I haven’t been to every ceviche restaurant and kiosk in Lima. Lima, Peru is a city of 9 or 10 million people depending on who you’re talking to, so of course it’s impossible to truly say that one place has the “best ceviche in Lima.” I think it’s good to collect articles like these for yourself when you visit a place in order to have a list of those locales that have been called the best. That way, you’re guaranteed to have your own personal favorite by the end of the trip. So, I propose to you Cevicheria Carmencita, a wonderful little ceviche kiosk tucked away in the market of Limenian neighborhood Jesus Maria.
But first: what is ceviche?
Ceviche, or cebiche, refers to raw fish cooked in the acidity of citric juice. You’ll find it from Mexico all the way to Chile, but you’d be uttering blasphemy if ever you insinuate that ceviche is better outside of Peru. Some say it originated here. Regardless, it’s in Lima, Peru, where gastronomic enthusiasts the world over recognize ceviche’s best expression. Here, you’ll find ceviche of sole served with onion, canchita (un-popped popcorn, essentially), choclo (boiled big-sized corn kernels), yuyo (seaweed), yams (sweet potatoes), and chicharron (batter-fried squid, in this case). It’s not uncommon to eat ceviche with a glass of chicha, which is a sweet drink made from boiled purple corn.
Sure, you can find some of the best ceviche with TripAdvisor
To be honest, I’m frustrated that TripAdvisor has taken over the internet search engine results pages whenever I look for something. The problem is that the results are of course biased. The higher the restaurant is, the more visitors it will get, and it just snowballs, and grows exponentially until the top results far outdo anything on the second page. That’s why I’m writing this article. You’ll find good ceviche places on websites like TripAdvisor and Yelp and Foursquare, and you can read reviews. But you will not find Cevicheria Carmencita’s there–at least not without digging.
The main difference between an internet search of the best ceviche in Lima, and this article, is that here, I’m telling you to visit a small market kiosk well away from the touristy and upper-class districts of Miraflores and Barranco. You’ll be traveling to a typical barrio of Lima (not a pueblo joven, which refers to the towns at the periphery of the city–this cevicheria sits near Brasil avenue, a major thoroughfare that brings you from the center of Lima to the coast.)
You walk into the market via the southeastern entrance, and already there are throngs of people and menu-toting hawkers trying to lure you to their cevicheria. Because there are many cevicherias here. Something about being called toward a place actively turns me off from it, which is interesting because I’ve never been called to Carmencitas. A Peruvian friend of mine who’s from this neighboorhood took me there the first time. By the tenth time they seem to recognize me–and they would likely treat me as a friend if I were a little more outgoing about our relationship, and if they weren’t already so busy. At midday it’s a hectic scene. Locals already know that it’s one of the best ceviche kiosks in their Lima.
Carmencita’s is tucked back in the southeastern corner of the market, and they serve their patrons at a long raised counter of cracked white tile that stretches out and away, flanked by vegetable and fruit vendor kiosks. 3 rows of people occupy the counter’s breadth, separated by containers of napkins and utensils, emptied plates ready to be retrieved, and lingering chicha that someone didn’t drink from the bottom of their pitcher. Turnover is quick, so I always wait around for a spot to claim. Once it does, I sit on my bright lime green plastic high stool, and order the same: Ceviche de pescado con chicharrones (s./11). 11 soles is about 3 dollars. Try to find ceviche this good and this cheap on TripAdvisor–good luck.
What makes Carmencita’s ceviche the best in Lima (for me)
For economist-minded folk it’d be the value for their purchase, but for me it’s more than that. It’s the ambiance. To choose a less-snotty word, it’s the reality of the place. This is how most Peruvians almuerzan (lunch). They hit the market, find their favorite little menu, and sit to bask in good tastes and the frenetic yet inconspicuous scene.
The ceviche itself is great. It may not be Central great, but what it lacks in gastronomic excellence it makes up for in homely flavor. If you stick around Lima long enough, you’ll start to notice subtleties in ceviches much line an oenologist can tell you the difference between wines and you’re left dumbfounded but nodding in accordance all the same. Is there too much key lime? A bit too sharp of taste at the back sides of your tongue? Are the pieces of fish the right girth, have they been soaked enough or did they take in too much juice? Is the fish easy to bite, does it avoid chewiness or tendon-y parts? Carmencita’s ceviche is generally a very good dish. The chicharron comes freshly deep-fried, the onions soaked with the fish and are tasty, the choclo is never over-boiled, and the sweet potato is succulent (although it’d be better if it too got soaked in the right juices).
How to get to Jesus Maria from Miraflores
This article is written in English, so most readers are visitors to Peru, and will have decided to stay in Miraflores. Jesus Maria is not very close, but you can make a day of it. Jump a bus from Parque Kennedy (the most central spot for tourists in all of Lima), ride to Jesus Maria, then bus to the center of Lima along Avenida Brasil, then later take another bus back to Miraflores via Avendia Arequipa.
Here’s the exact location:
The bus will likely leave you on Brasil Avenue. You’ll know where you are because because the market, which is called Mercado San Jose, is just beside a park and cathedral of the same name. Here’s a picture of the intersection of Horacio Urteaga with Republica Dominicana:
Here’s a map of how to get to this cevicheria from Miraflores:
This is how I get there because I live along this route. However, you can take an easier route: jump a bus from Parque Kennedy that goes down Avenida Arequipa, and get off at Avenida Cuba. Then walk. If you want to take this longer, circular route, then jump on the big purple bus (it’ll have “Brasil” written among other avenues on its side). You’ll wait for this bus across the street from Dunkin Donuts at the Parque Kennedy Ovalo (roundabout)
Come back once you’ve gone
This post can be better. If you’re reading this, and you make your way to Cevicheria Carmencita to try some of Lima’s best ceviche, then come back and comment on this post to tell others of your experience. Especially if you opt for another cevicheria in the same market–I’ve only ever gone to Carmencita’s, but let’s leave room for the other joints too.
Other articles about Lima, Peru: