa), potato cream soup and aguadito de pollo (herb risotto with chicken stock). Soup pricing: S/15 – S/22.
Follow up with one of Pakura’s specialty Peruvian entrées. I swooned for estofado de pollo, a stewed chicken breast served with an ample amount of tomato-base sauce, topped with peas and herbs. Sides included steamed rice, stewed carrots and potato. Greg ordered alpaca brochette served with fried potato wedges and steamed carrots and broccoli. While the meat was tender and well enjoyed, the sides were decidedly underwhelming. Other mains on Pucara’s menu include steak, aji de gallina (chicken in a spicy cream sauce),picante de trucha (trout in a spicy cream sauce) and vegetarians will appreciate vendura saltado (mixed vegetable saute). Entrée pricing: S/22 -S/45.
Address: Portal de Panes 115
Location: Centrally located in Plaza des Armas
It seems every Western traveller visiting Cusco will inevitably dine at Inka Grill. Does it live up to the hype? You decide.
Inka Grill has a warm interior with spectacular views of the cathedral, if you can get a table near the window. The restaurant’s centerpiece is a tall votive candle which sit atop a heap of multi-coloured, melted wax. Later in the evening musicians appear and live Andean rhythms dramatically improve the Grill’s ambiance.
Those looking for creative adaptations of pisco cocktails will be pleased by the fully stocked bar, and the wine menu is just as attractive. Inka Grill’s menu is limited to just two pages, which I always find comforting.
Appetizers are varied (vegetarian, meat, soups and salad) and we settled on empanadas. Three came served on a piece of slate with a spicy-sweet mustard style dip.
My entrée was aji de gallena, shredded chicken in a creamy garlic sauce topped with nuts and Parmesan cheese, garnished with a boiled egg and olive. It was accompanied by steamed rice and yellow potato. I chose aji de gallena because it is a classic Peruvian dish but generally found its flavour too mild to be remarkable. Greg won out with a 12-hour, slow cooked oxtail. Tender chunks of beef fell from the bone which sat in au jus, flavoured with mirasol chili and coriander. It was served with asparagus and gnocchi.
Other notable mains at Inka Grill include: lomo saltado (strips of sauted beef tenderloin), canilla de cordero a la bourguignon y porcon (12-hour braised lamb) and pork knuckle. Entrée pricing: S/40 – S/65.
Morena Peruvian Kitchen
Address: 348-B Calle Plateros
Location: Half a block from Plaza des Armas
Price: Mid-high, excellent value for quality and quantity
Website: Click here
Morena lacks a view but it compensates in every single other way. Rated Trip Advisor’s number one dining spot in Cusco, it’s a siren’s call for travelling foodies. A large mural of a woman’s portrait greets diners and further past the kitchen is a pleasingly trendy nook. Cacti, modern shelving, Edison bulb lighting, woven chairs and Peruvian textile throw-pillows make it a hip place to dine. The young wait staff is friendly, smiley and chatty.
Morena’s menu consists of an impressive wine list, appetizers, ‘chefs having fun’ (mains), and a page dedicated to ‘big sandwiches’. Portions are extremely generous for the price point and the quality is divine. Knowing this, we jumped right to entrées.
I couldn’t resist ordering the pork belly while Greg opted for a paella style main. Our cutlery came presented in a slotted, smooth stone, how modern. The pork was served in three generous pieces and the five-hour slow roasted meat practically fell from the bone. It was dressed in an aji banca barbecue sauce and sides included organic greens in a vinegar based dressing and a healthy portion of fried potato wedges. Greg’s dish – arroz con mariscos – was a heaping plate of rice mixed with prawns, squid and scallops, flavoured with Peruvian spices. Entrée pricing: 35-47.
Unlike a lot of wine lists we were presented with in Cusco, Morena’s prominently featured Peruvian vintages. We happily sipped a chilled Intipalka, a Sauvignon Blanc for S/90.
Of course these are just three of thousands of restaurants littered throughout Cusco. Do you have a different favourite?
Drop me a line – comment below – or better yet – tweet me