Neil and I are serial diners. If we like a place we’ll go back again and again. So while Cusco, Peru boasts an insane array of restaurants, from cheap market comedores to the haute French cuisine at El Soleil, finding the best is a culinary challenge. We’ve had pizza good enough to satisfy our picky New York palettes and comfort foods at English pubs, but overall, the best restaurant in Cusco is Marcelo Batata.
Artwork and Views over Cusco at Marcelo Batata
It’s one thing to find a restaurant that dishes out good food. It’s an entirely different ball game when a dining establishment begins with a stellar menu and surrounds it with art, culture, and passion. At Marcelo Batata, owner chef Erick created a warm space with chic red walls and black-painted wooden beams. Clean white runners stretch across simple black tables and at the top of the stairs a fabulous terrace offers unparalleled views of Cusco. Inside the dining room, black-and-white photographs portray life in this ancient Inca city: women in bowler hats and small children staring past the camera. Sculptures adorn the entrance and as we admired them, Elizabeth, Chef Erick’s fiancé and the manager of the South American Explorers Club, proudly told us that all the art was created by Erick’s late father.
Every detail at Marcelo Batata is executed with care. From the chairs turned out at 45-degree angles to the shiny silverware and the terrace’s space heaters, Erick and Elizabeth have crafted a welcoming restaurant. For me the most endearing aspect of this restaurant is their humility. The staff and chef know they have a 4-star restaurant. They know their menu is a fusion food paradise. But they are still kind and congenial. They chat at the tableside, joke about life and grow deadly serious about the meals they prepare. “If there is anything wrong with your lunch, please tell us immediately.”
After eating at Marcelo Batata twice (with plans to return again in February), I could laugh at
this. Everything was beyond perfect, beyond expectations. Without hesitation, I will recommend this place to finicky friends and haughty foodies. It is just that good.
Great Meals on the Menu at Marcelo Batata
The first thought that comes to mind: famous dishes updated for the 21st century.
They have Thai satay, classic aji de gallina, and hearty homemade pastas too. But Chef Erick is not without humor. His steaks are the finest cuts of alpaca, a traditional protein that tastes like a cross between pork and beef tenderloin. The meat is prepared to order with a choice of sauces including wild mushroom and Asian soy. But he also includes a Philly Cheesesteak version of alpaca with medium rare strips of meat-loving goodness. The veggie burger is a vegan’s delight with handmilled beets, legumes, and avocado on a real toasted roll.
Of everything on the menu, two items rank among the best that I’ve ever had. When visiting Cusco, you have to try the garlic and herb French Fries and the Coconut Shrimp and Spinach Salad with sweet mango. A devilish combination, these two dishes are enough to have me coming back for generations. Potatoes from the scared valley are special. They are sweet and dense, perfectly matched for hand cutting and deep-frying. Chopped garlic and parsley coat each fry and you’re in heaven. Unless of course, you opt for the Coconut Shrimp and Spinach Salad. I’m not a huge salad freak. Those days were back when I was trying to fit into a white wedding dress. But this salad could have me thinking twice. The mango slices are ripe and sweet, reminding me of mango sticky rice from Thailand. The shrimp are tender and the spinach takes away all the guilt of fried seafood and super sweet fruit.
Up the hill from the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Marcelo Batata is located on the narrow Calle Palacio 121. On the first floor, you’ll see high-end crafts and clothing shops. Follow the red and black signs up the stairs to the restaurant. South American Explorers Club members receive a 15% discount. Bring a camera for the compelling artwork including a mural inspired by the words of Nelson Mandela as well as the spectacular rooftop view over Cusco. Even if you don’t have a meal, grab a pisco drink from the fully stocked bar and lounge on the terrace for a private Andean sunset.