Everyone who comes to Peru, comes to Cusco at some point. Everyone who steps foot in Peru will immediately begin to receive suggestions from other travelers who have already been to the places you’re eventually going. Most of those tips are often about food. Where to eat. Every time I get a tip, I make a note in Google maps.
Welp, I’ve finally arrived in Cusco, and I’m ready to try out all those hot tips, plus a few more.
Plaza de Armas, Portal de Comercio 141, Cusco 08002
This cafe sits right in the center of the main square of Cusco. It has three small balconies, and if you’re lucky enough to arrive to find one empty, you can enjoy your cappuccino while the sun shines on your face as you look out over the Plaza de Armas and listen to the raging sounds of traffic jams and horns honking.
Personally, I find this place to be a bit overrated. The ambience and location get an A+, but the food and drinks are standard cafe options, but overpriced. I had a piece of the apple pie and a cappuccino, since that is the name after all. I would describe them as ‘fine.’
Cappuccino & apple pie: $22 soles ($5.74 usd)
SAN PEDRO MARKET:
Thupaq Amaru 477, Cusco 08002
This massive market in the center of Cusco has everything. Clothes. Incense. Bags. Gloves. Juice. Food. If you’re looking for an inexpensive meal, this is the place to come. While the majority of the market is full of stands with embroidered goods, there are two rows for juice, and on the far side, a food section. The juices range in price depending on what you want mixed together, but you can choose more than a dozen different flavors. Then you can sit down and enjoy your juice right there, as it is served in a glass mug, which I appreciate for environmental purposes. One massive orange and carrot juice cost me 6 soles ($1.57 usd).
When you’re ready for lunch, head on over to the food portion, where you can find adobo, ceviche, and fresh chicken noodle soup. I opted for the soup, though there were two versions: The sopa de pollo (smaller version, 7 soles – $1.83 usd), and the caldo de pollo (13 soles – $3.39 usd, comes with chicken feet). I opted for the smaller bowl sans chicken feet.
MORENA PERUVIAN KITCHEN
320 Calle Procuradores, Plaza de Armas, Cusco
This was by far the best food I’ve had in Peru. Hands down. I ate it as slowly as possible to enjoy every single second. Even after I was full, I kept going slowly and surely. I didn’t want to leave anything behind. I ordered the lomo saltado, which came on a bed of yellow quinoa, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, and edible flowers. Everything cooked to perfection. Just before the main course came out, they brought over a small starter of two round potatoes served with chimichurri and aji verde sauce. Along with the meal, came a dish of three sauces- a yellow garlic, more aji verde, and a spicy rocoto (red pepper). The sauces of Peru are a wonder of their own. The guys next to me ordered cocktails, and a waiter brought over a cart and created a masterpiece right at the table.
Yes, this is on the more pricey side for Peru, yet a meal this good for less than $20 by US standards is an absolute must. Go ahead and treat yourself one day. Lomo Saltado dish (as described above), and water sin gas: 64 soles ($17.16 usd).
GREEN POINTS RESTAURANTS:
Carmen Bajo 235, Cusco 08003
This beautiful restaurant is in the San Blas neighborhood, at the end of a long outdoor hallway filled with succulents and cacti. Once you enter the main part of the restaurant, you are welcomed into what feels like a secret garden. Full of plants, flowers, and beautiful hanging lights. The ambience is special. Both in the smell and feel. This is a fully vegan restaurant, and the attentive wait stuff make sure to explain each detail of everything you are served. I ordered the lentil burger, which came with possibly the best homemade fries I’ve ever had. In addition, they brought out several sauces- a homemade mayo, a spicy mustard (it wasn’t that spicy), and an incredible ketchup de la casa. Lentil burger & lemonade: 46 soles ($12.33 usd).
Detrás del colegio San Francisco de Borja (mirador, waynapata 410, Cusco 08002
This restaurant is in the center, but sits at the top of a hill with an amazing view of the city, including the cathedral in the Plaza de Armas. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to get the table next to the window upstairs and look out at the view during your whole meal. Unfortunately I wasn’t so lucky but I still enjoyed the atmosphere. It was very quiet and peaceful (until a family came in and set next to me, and the young boy played video games on his phone with the volume up and nobody told him to turn it down). All the food is fresh and prepared in house. The wait staff is extremely attentive, and I mean extremely. Like it’s just too much. I barely took two bites before they came back again to ask how it all was. To the point of annoyance. I don’t need to be checked on twice while I’m just enjoying my cappuccino. That’s after a dozen other check-ins during my meal. The food was good, but it was hard to focus on, since the waiters started to put me in a bad/annoyed mood. They serve you a mint tea at the end. Lomo alpaca, Limonada, cappuccino: 66 soles ($17.69 usd)
Calle Puputi & Juan Santos (Near Plaza Tupac Amaru)
This is a standard Peruvian “menu” place. The Peruvian “menu” means you pay one flat rate, generally 6-8 soles, and it comes with a drink, a starter, and a main dish. We ventured out a bit late in the afternoon (3pm) for lunch so struggled at first to find an open menu restaurant. We walked a few blocks up the hill from Plaza Tupac Amaru and found the perfect place: Tupana. It was open, still serving, and several Peruvian men hanging out watching the Manchester United v Real Madrid game.
We sat in the back of the restaurant, which was like a private room, and ordered 2 ‘menus.’ Generally you have a choice of a few different items, though since we were quite late, we got whatever they had, which was still delicious. The drink was mate de manzanilla, chamomile tea. The first dish was a rich, yellow, quinoa soup with vegetables, and the second was ‘seco de pollo,’ which was a cup of white rice, carrots, potatoes, and a chicken wing, with a rich, seasoned green sauce. Not bad for 7 soles each person ($1.86).
F2GV+5XG, 3S, Cusco 08003 (right in front of this address)
About 15 minutes walking from my apartment, there is a small park in front of a hospital. In that park there are several women, and oftentimes with their children, selling all kinds of homemade food. This area seems to cater to the workers in the area, as it on a main street next to a bus stop. We went over there one afternoon to see what kind of street food we could find.
Rocoto Relleno: This food was recommended to me in Arequipa. I tried it at a very popular restaurant, but was really not impressed. When I tried it here in the park (with a couple extra potatoes given to us by the seller woman), it was absolutely delicious. It is a red pepper stuffed with meat and vegetables, then deep fried. Even better if you add aji verde (spicy green garlic sauce) on top. The pepper and three potatoes ran us 4.50 soles ($1.50 usd).
Yuca con queso: This is a warm piece of yuca/mandioca, with a melted piece of cheese in the center. It is very oily, and gets your hands greasy, but manages to taste slightly dry in your mouth. It is good, and fills you up fast, but the flavor is not very varied, but quite simple. But for 2 soles, it’s definitely worth a try ($0.50 usd).
Fresh Squeezed OJ: You’ll see this all over the streets in Peru. A cart packed full with oranges, a squeezing contraption, and a pitcher full of fresh juice. Luckily there was just such a cart behind us once we finished our fried foods and were ready for something to drink. What I also like is that they give it to you in a glass so there is no waste. Once you drink the juice, simply give back the glass and they’ll wash it for the next customer. Absolutely delicious, $3 soles ($0.90 usd).
Chicha Morada: Chicha morada is the popular Peruvian drink made from purple corn (Chicha= corn; morada= purple). It doesn’t exactly taste like juice, and it definitely doesn’t taste like soda. It’s a flavor totally unique to my palate, and incredibly delicious. I ordered one glass of chicha morada from the woman, who encouraged me to chug the first glass so that she could refill it one more time. All for $1 sole ($0.25 usd).
Cheese Pancake & Potatoes: This is exactly what it sounds like. There are a few warm potatoes on a plate, and covering them like a blanket is a hard piece of cheese that looks like a pancake, but tastes quite rubbery in your mouth. This was definitely not my favorite of the street food assortment, but it was good to try. I absolutely recommend putting on some aji verde to add some flavor. This ran us $3.50 soles ($1 usd).
Queso Helado: This is another sweet treat you’ll find all over Peru. It’s slightly yellow in color, and tastes like ice cold milk, with cinnamon sprinkled on top. This is not actually a cheese flavored ice cream as the name might lead you to believe. It’s just called ‘cheese ice cream’ because the base in both cheese and ice cream is milk, therefore ‘queso helado’ because this treat is made with milk. One cup of queso helado is $3 soles ($0.90 usd).
This neon yellow drinks screams I. “I am full of sugar!” I never trust an unnaturally bright yellow or blue libation. Inca Cola proved my point. From the second I untwisted the cap, the sugar fumes filled my nostrils. Even before I took my first sip, I already wanted to brush my teeth. Inca Cola tastes like a liquid Jolly Rancher. Cotton Candy in drink form. The Bubble Gum flavor at the dentist. I had three sips which was more than enough. I will never drink an entire bottle in my lifetime. Though Peruvians can’t seem to get enough. Yesterday I saw a boy drinking it at the airport at 8am, so there’s that!
Centenario 800, Cusco 08002
We came here very specifically to eat cuy, or guinea pig. Apparently it is a traditional Incan Food tradition that Peruvians still celebrate. As my friend Art said, it’s more like a “gimmick pig.” We ordered the Cuy Chaqtado, which is a deep fried version of the pig. The rich flavoring of the marinated skin seeps down in to the small bits of meat you can find, and really does not take like chicken as one might expect. Guinea pig is to try once in your life, but I guarantee you will never crave it again. There isn’t much meat to be found, which I suppose is not much of a surprise considering it is a rodent after all. I was able to find about 5-6 solid bites of meat (maybe), before I was left digging through ribs and organs like a starving person, searching for something I could eat. Fortunately the dish came with potatoes and a rocoto relleno, which I desperately needed since the cuy did not provide much sustenance. The cuy was 60 soles ($16 usd).