The flavors of South America now infuse the menus of the world’s trendiest restaurants. In recent years traditional dishes like ceviche, arepas, empanadas, chorizo and the perfectly grilled asado had taken their rightful place on the international foodie scene bringing a sexy, spicy Latin touch. Of course, it’s hard to beat authentic fare, so if you’re planning a visit, these are the best culinary destinations in South America worth traveling for.
Lima is emerging as an international gastronomical capital thanks to the influx of world-class chefs that have set up new-age restaurants in the city’s Miraflores and Barranco neighborhoods. These savvy chefs know Peru’s rich biodiversity lends itself to an abundance of fresh, native local ingredients like yuca, lucuma, and maiz moradom, which are being cleverly incorporated into their culinary creations. Fusion food has also exploded thanks to a rise in immigration from countries like Spain, Italy, and Japan.
Best restaurant in Lima: Madio by renowned Japanese chef Mitsuharu Tsumura, is an elevated Peruvian Japanese fusion restaurant that’s been crowned in the top 50 restaurants in Latin America. The inventive Nikkei menu is a showcase of Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and African cuisine and signature dishes including 50-hour braised short rib and octopus hotdog choripan.
Must-Try Traditional Peruvian Dish: It’s easy to get swept up in the fine-dining scene but we encourage you to experience street food or visit markets like Mercado Central to try honey-soaked picarones and dishes like Lomo Saltado, a marinated stir-fried beef mixed with quartered tomatoes and onions served over rice – it also comes with fresh-cut fries to soaking up that delicious marinade. You’ll find this beloved Peruvian dish on upscale and market stall menus.
Our Favorite Lima Hotel: Hotel B is a 20 room Belle Époque mansion where period furniture is balanced with modern art, nestled along the Pacific coast in the romantic bohemian neighborhood of Barranco, home to art galleries and museums. Request a room facing the tree-lined Calle San Martin and plan to spend an evening on the rooftop terrace overlooking the ocean, perfect for a Pisco Sour at sunset.
Sao Paulo, Brazil
As the world’s fifth-largest city and a global business hub, Sao Paulo is a diverse, eclectic and international city and that’s reflected in its thriving food scene, which is heavily influenced by Italy and Japan. Fun fact: Brazil is home to the largest Italian and Japanese population outside Italy and Japan. Sao Paulo is a city for foodies, you just have to know where you’re headed. For an introduction to Brazilian cuisine head to Mercado Municipal for a gigantic mortadella sandwich then browse the downstairs aisles to familiarize yourself with popular local ingredients and delicacies like cassava, dried meat, and prawns.
Best restaurant in Sao Paulo: Long considered one of the best restaurants in the world D.O.M. by Chef Alex Atala features unique ingredients from the Amazon river basin like jambu unfamiliar for most diners. It is upscale and contemporary Brazilian fare served in a variety of tasting menus. There is even a vegetarian tasting menu which is all but unheard of in a region that thrives on red meat. Some of the signature dishes include Pirarucu, an Amazonian fish paired with dried meat and plantain. .
Must-Try Traditional Brazilian Food: Forafa, a toasted cassava flour mixed with roasted bacon or fried chorizo that is added to rice and beans or pan-roasted chicken. It’s the texture of this simple delicacy that elevates the entire meal.
Our Favorite Sao Paulo Hotel: Just off Rua Oscar Freire, considered the chicest designer shopping street in South America, Fasano, like its surroundings oozes sophistication with its beautiful brick exterior and elegant marble lobby. Guest rooms are highlighted by parquet flooring, rich leather chairs, and large windows overlooking the Jardins neighborhood known for its upscale global eateries and chic boutiques. Do dine at the hotel’s on-site Italian restaurant, also named Fasano, it’s one of few South American restaurants that holds a Michelin Star. Order the stracotto d´angelo, a baked lamb dish with potatoes and artichokes from Chef Luca Gozzani’s kitchen.
The Chilean capital is a pulsating cosmopolitan city that’s also a short drive to the Andes Mountains, Pacific Ocean beaches, and sprawling vineyards where Chile’s legendary wines are produced. Santiago also happens to be surrounded by farms and orchards growing fruits like kiwi, prickly pear, and chirimoya and it’s this close proximity to local produce that gives Chilean food, heavily influenced by Spanish fare, its fresh, authentic flavors.
Best restaurant in Santiago: To taste true, original form Chilean, before it was given a Spanish injection, visit Peumayen which is an authentic experience in itself. The restaurant offers a uniquely modern take on the ancestral dishes of native Chileans like roasted meat, bread, and vegetables in Chilean cooking styles even locals people are no longer familiar with. Signature dishes include a variety of meats including horse and alpaca. Also make time to visit Mercado Central, a fish market to eat fresh local seafood and taste the most empanadas, this side of, well, Santiago.
Food to Eat in Chile: You can get great empanadas all over Latin America but there’s something special about Empanada de Pino. The crust is flaky, usually fried and stuffed with ground beef, olives, raisins, and hard-boiled eggs and while empanadas are traditionally a snack, this is a meal.
Our Favorite Santiago Hotel: The Aubrey is a 1927 built mansion located in the trendy boho neighborhood of Bellavista which is filled with lively bars and quaint cafes. The hotel effortlessly blends old and new design elements; guest rooms are light, airy and accentuated with pops of vibrant colors but it’s all about the outside here thanks to plant-filled terraces, patios and a beautiful luxurious pool.
Travelers often skip Quito, a beautiful city surrounded by mountains high in the Andes on the way to other parts of Ecuador like the Galapagos, which is a shame because the food alone is one reason to explore Quito. The fried egg llapingachaos (a fried potato pancake) topped with avocados, beets, and salsa are a staple. And look out for ceviche which in Ecuador mostly features shrimp cooked then marinated in lime and orange juice.
Best restaurant in Quinto: The fine dining scene is continuously evolving with Segundo Muelle, which specializes in seafood like ceviche, crab and octopus. That said Quito street food is some of the best in South America in our minds.
Must-Try Ecuadorian Food: Encocado de Camarones is a popular Ecuadorian food especially along the coast, featuring shrimp (it’s sometimes made with fish) cooked in coconut milk, garlic, and finely chopped bell peppers served with rice.
Our Favorite Quito Hotel: The chic modern style of Le Parc Hotel offers a sleek alternative to the city’s many refurbished colonial hotels. Guest suites feature whimsical floor to ceiling windows with a bathtub facing out so you look over Quito as you soak. The onsite restaurant Blu features classic Peruvian dishes with great ceviche.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Ask Argentinian’s and they’ll claim to be the masters of the best steaks in the world. So naturally, visiting a traditional parrilla steakhouse in Argentina to taste their famed Asado (barbecue) with chimichurri – is high on any foodie traveler’s bucket list. Word of warning, the parrilla options and specialties are endless so this where to go and what to order list will come in handy.
Best restaurant in Argentina: Cabaña Las Lilas which raises their beef on their own farm, is our favorite. If you’re unsure what to order go with the ojo de bife better known to Americans as rib eye. Of course, it’s practically a sin to have steak washing it down an Argentinian Malbec. The wine varies dramatically throughout the region, so become a connoisseur by booking a wine tasting.
What to Eat in Argentina: You can’t leave Argentina without eating Asado but there is more to the menu than steak. Insert provoleta, a soft block of sharp, pungent cheese baked and served in a cast-iron skillet to caramelize the edges that’s typically served with olives, bread, and chorizo. And be sure to visit a Buenos Aires bakery to sample some of their classics like alfajores, two biscuits held together by a thick layer of dulce de leche, or endless varieties of empanadas like spicy meat, cheese and onion or sweet cream corn.
Our Favorite Hotel in Buenos Aires: Mio Buenos Aires in the chic trendy downtown district of Recoleta allows for easy walking access to museums, art galleries and many city gardens. So this hotel is all about location, location, location. Oh and the deep hand-carved wooden bathtubs that are the focal point in all guest rooms.
Columbia has changed dramatically over the years and one notable shift has seen its capital city establishing itself as a foodie destination. The best way to grasp its culinary signature is to head to traditional markets like Plaza de Mercado de Paloquemao which are overflowing with exotic fruits and interesting cuts of meat and on the streets, you’ll find arepas, hot chocolate, and that famous Colombian coffee.
Best restaurants in Bogota: Trendy restaurants are popping up almost daily and among our favorites is El Chato. El Chato can be found on the “Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants” list for their farm to table style menu focused on uber local ingredients. The atmosphere is warm and laidback with dishes like chicken hearts with sweet cream and crab.
Best Colombian Foods to Try: Ajiaco, a chicken stew with corn, three types of local potatoes, seasoned with a broth made of guascas herb and capers and topped with chili peppers, avocado, and lemon is a beloved staple throughout Bogota.
Our Favorite Bogota Hotel: A quirky boutique hotel in the trendy El Chico neighborhood, Click Clack Hotel Bogot has an effortlessly cool aesthetic and floor to ceiling windows that provide stunning views over the city and surrounding mountains. And be sure to visit their on-site restaurant Apache, a 1950’s Americana-themed rooftop known for its amazing burgers and views.