Updated November 2019
The World’s 50 Best have just released their 2019 list of the best restaurants, world-wide and we’ve got the lowdown on South America’s top entries. Unsurprisingly, Lima’s Nikkei gem, Maido, has taken the top spot for the third year in a row, further enhancing Peruvian cuisine’s incredible domination on the continent’s culinary stage. Whilst several of the top 10 restaurants in South America have become true institutions, we also see a few exciting new entries.
Ready for a gastronomic splurge that’s totally worth a long-haul flight?
1. Maido, Lima – PERU
Showcasing an intoxicating fusion of Peruvian and Japanese cuisines, Maido (which actually means ‘welcome’ in Japanese) offers a unique culinary experience that is difficult to describe and impossible to replicate. It’s this uniqueness, coupled with the cultural importance of Nikkei cuisine in Peru, that continue to award chef Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura the top nod from The World’s 50 Best. Tsumura, a Lima-native of Japanese descent, uses a blend of local Peruvian ingredients (think tropical seafood, quinoa, and distinct Peruvian vegetables) and prepares them using traditional Japanese cooking techniques. Nikkei isn’t a modern cooking trend, nor is it technically the name of a cuisine. The term refers to the Japanese diaspora abroad yet, as a cuisine term, it was first used in Peru in the late 1800s. Today, Nikkei has become an inherent part of Peruvian cuisine-culture and is even gaining recognition outside of Peru. In its home-country, Maido is considered Nikkei’s most resplendent example and a cultural-culinary experience no visitor should ever miss.
2. Central, Lima – PERU
As its name suggests, Central has been at the heart of this list for a number of years now, for exceptionally good reason. Chefs Virgilio Martinez and Pia León create unique dishes by continuously searching for native and new ingredients from every single corner of Peru so if you can’t travel through every single province, at least your taste-buds can. The sensational dining experience served up by Central is out of this world, the avant-garde dishes and slick presentation feasting the eyes as well as the palate. The native ingredients Central uses from the Amazon, the Andes and all the valleys in-between are so obscure, that 90% of Peruvians haven’t even heard of them. With a wild variety of colours and textures, Central’s signature dishes (like the standout piranha fish that landed Martinez in hot water with US customs earlier this year) are head-turning homages to indigenous Peruvian cooking. Catch these guys on the Chef’s Table (Netflix, Season 3) before you travel to Peru and you’ll get a better idea of the kind of gastronomic journey you’ll be undertaking. If you’ve visited Central before, do note the restaurants has now moved to super-trendy Barranco.
3. Pujol, Mexico City – MEXICO
If there is one restaurant that ought to entice you across the border into Central America then Pujol is definitely the one. Rated Mexico’s very best restaurant for years by many publications, Pujol is a bonafide culinary institution in the capital and is credited with spearheading modern Mexican cuisine. Let’s be honest, everyone loves Mexican food yet not many consider it to be an elegant, polished cuisine. That is, until they visit Pujol. Honouring the long culinary traditions of Mexico, Pujol’s kitchen creates refined dishes that leave you salivating for more. All the old faves like tacos, mole and tamales are here…but they taste nothing like you’ve ever had before.
And that’s certainly reason enough to visit.
4. Don Julio, Buenos Aires – ARGENTINA
Don Julio’s most endearing aspect is the fact it doesn’t try to break through any culinary grounds – when it comes to Argentinian cuisine, it doesn’t mess with perfection. If you’re after fancy pants dishes combining a gazillion ingredients, Don Julio is not the place for you. If you’re travelling to Argentina and for some bizarre reason have time to only visit ONE steakhouse in the entire country, however, then this don is your don. World-class meats grilled to perfection using traditional asado techniques are paired with the most mouth-watering Argentinian wines produced. Coupled with an impressive array of traditional entrées, like beef empanadas and crispy sweetbreads, Don Julio truly epitomizes Argentinian cuisine to a T(bone).
5. Boragó, Santiago – CHILE
You know you’re dealing with a culinary master when your 16-course degustation menu is subject to change, at the last minute, due to the sudden availability of locally-sourced ingredients. The brainchild of acclaimed Chef Rodolfo Guzman, Boragó manages to marry ultra-contemporary Chilean cuisine with seasonality (and sustainability), something so many restaurants try to achieve but just can’t manage. Well, Guzman certainly can. Not only that, he manages to create a near-theatrical culinary experience to boot. Modernist and minimalist are the best ways to describe both the space and the gastronomic experience – Chile’s first entry into this list of top 10 restaurants in South America is surely worth the wait but don’t come here expecting an absolute feast…come here expecting something you’ll never ever find anywhere else.
6. A Casa do Porco Bar, Sao Paulo, BRAZIL
Sao Paulo’s ‘shrine’ to all-things-pork could not be further away from the world in which Boragó thrives and that speaks to the integrity and uniqueness of this list. A first-time entry into The World’s 50 Best, ‘The House of Pig’ is a pork-lover’s absolute Utopia. Slow-cooked pulled pork rolls topped with home-made pickled red onions and chunky guac is the kind of calorific splurge every carnivore needs to try and it is Casa’s most famous signature dish. But the feasting doesn’t end there! Whether you enjoy your pork with a spoon (stews), with a fork (grill) or with your hands (from pork sushi to piping-hot croquettes), you’ll find your little nook of heaven, right here.
7. El Chato, Bogota, COLOMBIA
There are innumerable reasons El Chato has become Bogota’s favourite hangout and all of them have to do with it reflecting the warm, laid-back, colourful and welcoming atmosphere for which the country is so revered. You can head here mid-afternoon for a cheeky sundowner and a mouth-watering dessert, you can dine here with friends and share generous platters or feast alone if travelling Colombia solo. You can always rest assured of glorious company and an unforgettable meal. El Chato is committed to using only locally-sourced produce yet this is no run-of-the-mill Colombian fare. The mastermind behind the El Chato concept, Alvaro Clavijo, brings years of international cooking experience to his kitchen, his impressive stints in some of the best restaurants in New York, Barcelona and Copenhagen shining through every meal. Clavijo’s cooking style is unique and the ingredients deliciously Colombian – this is Bogota’s most impressive star so pin it to your must-eat list before you travel.
8. Leo, Bogota, COLOMBIA
The celebrated abode of one of Latin America’s top female chefs, Leo (as in Leonor Espinosa) doesn’t just offer ‘jaw-dropping’ meals but rather amazing culinary experiments utilising some of the least-known ingredients sourced from some of Colombia’s darkest corners. This startling concept is created in conjunction with local biologists and growers and promises diners a culinary experience that’s been created with ‘ancestral knowledge’. Leo is obviously a fabulous canvas for the creations of Espinosa, a deeply dedicated anthropologist and artist. Over a dozen exotic courses make up Leo’s signature degustation menu which walks you through Colombia’s history and geography over the course of an unforgettable couple of hours. As with most restaurants on this list, you can pair your dinner with either alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks.
Will Leo knock El Chato off its Colombian pedestal next year? We’ll have to wait and see!
9. Osso, Lima – PERU
A sustainable and organic gourmet butcher and world-class steakhouse, Osso single-handedly ups Lima’s reputation as a meat-lover’s unmissable destination. Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo watch out, Peru’s joining the party! From its signature wagyu beef tartare to the matured ancho steak, every cut at Osso is off the charts and cooked to perfection. Dedicated to producing their own artisanal sausages without the use of nitrates or preservatives of any kind, Osso’s meaty offerings are as flavoursome as they could ever be. Conscientious meat producers and chefs, all rolled into one, the team behind Osso will satisfy your meaty cravings. Do yourself a favour and leave enough room for the home-made desserts, they’re equally outstanding. Osso boasts two branches: one in San Isidro and the other in La Molina.
10. D.O.M., Sao Paulo, BRAZIL
It may be a little weird to imagine Alex Atala, head chef at D.O.M. as a die-hard rock DJ but that was exactly what he did before he opened his concept restaurant 20 years ago. Yes, two decades and two Michelin stras later, Atala is still bringing the exotic tastes of the Amazon to the dinner tables of Sao Paulo, building an impeccable reputation as an avant-garde and quite limitless culinary genius. Much as it has always done, D.O.M. continues to literally create ingredients from Amazonian plants and insects, even as far as creating an edible derivative of a root plant normally used in cosmetics. With its wonderful atmosphere and superior service (the enthusiastic staff always at hand to explain every single meal in English), D.O.M. offers quite the splurge-worthy experience in Sao Paulo
Whether you’re into traditional South American food and wish to feast your way through the continent one street-stall at a time, or want to visit the most acclaimed restaurants the continent has to offer, rest assured your taste-buds will be handsomely rewarded.
Author: Laura Pattara
“Laura Pattara is a modern nomad who’s been vagabonding around the world, non-stop, for the past 15 years. She’s tour-guided overland trips through South America and Africa, travelled independently through the Middle East and has completed a 6-year motorbike trip from Europe to Australia. What ticks her fancy most? Animal encounters in remote wilderness, authentic experiences off the beaten trail and spectacular Autumn colours in Patagonia.”