Virgilio Martinez's favourite places to eat

Virgilio Martinez, the chef behind Peru's game-changing restaurant Central and author of a new book on Latin American cooking, reveals his favourite places to eat
Virgilio Martinez's favourite places to eat

2021 turned out to be quite a year for the Peruvian chef known for showcasing his country’s extraordinary cooking at Lima’s Central and high-in-the-Andes Mil. In the summer, his wife and business partner Pía León was named Best Female Chef in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, and they are about to open two further-flung outposts that share Central’s exploratory philosophy. 

In Moscow, Olluco is set to uncover Russia’s biodiversity – ‘it will revitalise the value of produce such as beetroot, which we’ll use like purple corn in Peru, applying its powerful colour to other ingredients,’ says Martínez. The second, in Tokyo, is going to take a similar approach with the Japanese terroir. Both are rooted in the chef’s South American experiences, which he has traced for The Latin American Cookbook. ‘For our research we spent several years travelling around. It’s important to look beyond Peru and connect with the continent.’ Here are his standout restaurants in Latin America.

La PazJulien Capmeil

Gustu La Paz, Bolivia

‘I love this spot for its fine-dining nuances that teach you about the country. The first head chef, who was Danish, included many Nordic details but today the talented Marsia Taha helms the kitchen; Bolivians working exclusively with Bolivian ingredients denotes a strong change. The eight-course menu is brave and adventurous, featuring Amazon caiman, dried surubí river fish and llullucha (algae) ice cream.’

Alfajor biscuitsJimena Agois

La Nueva Palomino Arequipa, Peru

‘Arequipa is home to hundreds of picanterías (casual restaurants) where señoras stir up fantastic grassroots cooking, taking influences from the Andes, the coast and the colonial period. Mónica Huerta Alpaca is a real genius and tremendous host who uses techniques passed down through her family. I order rocoto relleno, chilli peppers stuffed with minced meat and spices.’

Traditional sweet bread made for Mexico’s Day of the DeadJimena Agois

Al Toke Pez Lima, Peru

‘This is a tiny, no-frills counter that barely seats 10. Get the catch of the day; it’s as fun and spicy as cook Toshi Matsufuji, who left behind a career in academia in the UK to return home and run his father’s establishment. The way he prepares dishes such as ceviche with fried calamari is personal but also intelligent.’

Red hominy stewJimena Agois

Demecia Restobar Santiago de Chile, Chile 

‘Having worked at Barcelona’s Dos Palillos, Benjamin Nast runs a cluster of restaurants including De Patio, which ranks in Latin America’s 50 Best. In August, he opened this bar and restaurant in the fashionable Vitacura district, where seafood and Asian-style hits such as cod tempura and temaki poké lead the menu.’

View of La PazJulien Capmeil

Oriente Tomine, Colombia

‘This is a seasonal farm-to-table concept. There are no special effects – just spontaneous casual cooking paired with creativity. Based in a rural village north of Bogotá, chef Tomás Rueda partners with smallholders so he knows the precise origins of trout, beef and paipa cheese on the menu.’

Flor de palma dish at MorenoHane Garza

Moreno Caracas, Venezuela

‘After spending years in Lima kitchens, TV chef Victor Moreno finally got to open in his hometown. Set in an old-school mansion in Altamira, this place showcases Venezuela’s regions in dishes such as asado negro, flank steak caramelised in raw cane sugar with plantain gnocchi, Caracas-style. The arepa tasting menu demonstrates the importance of local comfort food – it could be the new taco.’

Charcoal-cooked rhea eggsJimena Agois

Quitu Quito, Ecuador

‘Exploring ancestral cuisine, chef Juan Sebastián Pérez renews the values of staples including guatita beef-tripe stew. His sustainable approach means collaborating with farmers from Andean communities who cultivate ingredients commonly used in the pre-Columbian era. Pérez brings corn, tubers and proteins up to date in dishes such as roast corn with mapahuira pork fat. An honest transformation.’

Maito Panama City, Panama 

‘Mario Castrellón works tirelessly to put local ingredients from the Ngäbe-Buglé indigenous community on the map, and Maito’s offering is inspired by both the country and the Panama Canal’s history, in particular the Creole, Cantonese and Afroantillano cultures. I love caffeine, so I always order the Geisha coffee-bean brew.’


Koli Monterrey, Mexico 

‘This place is run by the Rivera-Rio brothers – Rodrigo, Patricio and Daniel – who faithfully recreate cocina de origen from the north-east. On their nine-step tasting menu you’ll find mole neoleonés: suckling pig with acuyo pepperleaf, onion and fresh cheese. One to watch.’

‘The Latin American Cookbook’ (Amazon, £17.50) is available to buy

Virgilio MartínezDaniel Balda