STORIES

Latin America's New No. 1 Restaurant Is...

By David Jenison on October 29, 2017

Bogotá, Colombia hosted the fifth annual Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants ceremony last night, and Lima, Peru's Maido rose to the top of the list. The Peruvian-Japanese restaurant swapped spots with Central, another Lima-based restaurant that held the No. 1 spot the previous three years. 

"PRØHBTD would argue that Maido deserves the top spot for its masterful balance of flavor, execution and innovation," we wrote last year when the restaurant finished second to Central, and this statement remains true today. Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura, who was born in Lima and went to college in Rhode Island, trained in the culinary arts under a master sushi chef in Osaka, Japan. He eventually returned to Lima to run the kitchen at a Sheraton hotel before eventually breaking out on his own. 

Maido specializes in a Japanese-Peruvian fusion known as Nikkei, whose roots date back to the late 19th century when an influx of Japanese immigrants came to Lima and recreated their traditional dishes using Peruvian ingredients. Decades ago, chef Nobu Matsuhisa—a Japanese chef who opened his first restaurant (Matsue) in Lima—first popularized Nikkei cuisine with his Nobu restaurant chain, but chef Tsumura uses more Peruvian ingredients and progressive combinations (think tempura-style stuffed rocoto peppers or guinea pig confit). Other top Nikkei chefs include Ricardo Zarate (Rosaliné) in Los Angeles and Jorge Muñoz (Pakta) in Barcelona. 

Astrid y Gastón, which topped the inaugural list in 2013, remains in the seven spot for a second year. Chef Gastón Acurio, who returned to his flagship restaurant last year, is the chef who originally popularized Peruvian cooking as a global cuisine. Astrid y Gastón, Central and Maido are the only restaurants to reach No. 1 on Latin America's 50 Best, which means every list-topping restaurant in its history hailed from Lima. The same three restaurants finished at Nos. 5 (Central), 8 (Maido) and 33 (Astrid y Gastón) last April on the World's Best list

The city of Lima is not, however, the only city with three restaurant in the Top 10. São Paulo, Brazil also claims three entries starting at No. 3 with D.O.M., an acclaimed Brazilian restaurant headed by a cannabis-smoking and acid-dropping chef who sources his ingredients from the Amazon basin. A Casa do Porco (House of the Hog) followed at No. 8 and Maní at No. 9.

Peru, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina each landed nine restaurants on the 2016 list. This year, Lima scored 10 to São Paulo's six, while Buenos Aires, Argentina claimed nine with Tegui leading the way at No. 10. That said, most of Buenos Aires' winners were in the bottom half, including Nos. 48 to 50. Mexico City (CDMX), meanwhile, claimed seven restaurants with two in the Top 10: Pujol (photo above right) at No. 4 and Quintonil at No. 6. As Mexico's most famous chef, Pujol's Enrique Olvera claims a Michelin-starred restaurant in NYC (Cosme) and a Chef's Table episode, and Quintonil chef Jorge Vallejo actually trained at Pujol (in addition to Noma). CDMX's coolest and most colorful restaurant, Dulce Patria (previously at 48), failed to make the 2017 cut. 

Santiago landed three restaurants with BORAGó scoring Chile's highest spot at No. 5, though expect a new entry in 2018 from Mitsuharu Tsumura. His Maido follow up, Karai, will open soon at the W Santiago Hotel, replacing another Nikkei restaurant, Osaka (No. 43 last year). The host city, Bogotá, also scored three entries with Harry Sasson and Leo leading the charge at Nos. 17 and 18, respectively, with newcomer Villanos en Bermudas at No. 40. Leo chef Leonor Espinosa specializes in lesser-known Colombian ingredients like fat-bottomed ants used to give her seared tuna a crunchy crust (photo on right). Dropped from the list were one-time Bogotá great Criterión (previously at 29) and party palace Andrés Carne de Reis (previously at No. 49). 

Last year, Panama City's Maito debuted at No. 36 becoming the first Central American restaurant to make the list. Chef Mario Castrellón, who offers a tropical culinary adventure focused on Panama's cultural diversity, saw his restaurant jump to No. 20 in its second year. 

Latin America once again gets huge marks for celebrating female chefs: Helena Rizzo of Maní (photo below) in São Paulo at No. 9, the aforementioned Espinosa of Leo at 18, Danish chef Kamilla Seidler at Gustu in La Paz, Bolivia at 28, Carolina Bazán of Ambrosia in Santiago at 33 and Elena Reygadas of Rosetta in CDMX at 35. By comparison, the World's 50 Best and Asia's 50 Best lists contain just two female chefs each, and only Lanshu Chen of the French restaurant Le Moût in Taiwan (No. 28 on Asia's list) did so without a connection to a male chef or counterpart. (Noting the male counterparts does not discount the female chefs' exceptional skills, only that gender discrimination might still play a role in the voting process and in the restaurant industry as a whole). 

Espinosa was named Latin America's top female chef, an honor given to Seidler in 2016 and Rizzo in 2015. Tokyo-born Saiko Izawa—a vet of restaurants like D.O.M. and Spain's El Celler de Can Roca—won the award for Best Pastry Chef for her work at A Casa do Porco. Most global food enthusiasts know that more female chefs belong on all the lists, but props to Latin America for leading the way in acknowledgements. 

The London-based trade magazine Restaurant launched the World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2002, which grew into the most prestigious global ranking. (The Michelin system is equally or more respected, but it is based on a star system, not a number ranking.) The organization added the spin-off Latin America’s 50 Best and Asia’s 50 Best lists in 2013, featuring many countries not covered by the Michelin system. 

David Jenison (david@prohbtd.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Maido images by Catherine Lindblom Gunasekara/Flickr; all other photo credits 50 Best and the restaurants' websites. 

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