News & Advice

This Is the Best Restaurant in Latin America

The 50 Best Restaurants in Latin America were just announced—and this Lima, Peru, restaurant took the top spot. 
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Courtesy Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants

Every year, travelers wait for World's 50 Best lists to come out—and not just the master list, which reveals the best restaurants in the world every July (Geranium in Copenhagen took the top spot this year), but also regional awards that dive deep on Asia, Europe, the Middle East & North Africa, and—announced just last night—Latin America. For travelers who book their vacations around tasting menus and wine lists, these awards put a stake in the ground: these are restaurants really worth flying for. 

At a ceremony in Mérida, Mexico, last night, chefs from all over Latin America gathered to hear the full list, waiting with bated breath for the number one to be declared. It's official: Central, in Lima, Peru, is once again the best restaurant in Latin America. 

The interior of Central in Lima, Peru

Gustavo Vivanco Leon

The best restaurant in Latin America: Central in Lima, Peru

Central, of Lima, Peru, is helmed by married chefs Virgilio Martínez and Pia León (she is also behind Kjolle in Lima, which is in eighth place on the list). 

It's no huge surprise: the restaurant previously won the top award in 2014, 2015, and 2016, before losing the throne to Maido (Lima) and Don Julio (Buenos Aires) in recent years. 

But ask anyone who has dined at Central if it deserves to top this list, and you'll hear resoundingly rave reviews. Set in the seaside district of Barranco, this Lima institution is at the forefront of modern Peruvian cuisine and has featured regularly on the likes of Chef's Table. The menu is a first of it's kind. Designed by Martínez and León, it takes diners through a dozen ecosystems of Peru; each dish uses endemic ingredients cultivated at a set elevation, from 10 meters below sea level to 3750 above, with a spotlight on heritage plants, herbs, and fruits that even most Peruvians have never heard of. 

To represent 190 meters above sea level, for example, guests are served the oft-Instagrammed “Amazonian Water” dish, featuring watermelon, coca leaf, and whole heads of pacu fish (a jungle swimmer similar to the piranha), teeth baring up at diners. There's also “Blue - Green Ocean," at sea level, with fresh Pacific ocean scallops, sargasso (a type of weed that floats on the ocean surface), and cucumber. The menu then journeys high into the Andes, with the “Moray” dish (3600 meters above sea level) showcasing cabuya (an Andean maguey plant), muña (a medicinal plant known as Andean mint), and qolle (a marigold-hued flower). There's a simplicity to it all, with just three key ingredients per dish, yet each item on the menu tells the story of a unique part of Peru. 

Wife-and-husband team Pia León and Virgilio Martínez are the chefs behind Central. 

Gustavo Vivanco Leon

Central provides such a unique menu by investing in extensive research—Martínez and León have traveled throughout the country to source both iconic Peruvian flavors, and those that few can even recognize (in the Chef's Table episode on the restaurant, Martínez says that of the 180 ingredients they were using in the restaurant at the time, “50 percent of them are unknown"). This work is largely done through their Mater Iniciativa project, whose goal is to “promote megadiversity without borders," through recipe discovery, experimentation, and more; their findings trickle down into the team's three restaurants: Central, Kjolle, and Mil (in Moray, Cusco, number 44 on the list). 

For travelers, this means one tasting menu can act as a journey through the entire country—even to remote destinations that few will ever have a chance to visit. 

The tasting menu at Central highlights ingredients from Peru's various elevations and ecosystems. 

Courtesy Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants

How to get a reservation at Central

Central reservations can be booked on the restaurant's website, with tables opening in blocks a few months at a time. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday for both lunch and dinner service. (Make sure to scroll to the bottom of the reservation page for closure dates.) Reservations must be booked by your menu, or “experience," of choice.

Experiences start at 950 PEN (at the time of writing, about $250 USD) per person, for both the classic 12-ecosystem experience or a “creative” version that changes daily. There's a 14-ecosystem version of each for 1064 PEN (about $280 USD). Three different drink pairings are on offer, with a choice between a global wine selection (424 to 488 PEN; about $110 to 130 USD), a collection of South American ferments, spirits, and wines (454 to 518 PEN; about $120 to 135 USD), and a creative non-alcoholic approach of nectars, extracts, and infusions—in my experience, this is the sleeper hit (222 to 278 PEN; about $60 to $72 USD).