Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2017 – Best Food & Beverages

This post is part 3 of 4 in the series Best of 2017

It will surprise no one that this year was dominated by outstanding eats and drinks in Lima, Peru. That city continues to be on fire for foodies. But don’t worry. We found wonderful wine, chefs, bars, and more in Bolivia and Argentina as well. Welcome to Part 3 of our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2017 series, our guide to the Best Food & Beverages of the year. Part 1 covers the Top Travel Adventures of 2017, part 2 covers the Best Hotels of the year and part 4 tells you all about our Top Travel Gear of the Year.

Now, in no particular order, we present:

The best food & beverages of 2017

Palmiro Ocamp's 1087 Restaurante Lima

Just a few of the theatrical and tasty morsels included in the new tasting menu at 1087 Restaurante in Lima.

Best new tasting menu in Lima: The latest chef to toss his toque into the vibrant tasting menu scene in Lima, Peru is Peruvian chef Palmiro Ocampo. In May of 2017 he turned the top floor of his 1087 Restaurante into a tasting menu only venue with more than a touch of theater (420 soles, about US$130 with wine pairings or 300 soles, about US$92, without pairings for a 12-course menu plus 3-4 starters). Ring the buzzer and mirrored doors open revealing a man holding a wooden box. Take the small bag out of the box, climb the stairs, and enter a space that feels like transplanted jungle complete with dangling trees and a jungle soundtrack the chef recorded himself. The experience starts at the bar around the open kitchen then proceeds to private tables where the tasting menu, called Allin Yyaykuy Allin Mikuy which means “good to think, good to eat” in the Incan Quechua language which survives in Peru to this day, begins. One course is eaten in the dark with only a small black light flashlight to guide you in a nod to the Inca’s prowess at reading the stars. Though the Incans probably would not recognize courses such as jerky-like beef tongue in a clay emulsion with achiote and cocao paired with a Spanish Conca del Riu Anoia which is a new sparkling wine denomination in competition with cava. A potato dish called El Trueque was a revelation of textures from rich pureed potatoes to a creamy whole potato to the shaved dust of pungent dried potatoes to a crispy cracker covered in gold which creates a ring of golden liquid around the whole plate.

 

Gustu La Paz Bolivia

Lunch at Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia is an incredible value for money.

Best chart-topping value: A 15-course tasting menu at Restaurant Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia will set you back about US$90 and it’s worth every penny. However, if your travel budget is more limited, you’re still in luck. Every day Gustu, which is #14 on the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, serves a three-course lunch for 105BS (about US$15). Choose from two appetizer and two main course options and a dessert and enjoy. Lunch dishes are less experimental than the tasting menu dishes but are still centered on Bolivian ingredients. Add a glass of surprisingly good Bolivian wine (more on that below) or a Bolivian craft beer for 20BS (about US$3).

 

Pisco Sour Museo del Pisco

A pisco sour at Museo del Pisco in Lima.

Best pisco sour: Confession: we do not love Peru’s ubiquitous cocktail. Pisco sours are usually just too sweet and foamy for us with not enough pisco flavor – more like a dessert than an adult beverage. At Museo del Pisco in downtown Lima (there’s one in Cusco and one in Arequipa too) the pisco sours are made to order as you want them. there are more than 100 piscos to choose from, including infused piscos and the knowledgeable staff are there to guide you. We particularly enjoyed a pisco sour made with pisco infused with coca leaves which added a welcome earthiness and bitterness. And always order your pisco sours with less sugar.

 

 Dondoh Lima

Even the coasters get the robata “live fire” treatment at Dondoh in Lima.

Best coasters: Dondoh, a Japanese style robata grill in the San Isidro neighborhood of Lima, Peru, opened in the fall of 2016 (learn more in our story for New Worlder). It’s a “live fire” place and they’ve cleverly incorporated burn marks on their coasters which are the perfect complement to the restaurant’s creative cocktails and one of the largest whiskey selections in Peru.

 

 Propiedad Publica restaurant La Paz

Italian done right at Propiedad Publica in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best Italian food: CIA trained chef Gabriella Prudencio learned how to make pasta during her time in the kitchen at Mario Batali’s restaurnats. Back home in Bolivia, Gabriella has taken those skills and run with them at her Propiedad Publica restaurant in La Paz. The  focaccia is homemade and legit. The greens come from her family’s hydroponic farm and are used to make amazing salads like butter lettuce with nuts and gorgonzola. The pastas are, of course, homemade and a wide range of sauces are made to order. Even the sides, things like baked cauliflower and carrots in brown butter, are finessed. She also has a great wine selection. Try the Marquez de la Vina Bonarda which is made in Cochabamba, Bolivia. In the US the Bonarda varietal is called Charbono and the bottle took us right back to tasting rooms in California. Gabriella offers a good value set lunch (80BS, about US$12) for an entree, pasta of your choice, juice, and dessert) and dinner is a la carte.

 

Barbarian brew pub Lima

The new Barbarian brew pub in the Barranco neighborhood of Lima.

Best brew pub: The craft brew scene in Peru is growing and improving every year. A leader is a brewery called Barbarian which produces a wide range of high quality beers and has two true brew pubs in Lima. The newest Barbarian brew pub just opened in Barranco which is our favorite neighborhood in the city (their original brew pub is in Miraflores). Here you’ll find more than a half-dozen Barbarian brews on tap along with a hand-selected array of beers from many other Peurvian breweries. It’s a great place to sample Peruvian craft beer in a cool environment (great music, playful decor) with good food (burgers, wings, salads, and sandwiches).

 

House of Jasmines Estancia de Charme near Salta, Argentina

Learning to make empanadas (sort of) at House of Jasmines in Argentina.

Best hotel cooking class: When a Relais & Chateaux hotel offers a cooking class, you sign up. That’s how Karen found herself in the kitchen with Chef Andres at House of Jasmines Estancia de Charme near Salta, Argentina. Chef Andres proceeded to teach her how to make the beloved Argentinean empanada. Sort of. She’s still struggling with her technique, but even her funny-looking empanadas tasted great, especially with a glass of Argentinean Torrontes.

 

HB Bronze coffee shop La Paz

All things coffee at HB Bronze in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best coffee shop: At HB Bronze coffee shop in downtown La Paz, Bolivia, they’re serious about sourcing the best Bolivian coffee (including geisha) and then treating it right. All the major methods of brewing are available and staff are meticulously trained. Coffee is also featured in a wide range of inventive cocktails (see below) and the space is elegant (wood, bronze, lots of natural light) yet casual. There’s also a menu of salads, sandwiches, charcuterie plates, desserts and more.

 

 HB Bronze cocktail

This cocktail totally fooled us.

Best gross-sounding cocktail that turned out to be great: When Boris Alarcon, the gregarious owner of HB Bronze, handed us a Parkeriosinho cocktail made with papaya soda (a full-on obsession in Bolivia), Campari, gin, and coffee liqueur we had our doubts. The thing looked like a welcome drink on a Carnival cruise. Then we tasted it: mellow, balanced, refreshing, and just the right mix of bitter and sweet. Bonus: it represents the bands of color in the Bolivian flag.

 

Jeronimo restaurant Lima

Chef Moma’s food is even more creative than his awesome business card.

Best business card: Chef Moma Adrianzar of Jeronimo in Lima, Peru is doing things differently. In a city full of ceviche (not a complaint), chifa, and interpretations of Peruvian food, he’s offering a wide-ranging menu with something for everyone (from pulled pork, to tacos, to, yes, ceviche). That’s why the place is always packed. The chef’s business card is further expression of his creativity and individualism, but go for the food.

 

Ali Pacha reataurant La Paz

Yes, this is vegan food but only at Ali Pacha in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best vegan: You do not have to be vegan (we’re clearly not) to be thrilled and satisfied by the food at Ali Pacha in downtown La Paz, Bolivia. The place is the creation of chef Sebastián Quiroga who went from meat eater to vegan. Unwilling to compromise on flavor just because he’d transitioned to a plant-based menu, Sebastián has worked hard to turn the principles of veganism into strengths, not constraints. Along with a young and enthusiastic staff (some of whom have also become vegan), the kitchen turns out completely uncompromising dishes like smoked beet ceviche, French radishes in walnut sauce, and the best home-baked bread in the city all served in an elegant room. Choose 3, 5, or 7 course lunch and dinner menus (100B to 200BS or about US$15 to US$30 without beverages) and prepare to re-think vegan. In 2017 Sebastián, who looks more like a hippie than a Le Cordon Bleu trained chef, opened UMAWI bar above the restaurant where the growing crop of Bolivian spirits (1825 Vodka, Killa Andean Moonshine whiskey, and Gin La Republica) are well utilized.

 

cocktail class: Hotel B Lima

Karen fine-tuning her bar tending skills with Jose Luis Valencia at Hotel B in Lima.

Best hotel cocktail class: Hotel B in Lima, Peru is one of the best hotels in the entire country. It’s also a Relais & Chateaux property and home of award-winning barman Jose Luis Valencia. The hotel offers a cocktail making class with Jose Luis (190 soles or about US$60) during which you learn to make three cocktails (one with pisco, one with gin, and one with rum) each paired with an elegant snack. Jose Luis speaks excellent English and is knowledgeable, engaging, and passionate.

 

Wines of tarija Bolivia

We found some excellent Bolivian wines and you should too.

Best wine surprise: Who knew Bolivian wine makers are producing some very good wine? Well, one guy knew–Bertil Tottenborg, the sommelier (and general service czar) of Gustu in La Paz (see above). He generously shared his knowledge with us and that guided our time in Tarija and Valle de Cinti where the bulk of Bolivia’s wine is made. Standouts include Sausini and Bodega Magnus in Tarija and Casa de Campo and Cepas de Fuego in Valle de Cinti which is also home to a young winemaker producing extreme natural wine that’s not quite for sale yet. Don’t expect to see these bottles in your local wine shop. Every drop is sold within Bolivia so you’ll have to come down and try it for yourself.

 

 La Whiskeria bar Humo La Paz

La Whiskeria in La Paz, Bolivia.

Best bar: La Whiskeria is a tiny bar in La Paz, Bolivia but it makes a big impression. The decor looks like it was done by the set designer for Twin Peaks (in a good way). It’s dark. Furniture is upholstered in quilted red leather. There’s wood paneling and a fireplace. In fact, the place has been used as a movie set. The bartender, Josue Grajeda, is a master of cocktails that are inventive but not silly. It’s an appealing combination of ambiance and libation.

Best medialuna: In Argentina breakfast is not breakfast without a medialuna – a kind of breadier croissant brushed with a sweet, sticky icing. They vary widely in quality, but the best we’ve had (so far) were on the breakfast buffet at Finca Valentina Casa de Campo, a country hotel just outside Salta, Argentina. They’re baked fresh daily and arrive piping hot and flaky.

 

Juicy Lucy hamburber Lima

The burgers at Juicy Lucy in Lima live up to their name.

Best burger: Juicy Lucy, a gourmet mini-chain in Lima, Peru, offers a range of burgers (from 28 soles, or about US$9 with fries) plus a fried chicken sandwich and a veg panini. The buns were tasty but not too bready, the patties were simply spiced and very juicy (you’ll go through at lest 5 napkins), and the fries were great. But why no beer?

 

Hotel Maury bar pisco sour Lima

This is Eloy Caudros and he’s probably been making cocktails at this bar in Lima longer than you’ve been legal to drink.

Best historic bar: Bar Maury (sometimes called the Morris Bar) in the run down Hotel Maury in downtown Lima has been around since 1821 and claims to be the birthplace of the pisco sour (disputed). What’s not disputed is that winning race horses were once brought into the bar for a tipple (we saw the photos). The bar has changed little since those day and the dark wood paneling, moody lighting, and scruffy atmosphere remain. The bar tenders haven’t changed either. We met old-timer Eloy Caudros there with Melanie Asher, owner and distiller of Macchu Pisco, and he whipped up a few pisco sours for us using Melanie’s awesome creations. He’ll do the same for you.

 

Rafael restaurant Lima

It took us a long time to get to Rafael restaurant in Lima and maybe we were saving the best for last.

Best place we should have eaten at years ago: We don’t know why it took us so long to get to one of the many restaurants from acclaimed Peruvian chef Rafael Osterling who has places in Bogotá, Colombia and in Lima, Peru. Our meal at Rafael in Lima, which is  #24 on 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, was a nearly perfect mix of atmosphere (casual, modern decor including a pleasingly rambling collection of modern art) servcie (attentive but patient waiters with an excellent grasp on the menu), and food including a long list of appetizer and main course specials. The eating started with a basket of chewy bread with topping choices including organic butter, goat cheese cream, and thin slices of mild pastrami pork. We shared a tuna tiradito starter that came already split onto two beautifully presented plates. The sauce was lively and the sliced, raw fish nearly melted in our mouths. The most beautiful plate we ordered was cloud-like gnocchi (the pastas are homemade too) in a goat cheese sauce with cherry tomato halves and thin-sliced radishes. Confit pork came in two luscious squares on a bed of creamed cauliflower. The confit grouper on squid ink rice with scallops and shrimp was the most surprising and satisfying dish – essentially an elegant deconstructed paella. The restaurant bar, which features an impressive array of libations including a number of bourbons, offers a tapas menu if you just want to dip a toe. 

Best dinner party with a star chef: When one of the buzziest chefs in Latin America invites you over for dinner you say yes. We assumed we would be joining a large group of people. After all, we’d just met this chef. We arrived with a bottle of pisco as a gift and were shocked to discover that the dinner party was really just us, the chef, and two others. Intimate to say the least. Oh, and delicious. And we’re not naming names.

Check out more top eats in Latin America in our post about Eating Our Way through the 50 Best List.

Here’s more about travel in Argentina

Here’s more about travel in Bolivia

Here’s more about travel in Peru

 

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Eating Our Way Through Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants (Part 2)

When we published our first post about eating our way through Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants we included a hit list of ranking restaurants that we hoped to visit soon. We’re delighted to report that our travels have taken us to three of the heavy hitters on that wish list including Maido which is the #1 restaurant in Latin America according to the 2017 list.

Eating our way through Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants

When the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants was released we were happy to see Colombian chef Leonor Espinosa’s Restaurante Leo continued to rank high. She also took home honors as the Best Female Chef in Latin America for 2017. Harry Sasson Restaurant, also in Bogotá, moved WAY up the list and in Lima, Central dropped one spot to #2 to make room for Maido to rise up to #1.

Maido restaurant Lima Peru

Maido – Lima, Peru

We were excited to finally get a tasting menu reservation at Maido just a few months before it took over the #1 spot (and #8 on the list of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants). Unfortunately, that excitement didn’t last long.

We’ve had a lot of tasting menu meals in Lima and around the world and they’ve all had one thing in common: a story that’s subtly told as the meal becomes a journey guided by the hand of a chef with a point of view. Sadly, our 13-course tasting menu at Maido (one of the most expensive in Lima) was little more than a long series of small plates (you can see some of them above) brought quickly and mostly without much explanation, context, or a sense of Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura or his vision.

Don’t misunderstand. The food was very good. The famous fish hot dog was playful and satisfying and the raw fish courses (toro nigiri topped with a quail egg, for example) were so outstanding that we wished we’d skipped the tasting menu and booked two seats at the bustling sushi bar instead. The skill and top-notch ingredients in the kitchen were very apparent. What was missing was soul.

Even great restaurants can have a bad night and we’re willing to attribute our disappointment at Maido to an off night and, perhaps, a touch of over hype.  But no customer should leave one of world’s most highly acclaimed restaurants feeling rushed so they could turn the table. 

 

Casa do Porco - Sao Paulo, Brazil

A Casa do Porco – Sao Paulo, Brazil

This place rose to #8 from its debut last year at #24. That’s a big jump but we’re not surprised. When we ate at A Casa do Porco we were blown away by the porky goodness being created by Chef Jefferson Rueda (pictured above with some of his plates) who cooks a pig (porco in Portuguese) like no one else.

Pork sushi rolls (yes! raw pork!), pig foot soup, his take on steamed pork buns, meaty deep-fried chicharron cubes topped with guava pepper jelly and micro greens, succulent whole-roasted pig served chopped with grilled greens, polenta, and creamy beans…We could go on and on.

Insider tips: Go for lunch in the late afternoon for the best chance of getting a table (A Casa do Porco does not close in the afternoon like many restaurants do and they do not take reservations). And though all menu prices are remarkably reasonable, if you’re on a tight budget, grab a fantastic pork sandwich on a homemade ciabatta roll from the restaurant’s to-go window on the street. At R$15 (about US$4.50), it’s a delicious steal.

And find a way to save room for dessert. Saiko Izawa, the pastry chef at A Casa do Porco, was named Best Pastry Chef in Latin America for 2017.

 

La Mar – Lima, Peru

This chicly casual cebicheria, created by Peruvian celebrity chef Gastón Acurio, is an institution in Lima. And for good reason. The ceviche we ate at La Mar puts all other ceviches on notice. The Tiradito Andino (sliced marinated raw trout with artichokes, bamboo sprouts, and avocado), sizzling huge shrimp in clarified butter, grilled octopus…it was all amazing (as you can see, above).

The inventive chilcanos (a classic Peruvian cocktail made with pisco and ginger ale) were fun without being foofy. The restaurant, #15 on the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, only serves fresh and sustainable fish and seafood sourced from like-minded fishermen and co-ops, so chef Andrés Rodríguez’s menu changes based on what’s available. The sommelier was amazing and the waiters were knowledgeable and proficient in English (if you need that). We would eat at La Mar every day if we could.

 

Astrid y Gastón – Lima, Peru

Gastón Acurio is the only chef with two restaurants on the 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. In addition to La Mar, his flagship restaurant, Astrid y Gastón is ranked at #7. This place is an enduring classic for a reason: historic building, eclectic design, great people watching, and impeccable Peruvian favorites. Standouts from our nine-course tasting menu (some of which you can see, above) included guinea pig Pekinese, confit suckling pig, and a ceviche made with sour orange.

It’s a lot of rich and complex food and at one point we were so stuffed that we took a break and wandered around the 300-year-old mansion to marvel at original tiles and breezy gardens. Then came an avalanche of desserts created by Gastón’s wife Astrid (the box in the photo above is bursting with chocolates). This is not a complaint, just fair warning.

 

Gustu - La Paz, Bolivia

Gustu – La Paz, Bolivia

The #14 restaurant is in La Paz, Bolivia and is that country’s only ranking restaurant. Gustu is almost militantly Bolivian, using and serving only ingredients grown or made in Bolivia. This is not a limitation but a challenge to the talented staff, many of them trained at culinary schools opened by the philanthropic arm of Gustu.

We ate at Gustu twice, first for their 10-course tasting menu (many of those courses are pictured above) which featured raw llama, quinoa, dry aged beef, amaranth “caviar”, and much more in dishes that were somehow rustic and polished at the same time. We later returned for lunch which offers a choice of three appetizers and three mains including meat, fish and veg options, then dessert for 95BS (about US$14). It’s an incredible value. Eat lunch at the bar to be closer to Gustu’s excellent selection of Bolivian craft beers, spirits, and wines.

 

Rafael restaurant Lima

Rafael – Lima, Peru

It took us a strangely long time to get to Peruvian chef Rafael Osterling’s eponymous Rafael restaurant, even though there’s one in Bogota and one in Lima. Rafael in Lima is #24 on 2017 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants and during a recent dinner visit we fell in love with the casual, modern decor including a pleasingly rambling collection of modern art (loved the 1960s canvas folding beach chair folded and hung on the wall in all it’s graphic and utilitarian splendor).

The bar (where a tapas menu is available) has an impressive selection of libations including a number of bourbons (a rarity in much of Latin America). This inspired us to order a Wonder Woman cocktail with Buffalo Trace bourbon and smoky Laphroaig Scotch. It was splendid. The menu is wide-ranging with something for everyone and a long list of daily appetizer and main course specials. The eating started with a basket of chewy bread with topping choices including organic butter, goat cheese cream, and thin slices of mild pastrami pork.

With so much choice, placing our meal order took some time, but wait staff was patient and helpful (including English) and we never felt rushed. We shared a tuna tiradito started that came already split onto two beautifully presented plates. The sauce was lively and the sliced, raw fish nearly melted in our mouths. The most beautiful plate we ordered was cloud-like gnocchi (the pastas are homemade too) in a goat cheese sauce with cherry tomato halves and thin-sliced radishes. Confit pork came in two luscious squares on a bed of creamed cauliflower. The confit grouper on squid ink rice with scallops and shrimp was the most surprising and satisfying dish – essentially an elegant deconstructed paella.

The extensive dessert menu is full of temptations. Go for it, but leave room for the small bites of elegant sweets brought before your check.

 

Next up: Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants hit list

We’re still hungry. Here are some of the restaurants on the 2017 list that we’re looking forward to visiting soon.

Lima has 10 restaurants on the 2017 list – the most of any city in Latin America. We’ve eaten at seven of them. Other Lima restaurants that are squarely in out sights: Amaz (#47) and Malabar (#30), both from Chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino, and Fiesta from Chef Hector Solís (#46).

Sao Paulo, Brazil has six restaurants on the 2017 list and we’ve only eaten at one of them. On the top of our Sao Paulo hit list is D.O.M. at #3 on the Latin list and #16 on the 2017 list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. But we’ll be saving room for Maní (#9), Mocotó (#27),  Esquina Mocotó (#41), and Tuju (#45) as well when we return to Sao Paulo.

 

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Come for the Crucifix, Stay for the Craft Beer – Buga, Colombia

There are two miraculous reasons to travel to Guadalajara de Buga. One involves a crucifix. The other involves craft beer.

Holy Water Ale cervesaria - Buga, Colombia

Mmmmm…..craft beer.

The miraculous crucifix of Buga

Guadalajara de Buga (usually simply called Buga) is just 45 miles (70 km) from Cali, but the tranquility of this colonial town, whose architecture and living tradition earned it a place on Colombia’s elite list of Pueblos Patrimonio, makes Buga feel a world away from the big city.

Founded in 1555, Buga is one of the oldest cities in Colombia and its main claim to fame is a story that’s nearly as old. As the legend goes, an indigenous washer woman was trying to save money to buy a crucifix. She finally washed enough clothes in the local river to save the money needed to buy a simple crucifix. However, as she was on her way to make the purchase she saw a neighbor being hauled off to jail because of unpaid debts.

Instead of buying the crucifix, the woman paid off her neighbor’s debts. When she returned to work in the river she noticed something shiny in the water and discovered  a small crucifix floating by. She grabbed it and brought it home where the crucifix continued to grow and grow.

Today, the legend of the indigenous washer woman and her miraculously growing crucifix is marked by The Lord of the Miracles, a distinct dark-skinned Christ on the cross, which is housed in the Basilica del Senor de los Milagros in Buga. Every year millions of pilgrims visit the pink church.

The miraculous craft beer of Buga

If you worship at the house of hops, you’re in luck as well.

Stefan Schnur Buga microbrewery & hostal

Brew master Stefan Schnur with some of his Holy Water Ale beers made in Buga, Colombia.

When German Stefan Schnur arrived in Buga he did not intend to create the only bed & beer hostel in Colombia, but that’s what he did when he opened the Buga Hostel in 2011.

The hostel is affordable with standard hostel accommodation. The Holy Water Ale brew pub and cafe attached to the hostel, however, is a craft beer miracle with nine different beers brewed by Stefan at a small, nearby brewery. There’s also an inventive menu including homemade bread and legit pizzas with locally made sausage and other great toppings on homemade crust. Don’t miss happy hour.

Holy Water Ale brew pub - Buga, Colombia

The Holy Water brew pub, part of the Buga Hostel in Colombia.

 

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Seven Down, 43 to Go: Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants

One of the great things about writing about travel is that it often intersects with food. Food is a universal experience (everybody’s gotta eat) and trying new types of food is a major reason why people travel in the first place. Our experiences of places are certainly enriched by the chefs, restaurants and meals we encounter, so with the release of the 2016 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants last week we wanted to tell you about the seven restaurants on the list that we know well. We assure you that we’re doing our best to get to the other 43…

Central – Lima, Peru

This restaurant, helmed by Virgilio Martínez and Pía León, was voted #1 on the list for the second year in a row so it’s fitting that we start our list here. During a 13 course “Mater Ecosystems” tasting menu lunch at Central a few months ago it was easy to see why the place gets so many accolades. Inspired by the wide range of ecosystem and elevations in Peru, which produce a corresponding richness of ingredients and cooking styles, our meal included ingredients like juice made from the pulp that surrounds cocoa beans, quinoa colored with cactus fruit, and dried potatoes all masterfully combined into dishes with names like “Spiders on a Rock” and “Marine Soil.” It’s edible art and the kitchen tweezers are obviously getting a workout.

Bonus: whet your appetite with Martínez’s new book “Central” which features delectable photography by Nicholas Gill.

Central Restaurant - Lima, Peru

Restaurate Leo – Bogotá, Colombia

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: love it or hate it, the food being prepared at Restaurante Leo by Chef Leonor Espinosa is some of the most daring and creative cuisine in this rising culinary capital. And we’re not the only ones who think so. Leo is at #16 this year, way up from its debut on the list at #33 in 2015. Go for the tasting menu instead of ordering ala carte to get a real sense of the scope and scale of Chef Espinosa’s vision of modern Colombian cuisine made by honoring and preserving traditional ingredients and techniques. Find out more about Leonor Espinosa in our story about the queen of Colombian cuisine.

Restaurate Leo - Bogota, Colombia

Osso Carneceria y Salumeria – Lima, Peru

Rezo Garibaldi did not open Osso in order to get on any lists. He opened Osso so he could put his considerable skills as a butcher and meat lover to good use. He just ended up on everybody’s favorite food lists along the way. This year Osso is at #27 on the list of Latin America’s 50 Best, a well-deserved jump up from #34 last year. But Renzo is not resting on his laurels. Read our story about  Renzo’s next meaty moves to find out what he’s about to debut in Lima.

Osso Carneceria y Salumeria - Lima, Peru

Andres Carne de Res – Chia, Colombia

Colombia’s ultimate party restaurant, which hangs on at #49 on this year’s list (down from #42 in 2015), is best enjoyed with a group of meat and booze loving friends. Don’t bother with the city location. It’s not the same. Instead, head to the original, cacophonous location in nearby Chia where up to 3,000 revelers can be fed and watered at the same time. First, read our story about how to survive Andres Carne de Res.

Andres Carne de Res - Bogota, Colombia

Harry Sasson – Bogotá, Colombia

This place, at #40 in the 2016 rankings (down from #24), was arguably the first fine dining option in Bogotá and its creator, Harry Sasson, is the country’s original celebrity chef. Located in a renovated mansion which looks olde timey from the front but thoroughly modern inside, the restaurant has spectacular architecture and a vast menu. For grand dining it’s the place. Read more about Harry Sasson and his iconic flagship restaurant in our story about Colombia’s original celebrity chef.

Harry Sasson - Bogota, Colombia

Isolina – Lima, Peru

We were a little surprised (but happy) to see this place as a new addition to the 2016 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants at a respectable #41. Located in the arty yet sophisticated Barranco neighborhood of Lima, this two story restaurant is a great place to try traditional dishes involving organs (though less adventurous fare is on the menu as well). With so much to try and such huge portions it’s a good idea to bring friends and order family style. Cocktails are stellar as well. Isolina is casual and unassuming but the food is solid and like nothing you’ll get at other name restaurants in Lima.

Isolina Restaurant - Lima, Peru

Criterion – Bogotá, Colombia

Jorge and Mark Rausch are an influential culinary duo in Colombia and their gleaming Criterion restaurant, on this year’s list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants at #29, (down from #18 last year), is a cornerstone of Bogotá’s Zona G fine-dining area where they let their French training shine. Read our story about Criterion for more.

Criterion Restaurant - Bogota, Colombia

Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants hit list

While every restaurant on the 2016 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants is compelling, here are the list makers we’re most excited about checking out in the near future.

A Casa do Porco – Sao Paulo, Brazil

As the name would imply, this place, which debuted on the 2016 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants at #24, is all about pork. Our love of pork (we did the pig), that extremely high debut and big praise from Osso’s Renzo Garibaldi make this a must-stop for us.

D.O.M. – Sao Paulo, Brazil

The highest ranking restaurant in Brazil, at #3 on the 2016 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants and #11 on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, draws inspiration from the Amazon and presents the results to eager city eaters. We can’t wait to see what that’s all about.

Gustu – La Paz, Bolivia

Danish chef Kamilla Seidler, who was also named the Best Female Chef in Latin America for 2016, is at the helm of Gustu. At #14 on the list, Gustu is part Bolivian food revolution and part philanthropic endeavor in a city not necessarily known (yet) for gastronomy.

Maido – Lima, Peru

Hot on the heels of Central is Maido where Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura’s Nikkei cuisine (a combination of Peruvian and Asian) holds down the #2 position.

 

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Photo Essay: How to Make Panela, Colombia’s Sweet Obsession

Travel in Colombia for more than 15 minutes and you will encounter panela, the country’s beloved brick of raw, unrefined sugar that’s used in all sorts of food including the ubiquitous aguapanela and guarapo beverages. One scary study estimated that Colombians consume more than 75 pounds (34.2 kg) of panela every year.  Residents of plenty of other countries love it too, though they call it by different names like chancaca in Chile, Peru, Argentina and Bolivia and gur or jaggery in India.

Colombia produces 1.4 million tons of panela a year. It’s a major part of the economy and the country even holds an annual National Panela Pageant. Much of the panela is made in big factories, but some is still made in small, semi-automated workshops called trapiches. We came across one on the side of the road and stopped to watch the process of making panela–from sugar cane to finished brick.

Here’s how to make panela

Sugar Cane press extracts sugar cane juice

Step 1: Fresh cut sugar cane is put through a press to extract as much  juice as possible.

Sugar Cane Juice boiled and evaporated

Step 2: The extracted sugar cane juice runs from the press  into deep bins over a big fire fueled by the dried husks of pressed cane.

Sugar cane juice boiled and evaporated until it becomes a semi-sold

Step 3: Workers stir and transfer the boiling cane juice as it thickens.

Semi-sold sugar cane juice poured into molds

Step 4: Thickened sugar cane juice is poured into wooden molds and left to set.

Semi-sold sugar cane juice cools and solidifies

Step 5: The molds are left to set and cool.

Solid panela is removed from wooden molds

Step 6: Once the molds have set the panela discs are carefully removed from the wooden molds.

Solid panela is removed from wooden molds

Step 7: Cool and solid panela discs are stacked in preparation for packing.

Panela is packaged for sale

Step 8: Carefully packed, the finished panela is ready to be taken to market.

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Beer, Bridges & the Battle of Boyacá – Tunja, Colombia

Tunja is the capital of Boyacá province. At 9,000 feet (2,700 meters) it’s one of the highest and chilliest provincial capitals in Colombia. Tunja can also boast about its picturesque mountain setting, scenic main plaza, mansion museums with the most unusual original frescoes we’ve ever seen (hint: hippos) and close proximity to Puente Boyacá (basically, the Gettysburg of Colombia). There’s even some local craft beer.

Plaza Bolivar Tunja Colombia

Imposing Plaza Bolívar in Tunja, Colombia.

Mister, you never see elephant, how I describe elephant?

There are plenty of museums to visit in Tunja including religious museums and, less predictably, a pair of mansion museums with original murals depicting wild animals which the artist never saw with his own eyes.

Museo Casa del Fundador Gonzalo Suarez Rendon building

Do not miss the animal paintings inside the Museo Casa del Fundador Gonzalo Suarez Rendon in Tunja, Colombia.

Excellent examples of these animal portraits can be seen in the Museo Casa del Fundador Gonzalo Suarez Rendon next to the church on the main plaza. The ground floor garden is free to enter, but pay the tiny entrance fee (2,000 COP/about US$0.70) so you can visit the second floor where the painted ceilings are located.

Museo Casa del Fundador Gonzalo Suarez Rendon

Upstairs at the Museo Casa del Fundador Gonsalo Suarez Rendon features antiques and original architecture but the painted ceilings depitcing animals never seen by the artist are the real attraction.

One room is covered in detailed depictions of “Animals of the World” including a rhino and an elephant painted in the early 1500s with nothing more than a few plates from European books to go by.

Museo Casa del Fundador Gonzalo Suarez Rendon painted ceiling

The artist who created this incredible ceiling in the Museo Casa del Fundador Gonzalo Suarez Rendon never saw the animals he was painting.

The animal murals on the ceilings were only discovered after a newer ceiling collapsed, revealing the amazing paintings. The work is still in fantastic shape and, truth be told, the artist managed to render most of the animals pretty accurately. There’s a second painted ceiling with more animals and some animal frescoes done in charcoal and egg white as well as in paint.

Museo Casa de Don Juan de Vargas ceiling

More animals can be found inside the Museo Casa de Don Juan de Vargas.

The Museo Casa de Don Juan de Vargas (3,000 COP/about US$1) also features some amazing animal-filled murals and ceiling paintings and the artists are believed to have worked from books in Juan de Vargas’ own library which included an impressive number of books from Europe.

Museo Casa de Don Juan de Vargas rhino

This incredible rhino on a painted ceiling inside the Museo Casa de Don Juan de Vargas made quite a journey to Colombia.

A paper written by John E. Simmons, President of Museologica, and Julianne Snider, Assistant Director of Penn State University’s Earth and Mineral Sciences Museum and Art Gallery, which was published in 2013 notes that the rhino images found in both the Museo Casa del Fundador Gonzalo Suarez Rendon and in the Museo Casa de Don Juan de Vargas that they believe was copied from a book on architecture that was written by Juan de Arfe in 1587 and may have also been influenced by a famous rhino image created by Albrect Dürer in 1515.

 

Claustro de Santa Clara Real

The gawdy chapel at Claustro de Santa Clara Real in Tunja, Colombia is now mostly used for weddings.

Leaving wild animals behind, we headed to the Claustro de Santa Clara Real (3,000 COP/about US$1, closed mid day) where we gawked at the gawdy red and gold chapel as the guide (Spanish only) pointed out symbols from the indigenous Muisca culture which were added during construction including a big gold sun on the ceiling above the altar and Muisca faces on some of the figures. The chapel is now mostly used for weddings.  Big, red and gold weddings…

Puente Boyacá, the Gettysburg of Colombia

It’s fitting that we went from the capital of Boyacá province to the Puente Boyacá memorial. Boyacá was one of Colombia’s nine original states and it’s known as the “Land of freedom” because this is where the Battle of Boyacá took place.

Puente Boyoca Bridge battle

The Boyacá Bridge, near Tunja, where independence from the Spanish was won.

Puente Boyacá is pretty much the Gettysburg of Colombia. The sprawling, park-like outdoor memorial (free) is located on both sides of the highway that runs between Tunja and Bogota. Here you can see the bridge (puente in Spanish) over the Teatinos River where, in August of 1819, pro-independence forces defeated the Spanish in just two hours, marking the official start of Colombia’s freedom from Spanish rule.

Simon Bolivar monument Puente Boyaca bridge

Latin independence hero Simón Bolívar is dramatically depicted at the Boyacá Bridge site near Tunja.

The grit of guerra (war in Spanish) has been glossed over with rolling lawns and  and epic statues, including a massive rendering of independence hero Simón Bolívar, of course.

Simon Bolivar

Latin independence hero Simón Bolívar is dramatically depicted at the Boyacá Bridge site near Tunja.

Where to eat, drink and sleep in Tunja

We stayed at Hotel Casa Real just a few blocks from the main plaza (70,000 COP/about US$25, not including breakfast). It was charming (fresh cut flowers), clean, quiet and comfortable.

Porkos sandwich Tunja

With a name like Porko, it has to be good.

Don’t miss Porko Sandwich Shop a few blocks off the main plaza. The lechona (whole slow roasted pig stuffed with rice) is lovely and the made-to-order roasted pernil (pig leg) sandwiches on sesame seed buns with a choice of sauces (7,500 COP/about US$2.60) are delicious. Plus, it’s a sandwich shop called “Porko”.

Tunja is also home to two tasty craft beers. One is called Cerveza Magnus and the other is called Cerveza Bruder. Bruder also has a brew pub in Tunja which is large and welcoming and serves beer on tap or in bottles and has plenty of big televisions.

Bruder Beer Tunja

Bruder is just one of the two craft beers made in Tunja, Colombia.

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