Peru did it again. For six out of six years, a Peruvian restaurant took the top spot on the annual Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants list. In an awards ceremony held earlier tonight in Bogotá, Colombia, Maido retained the No. 1 position for a second straight year.
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. Maido 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 with Maido. Last year, the chef added to his culinary reach by opening another Nikkei restaurant, Karai, at the W Hotel in Santiago.
In 2017, Maido ended Central's three-year-run atop the 50 Best list, but the Virgilio Martínez- and Pía León-led restaurant held the No. 2 spot both years. Astrid y Gastón, which took the No. 8 spot, was the inaugural list topper in 2013. Astrid y Gastón, Central and Maido are the only restaurants to reach No. 1 on the list, and all three hail from Lima, Peru. The same three restaurants finished at Nos. 6 (Central), 7 (Maido) and 39 (Astrid y Gastón) last June on the World's Best list.
Pujol, a viable challenger to the top spot, climbed a notch to No. 3. As a young chef only 24 years old, Enrique Olvera opened Pujol in 2000 with the idea of putting a contemporary spin on traditional Mexican cuisine. The chef-owner then reached deep into the country's culinary history to craft signature dishes like Mole Madre, Mole Nuevo, where fresh mole meets a sauce that's been aged for years. In recent years, Olvera also received acclaim (with a huge assist from chef Daniela Soto-Innes) for his NYC restaurant Cosme, which currently sits at No. 25 on the World's 50 Best list. He's slated to open his next restaurant in Los Angeles this summer.
In 2015 and '16, Central peaked at No. 4 on the World's 50 Best list, but it wasn't the first Latin American restaurant to reach the Final Four. Brazilian powerhouse D.O.M. reached No. 4 in 2012, the year before the Latin America list was introduced. Alex Atala is a former DJ and punk rock-minded chef who specializes in crafting lofty dishes from Amazonian ingredients, and his São Paulo-based restaurant finished fifth at tonight's awards.
The rest of the Top 10 were as follows: BORAGó (Santiago, Chile) at No. 4, Don Julio (Buenos Aires, Argentina) at No. 6, A Casa do Porco (São Paulo, Brazil) at No. 7, Quintonil (Mexico City) at No. 9 and Leo Cocina (Bogotá) in the ten spot.
Lima, Mexico City and São Paulo each scored two restaurants in the Top 10, but Buenos Aires finished with the most overall restaurants on the list. The Argentinian capital landed 10 restaurants to Lima's nine, followed by Santiago and São Paulo with five a piece. The host city claimed four restaurants, including the year's highest debut, El Chato, at No. 21.
Rio de Janeiro also had four entries, led by Lasai at No. 26, giving Brazil nine restaurants on the list, though Mexico held the most spots of any country with 11.
In 2016, Panama City's Maito debuted at No. 36 to become the first Central American restaurant to make the 50 Best. Chef Mario Castrellón, who offers a tropical culinary adventure focused on Panama's cultural diversity, is currently No. 29 in its third year on the list.
Virgilio Martínez (who just opened ICHU in Hong Kong) might be the most recognized face behind Central, but his wife Pía León played an instrumental role as the head chef for several years, and together they opened the Cusco-based restaurant Mil (pictured at bottom) in early 2018. León, who opened Kjolle in Lima this past summer, took home Best Female Chef honors, an award that went to Leo Cocina chef Leonor Espinosa in 2017, Gustu's Kamilla Seidler in 2016 and Helena Rizzo of Maní in 2015.
Another female chef, Manoella Buffara, scored the One to Watch award for her restaurant Manu. The Noma and Alinea vet opened Manu in Curitiba, the capital of the southern Brazilian state of Paraná. Buffara is literally a farmer's daughter who was raised in Paraná, and she sources ingredients that showcase the state's diverse ecology, which includes rainforest, farmland, Atlantic coastline and the magnificent Iguaçu Falls.
Some would argue that singling out "female" chefs is lame—and in many ways it is because they're chefs, not female chefs—but Latin America does outshine the rest of the world in elevating female talent. Latin America's latest list includes the female-fronted restaurants Leo Cocina at No. 10, Maní (São Paulo) at No. 12, Parador La Huella (José Ignacio, Uruguay) at 22, Ambrosia (Santiago) at No. 24, Rosetta (Mexico City) at No. 41 and Narda Comedor (Buenos Aires) at No. 46.
By comparison, Asia's 50 Best features only two female-helmed restaurants (Bangkok's Paste at No. 31 and Bo.Lan at 37), while the World list contains four (NYC's Cosme at No. 25, San Sebastian's Arzak at No. 31, Slovenia's Hiša Franko at No. 48 and Bangkok's Nahm at No. 50). Even then, four of these restaurants were started by male chefs or involve a male counterpart, the exceptions being Paste and Hiša Franko.
The World's 50 Best Restaurants 2019 is up next, and expect Noma to make its triumphant return to the No. 1 spot, joining elBulli as the only restaurants to top the list five times. Other predictions? Den, Disfrutar and Blue Hill at Stone Barns will crack the Top 10, while new 50 Best entries could (should) include Enigma, DiverXO, Florilège, Vespertine, SingleThread and Lûmé.
The London-based trade magazine Restaurant launched the World's 50 Best Restaurants in 2002. If the Michelin Guide offers the most prestigious star ratings, the World's 50 Best has become the most prestigious global 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. All photos provided courtesy of World's and Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants and the restaurants themselves. Specific photo credits (from top to bottom): Maido by José Cáceres, Central by César Del Río and Pujol by Araceli Paz.