Ceviche is the Peruvian national lunch. In Lima, we could (did, and will continue to) eat it morning, noon, and night. Here are five of our favourite spots to enjoy the real deal.
1. Canta Rana, Barranco
Located in Lima’s bohemian Barranco district, aka our favorite neighborhood in Lima, Canta Rana is one part cevicheria, one part sports bar (there’s only one 27” TV from 1991, but good luck getting a table on game day).
Canta Rana has been a neighbourhood stronghold for over 25 years. It has all the trappings of true institution: sky-high walls decorated with endless newspaper clippings and (possibly priceless) sports memorabilia; career waiters and waitresses that move through the crowded dinning room like ballerinas; and the Argentine owner who no longer heads the kitchen, but is always on hand to greet pretty ladies with a kiss (at least Natalie always gets one).
Like clockwork locals and tourist line up daily at 11 am for a lunch rush that lasts long into the afternoon. This cevicheria screams authenticity and has you yelling over flavorful food and atmosphere.
The Canta Rana menu can be intimidating. With hundreds of dishes to choose from we took the “order now, ask questions later” approach. We can recommend the Ceviche Mixto, Camarones Ajillo or Langoustines Ajillo (our vote is for the langoustines), and Tacu Tacu de Mariscos picante. Wash it all down with icy beer or house chicha (a very purple drink made from very purple corn) on tap. Canta Rana also has our dance card for best cancha (more corn, this time toasted and served like pre-meal bread) in town.
Kitty-corner from Canta Rana sits El Muelle. Light, bright, and definitively more low-key than its Calle San Martin neighbor, El Muelle gets top marks for quality and freshness. On a hot day, its street seating can’t be beat, and El Muelle is a pretty perfect place to chill out and watch life in Barranco go by. Our Saturday afternoon visit had the best big-city brunch vibe we’ve enjoyed in months.
Less of a tourist magnet than Canta Rana, El Muelle offers the double bonus of shorter wait times and the possibility of being the only gringos chowing down.
We ordered the ceviche mixto (our cevicheria Lima taste testing duty, no?) and the fish quality and butchery were excellent. For our second course we had the mixto chicharron de mar, another big hit as the fish were breaded and fried to perfection. The service is friendly and relaxed, the ceviche is delicious, and you get to feel like a real Peruano. What more could you ask for?
Jr. Alfonso Ugarte No. 225 | Barranco
3. Chez Wong, San Isidro/ La Victoria
For over two decades, Chef Javier Wong has been turning out ceviche from Chez Wong—the dining room of his house in the La Victoria district of Lima. His space, style, and unique persona create a one-of-a-kind experience. They also create the kind of continued buzz that lets him charge triple that of other cevicherias.
There is no menu. Just the day’s ceviche and saltado. Chef Wong cooks “cutting board/wok-to-table” style. In his sparkling chef whites and Armani sunglasses he breaks down whole fresh sole (the only fish he uses for ceviche) in front of his guests. He adds his famously delicious leche de tigre and freshly julienned red onions right before the fresh-as-can-be ceviche hits the plate. It’s all so fresh that the first few bits are pretty much raw sashimi. As the leche de tigre takes effect the ceviche continues to develop flavor up to the last bite. Some chefs include dozens of ingredients in their leche de tigre but Chef Wong keeps it simple. Lime juice. S&P. and Fish Stock. The rest is magic. Our amazing hosts and pals Francesco and Carmen made sure we finished every last drop like a “real Peruano”, by picking up our plates and slurping it on down.
After the ceviche course, waiters dressed like hit men from a 1990s Steven Seagal movie ask if you want sweet or savory saltaldo. Chef Wong heads back to the cutting boards and creates a unique wok-fried dish based on the ingredients he has on hand for the day. Flames rise off his one wok burner and salt, hoisin, plum sauce, chili pastes, vinegar, and sautéed vegetables permeates the air.
Cliff found the experience worth the celebrity price tag, Natalie would have skipped the saltado and had half her money back, or better yet, a souvenir replica of Chef Wong’s glasses.
Enrique León García 114 | La Victoria
4. La Mar, Miraflores
Even with locations in Bogata, New York, Panama City, San Francsico, and Sao Paulo, the famous Astrid & Gaston cevicheria still holds it down at its flagship Lima location.
La Mar serves ceviche classics, but takes the casual cevicheria experience to a whole new level. Its mid-2000s glam look is tempered by a casual breeze let in down an entire side of the restaurant. A Very different experience from the La Mar on the San Francisco Bay.
Yes the ceviche is good, yes the cocktails are made with international precision and skill, yes the service is splendid (lunch came with complementary champagne when we dined the day after La Mar’s sexy big brother Astrid y Gaston leapt an astounding 21 places to #14 on San Pellegrino’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list). But was it worth the money? Yeah, probably.
Av. La Mar 770 | Miraflores
5. Sky Kitchen, Miraflores
Sky Kitchen is a fun-filled half-day cooking class (lunch or supper) held in the Miraflores penthouse of ceviche veteran Chef Yurac. It’s a hands-on, one-of-kind view into the wide (and widening) world of Peruvian cuisine. Spoiler alert: ceviche is always on the menu.
The Sky Kitchen kitchen/dining room/terrace is beautiful and fully outfitted (Cliff went weak in the knees for Yurac’s induction burner). Classes are well-planned and well-executed, and allow you a ton of relaxed wining and dining time along with learning about and helping prepare several traditional dishes.
It’s a great way to spend a day learning about regional traditions of Peruvian food while enjoying a downright tasty lunch or dinner. Best of all, Chef Yurac’s partner in crime Christian follows up after class with a full list of recipes for all the dishes you make in class.
Enrique Palacios 470, Door No. 709 | Miraflores