Dining in Cusco
Cusco's culinary influences are far-ranging. Travelers can find extravagant American breakfasts, fine French-themed evening meals and every sort of cuisine from Alpine to Korean. That said, locals and many travelers still prefer the time-tested regional specialties, consumed either at a stall on the street or in a picantería (local restaurant; often little more than a hole in the wall with just a few basic tables).
Un-missable delicacies popular in this part of the Andes include lomo saltado (strips of beef stir-fried with tomatoes, chillies, onions and potatoes), cuy (Andean guinea pig, served in several ways, often with head and legs still attached), anticuchos (beef hearts skewered on a stick), chicharrones (deep-fried pork served with corn and potatoes) and aji de gallina (a creamy chicken stew served with vegetables and rice).
For more interesting culinary finds, keep reading about What to Eat in Peru (and Where to Eat It).
On the Street
Every day is a festival day in Cusco, and the food of festivals is found in the streets. Cusco has an abundance of stands on plaza corners which offer perhaps the very best Andean food you will try anywhere, from weird and wonderful morning fruit juices like aguaymanto (Peruvian ground cherry) to chicharrones, choclo con queso (corn-on-the-cob with white cheese), and roasted cuy.
Eating like this is a great way to meet the locals, who will admire your connoisseuring taste and strong stomach. You can get a decent meal for as little as a dollar. As with all places to eat in Peru, be mindful of potential food poisoning, as vegetables are often washed in untreated water. Plaza de Armas and the streets immediately around, like Arequipa, are particularly good for street food
This traditional local eatery does not put on any extra airs and graces despite its location close to the Plaza de Armas. Instead, in a pleasant but simple courtyard setting Peruvian highland staples like lomo saltado or trucha (grilled Andean trout) are served. Portions are huge and prices are low. There is often live music too, and with the locals pouring in come lunchtime to sample the good-value menú del dia (set menu), this place is hard to beat for a typical Andean dining experience.
For a long time, Cicciolina has been one of the best restaurants in Cusco. In a spacious, beamed colonial mansion, suave takes on typical Peruvian Andean dishes are served. Cicciolina carries a wonderful range of tapas, such as duck prosciutto with mango curry vinaigrette or alpaca carpaccio with goat's cheese and cherry tomatoes. Main courses combine Peruvian ingredients cleverly with European dishes, such as the gnocchi made using Peruvian yellow potatoes. Wonderful service makes this place feel like a real treat.
JC's has made a name for itself recently by serving phenomenal coffee, making it into a hotspot for homesick gringos craving fabulous American-European style breakfasts. The Peruvian single origin drip coffee is feisty, and the cappuccino deliciously strong. American breakfasts are huge and arrive with succulent chorizo, whilst homemade pancakes with banana cream are also a tempting start to the day. Mexican food staples—including huevos rancheros (spicy scrambled eggs), tortillas, tacos, and burritos—are also available.
Museo del Pisco
In this atmospheric (and pricey) two-floor space, it quickly becomes clear the passion of the owner is serving you the ultimate Pisco drink. The sours are superb, available in classic form as well as with various local fruit flavors such as maracuyá, chicha morada (Andean purple corn) and even coca loaf. The bar-restaurant does food, too, such as wontons with lomo saltado, on honey-roasted ham in spicy local salsa, served with a side of yam chips. For the adventurous, there are Pisco tastings and Pisco making classes as well.
Corner of Santa Catalina Ancha & San Augustin
With an almost psychedelic decor of blood-red walls and jet-black beams, this second-floor restaurant certainly seems a world away from the average Cusco dining option. But Andean Peruvian cuisine is at the heart of what this place does. Deft service introduces dishes like beetroot quinotto (quinoa risotto) and tender anticuchos in salsa a la huancaína (peppery cheese sauce). There is a roof terrace for those willing to brave the sometimes chilly Cusco evenings.
For those travelers requiring a break from traditional Peruvian Andean food, Le Soleil has established itself as Cusco's first and finest gourmet French restaurant. Snails in a buttery sauce, foie gras, duck a l'orange and fricassée are the order of the day here, the environment is refined and the service polished. A classic selection of French wines are available as well.
Looking for a full-fledged culinary tour of Cusco and the Sacred Valley? Check out this 5-day tour. And when you're ready to work off your culinary indulgences, try one of these great Day Hikes in the Sacred Valley.