As Lima’s culinary influence spreads in the United States, if you have the chance to travel to Peru, hit up the neighborhoods of Miraflores and Barranco. The first offers cosmopolitan settings; the second has a more bohemian, back-alley vibe. Combined, they give you a rounded sense of this capital city.
SAQRA IN MIRAFLORES
Saqra translates to “little devil” in Spanish, and that idea of playful mischievousness extends from the bright, somewhat garish décor (check out the bathrooms — one is made entirely from mirrors and the other is decked out in red leather) to the intensely flavorful cuisine. You’ll find notes of Asia and Europe blended in recipes that are distinctly Peruvian-based. The staff is eager to please and fun to chat up. It’s for all these reasons that Saqra has become a hot spot for young Peruvian couples and tourists in-the-know, and the drink list here is as appetizing as the plates.
Get here a half hour before dinner to enjoy a round of aperitifs. Order the Algarrobina. This was the best drink I had in 10 days of trekking through Peru’s food culture. Algarrobina is a syrup made from the black carob tree. The bartenders here shake it with Pisco, milk, dark crème de cacao and an egg yolk. The result is a creamy, milky, almost cinnamon-tasting frothy concoction that wipes away any stress of travel and replaces it with something akin to milk-and-cookies for adults. Cost: about $6.75.
• Best night: Saturday, when Peruvian date night provides wonderful people watching opportunities.
• Details: Av. La Paz 646, Miraflores, Lima; http://saqra.pe; 011-51-1650-8884.
CANTA RANA IN BARRANCO
If you enjoy exploring the back streets and supping with the locals, then Canta Rana is a don’t-miss destination in Lima. On a small side street just behind the police station, the one room bar/restaurant is stuffed floor to ceiling with sports memorabilia and dusty framed photos of past patrons. The flags of a dozen countries hang from the ceiling, swaying lazily in the breeze from slowly rotating fans. Those of Japan and Great Britain command the most visible position. I don’t know if the lack of an American flag is a political statement or merely a jab at the fact that we aren’t on a global par with soccer in South America. A giant screen along the back wall broadcasts the games, via a projector that sits atop empty beer crates and is secured to a central pole by duct tape.
If you can manage to stop in for lunch and a midday beer during one of Peru’s matches, it might be the greatest showcase of daily life in Lima one could find. It will undoubtedly be the best calamar chicharron (fried calamari) you will ever encounter.
• Drink: A Pilsner Callao. Peru’s national label, it’s got a nice hoppy finish for a light, cheap domestic. Cost: about $1.90.
• Details: Genova 101, Barranco, Lima; 011-51-1247-7274.