One of the greatest parts of traveling internationally is delving into the local culture: sightseeing at great museums and historical sites, listening to live music by local artists, and tasting regional cuisine. TripAdvisor recently came out with their list of top restaurants worldwide and I couldn’t help but brainstorm my own list of favorite international dining experiences. Not all of my favorites are ‘foodie’ approved, but all exposed me to some great international dining experiences abroad, using local ingredients or focusing on local flavor.
Central Restaurant // Lima, Peru
1Lima has developed a reputation as the defacto gastronomic capital of South America with famous local chefs producing innovative cuisine. Many places focus on locally sourced ingredients and/or on niche fusions seen within Peru (e.g. Chifa, a Chinese-Peruvian fusion, and Nikkei, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion). We had some excellent meals during our four days in Lima, but the hands down standout was Central Restaurant. It’s consistently ranked among the best restaurants in the world, and it’s definitely worthy of that accolade. I’m not a massive foodie but this is an approachable foodie scene that left both of us in awe. Try their cool pisco sour incarnations and ask your waiter for input on creating the perfect spread of small plates.
Central Restaurant | Santa Isabel 376 Miraflores Lima, Peru
Machneyuda // Jerusalem, Israel
2Machneyuda is everything it purports to be… plus some. The food is excellent, the service leaves nothing to be desired (lots of young servers with great personalities pouring Israeli wines), and the ambiance transports you to a different world entirely. It’s hard to believe that this uber-hip spot is in the middle of Jerusalem; bartenders serve up arak shots and dance around to vibrant music as people leave synagogue nearby. It’s the coolest dichotomy to witness and it just adds to the appeal of this spot. You can’t go wrong with anything here but the polenta is over-the-top delish. If you can’t get into Machneyuda, try it’s sister restaurant Yudale, across the way. Equally wonderful!
Machneyuda Restaurant | Jerusalem, Israel
Jumba Ruins Monsoons // Mtwapa, Kenya
3In the coastal town of Mtwapa, it’s all about seafood, and Jumba Ruins Monsoon takes it to the next level. Fisherman walk out from the sea carrying bags of freshly caught octopus which get thrown onto an outdoor grill and served up to guests. Fresh, fresh, fresh, and massive. The crabs were absolutely enormous and the other seafood seemed to follow suit. We shared a huge seafood platter (about $70) that left us all in awe: layer after layer of fish, prawns, lobster, crab, and octopus piled high. Add in a little rose, and you have your afternoon made. Bonus: a Maasai warrior will guide you to the restaurant when you enter.
Jumba Ruins Monsoons Restaurant | Mtwapa, Kenya
Zaza Bistro Tropical // Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
4Located in the Ipanema area of Rio de Janeiro, Zaza was a standout for me with their eclectic menu infused with local touches. I know that visitors to Brazil and Argentina are obliged to try out churrascarias, but that’s not quite my cup of tea. Luckily, Rio is a gleaming metropolis with restaurant and bar-lined streets in Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana. Scott found Zaza before we arrived in Rio and was intrigued by their eclectic menu: their tartare is fabulous and their samosas were a fun veg-friendly treat. Everything was wonderful from start to finish, though the meat-eaters in the group decided unanimously that the chicken curry was one of the best things on earth (seriously).
Zaza Bistro Tropical | Rua Joana Angélica, 40, Ipanema
Hacienda Cocina y Cantina // Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
5We had a series of great meals in Cabo – fresh fish, zesty margaritas, and great authentic bites, but Hacienda Cocina y Cantina was a standout; so much so that we went back for round two during our time in Mexico. The price point is reasonable, the setting is gorgeous, and everything we tried was excellent. They have a slew of options that will pique your interest – we found it best to order a number of smaller plates and share so we could try most everything we wanted.
Hacienda Cocina y Cantina | Calle Gómez Farias S/N, El Medano, 23453 Cabo San Lucas
Willi’s Wine Bar // Santa Rosa, California, USA
I appreciate the nuances of ‘American cuisine’ and love the regional flavors in the US: BBQ in the South, lobster rolls during summer on the East Coast, Tex-Mex in Texas and the Southwest, etc., etc. I may be biased but what I would classify as ‘California cuisine’; a menu rich in farm-to-table offerings with healthy and fresh inputs, is my absolute favorite. Add a glass of locally sourced red wine and it’s an absolute winner. Many spots in California accomplish this excellently and the state is certainly home to its fair share of notable restaurants. One of my favorite and most memorable meals was at a restaurant in Santa Rosa called Willi’s Wine Bar. The spot is part of a family of restaurants and has arguably more famous counterparts, but I loved the vibe here: an amazing collection of small plates (my favorite way to eat), cheese, charcuterie and fabulous wines to match.
Willi’s Wine Bar | 4404 Old Redwood Hwy, Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Get Cooking: Delve into some other American flavors and check out these five classic American dishes to cook at home.
What dining experiences have been stand outs for you during your travels? Any destinations that you visit just for the food?