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Best restaurants in Latin America 2015

Best restaurants in Latin America 2015

Posted by PanamericanWorld on October 13, 2015

Food-wise, Latin America is hotter than a habanero. And we're not just talking ceviche and tacos in a suburb near you. Down on the haciendas – and in the smart suburbs of Mexico City, Rio and Santiago – a sexy combo of chef creativity, indigenous ingredients and growing global confidence is pushing up "must-try food" pins right across the South American map.

With 12 countries, close to 400 million inhabitants and around 10 hours flying distance from top to bottom (Venezuela to Chile), the lower half of the Americas is mind-boggingly big. And as varied in geography, climates and peoples as you can possibly imagine.

In the Latin food world, though, there's a sense of bursting national and regional pride. You could feel it at the third annual Latin American 50 Best Restaurants awards, announced just last month in a frescoed palacio in Mexico City.

                Parador la Huella, Jose Ignacio, Uruguay. Parador la Huella, Jose Ignacio, Uruguay. Photo: Supplied

Chefs from Chile, Bolivia, Uruguay, even economically troubled Venezuela came out in force, celebrating with colleagues from the heavy hitters – Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Peru.

"It's not only about restaurants. Our food and cooking represents our culture," says Diego Munoz, head chef at the newly crowned No.3 in Latin America, Astrid y Gaston​ in Peru. Munoz, who famously worked at Sydney's Bilsons (and regained its three hats before it closed in 2011), says food travellers are now starting to rival the backpackers on the South American tourist trail.

Here are our picks from this year's list – notable for its mix of the modern and the traditional, celebration of native and homegrown ingredients, and several (nine out of 50) with female chefs. All developments to be applauded. And explored.

                Gustu restaurant, La Paz, Bolivia. Gustu restaurant, La Paz, Bolivia. Photo: Supplied

Central, Lima, Peru

A modern space in the upscale part of the Peruvian capital, Virgilio Martinez's Central has a clear mission - to represent the diversity of ingredients, regions and peoples of Peru. And this with beautifully presented dishes, surprising flavours and a view into the glassed-in kitchen where Martinez and his wife, Pia Leon, create a multi-layered homage to their homeland – often with rare vegetables and plants from the Andes. It's a very special experience, and right up there with the best, ranking an impressive fourth on the World's 50 Best restaurants list, too.

Maido, Lima, Peru

Peru's Japanese heritage colours the delicious menu from chef Mitsuharu (Micha) Tsumura​. The style is known as Nikkei, referring to the highly flavoured take on Japanese cooking and tradition that was born in Peru and first taken beyond its borders by the Nobu phenomenon. Highlights of the tasting menu are lush takes on nigiri sushi, a melting beef short rib and excellent cocktails.

Borago, Santiago, Chile

                Virgilio Martinez in the kitchen. Virgilio Martinez in the kitchen. Photo: Supplied

Chef Rodolfo Guzman stands out for his fiercely local approach to everything from the restaurant decor – reminiscent of faraway forests (Borago is in a posh part of central Santiago) – to the often underused ingredients featured on his menu. "He is extremely connected to Mother Earth," says journalist Maria Canabal, "and to the traditions of the mapuches or local indigenous people." Expect a light, pure approach with all the smoky, woody aromas of nature.

Quintonil, Mexico City, Mexico

Fruits, herbs, Mexican vegetables (urban orchard grown) and sheer deliciousness make this relative newcomer the highest-ranked in the Mexican capital right now. In a pretty green house in Polanco, one of the smartest parts of town, chef Jorge Vallejo does very pretty, often green food – such as a light salad of Mexican herbs and a gloriously simple tostada of sweet crab, radish and avocado.

                Enrique Olvera chef from Pujol in Mexico City.Enrique Olvera chef from Pujol in Mexico City. Photo: Janne Apelgren

Pujol, Mexico City, Mexico

He is the poster boy for taking Mexican cuisine into a new era, and feeding a few insects to gringo gastronomes along the way. Awarded this year's Lifetime Achievement award, chef Enrique Olvera​ keeps the surprises coming, fiercely modern but determinedly Mexican too: think tiny fluffy tamales, a crisp-crusted egg pie (infladita​) with grasshopper (chapulin) sauce, or a fascinating two-stages of mole. Olvera's more casual, share-plates New York restaurant Cosme​ is also riding high.

Parador la Huella, Jose Ignacio, Urguguay

                Chef Rodolfo Guzman.Chef Rodolfo Guzman. Photo: Veronique Mandray

Simple grills, seafood and a laidback beachside vibe. And despite being off the beaten track for most South American visitors, chef Alejandro Morales's smart shack on the sand is rated 11th best on the continent. "Shrimp, ceviches, wood-grilled fish ... He's obsessed by freshness," says Uruguayan food, wine and travel journalist Marcela Baruch. "It's the feeling of the place that's amazing. Everyone feels welcome there. Even barefoot straight off the beach."

Gustu, La Paz, Bolivia

It started as a social enterprise to help Bolivia explore its own ingredients and sense of place. The energetic and enterprising Danish chef Kamilla Seidler​ has turned it into a culinary school and restaurant with beautiful attention to local detail, and hearty but exciting dishes totally based on Bolivian produce.

Parador la Huella, Jose Ignacio, Uruguay. Parador la Huella, Jose Ignacio, Uruguay. Photo: Supplied

El Baqueano, Buenos Aires, Argentina #15

Argentina is the land of meat. But this is no giant steakhouse. Instead this modest, casual eatery serves carefully sourced native river fish and meats from small producers – including less-used species, such as alligator. "It is subtly elegant and so focused on protecting the small producers," says Brazilian writer Luciana Bianchi.

Olympe, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Harvest and Collection dish from Central restaurant, Lima, Peru.Harvest and Collection dish from Central restaurant, Lima, Peru. Photo: Supplied

Simple native ingredients blended with French and contemporary techniques, from the Brazilian branch of the famous Troisgros family. "One of the best restaurants in Latin America," says Tulio Silva from Brazil's Prazeres da Mesa food mag. Silva's picks: grilled scallops with a palm heart carpaccio – "amazing mixed with dulce de leche"; and sour palmito served as tagliarini with tucupi sauce and cheese.

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