The Quest for the Best Picanteria in Arequipa

Arequipa, Peru

The main reason we came to Arequipa was for the food, typical comida Arequipeña such as ‘rocoto relleno’, ‘chupe de camarones’, ‘chicharrones’ and more.

Rocoto relleno by travelingman
Rocoto relleno by travelingman
Chupe de Pescado
Chupe de Pescado

We had never considered ourselves foodies in the slightest bit before we got to Peru. Never before being obsessed with food, I think being away from good food for months in Colombia and Ecuador finally took its toll.

Because now, nothing else mattered except for the pursue of the best ceviche, the best causa, and in Arequipa – the best picanteria (local eateries).

No Colca Canyon for us

The consensus seems to be that the last authentic picanteria in Arequipa is La Capitana. We wanted to try it so bad on our last day in Arequipa we cancelled our tour to Colca Canyon.

Come dinner time we took a taxi, and less than 10 minute later we arrived in front of what seemingly someone’s house in a small alley. The light was out, and the door was locked.

How can it be closed? It’s only 7:30! And we’re leaving for Chile tomorrow.

Lesson #1: Picanterias are usually open during lunch time and close late in the afternoon.

The taxi driver, noticing our disappointment offered to take us somewhere else for dinner.

The taxi driver took us through badly lit and dark alleys

Each one was smaller and more and more deserted than before. Travel warning about Arequipa’s notorious taxi robberies flashed through my head. I knew Jack was thinking of the same thing too. We noticed that the window on the passenger side of the taxi was rolled down. Would it seem rude if I asked him to roll it up?

Just when I was formulating the sentence in Spanish, we burst out from the darkest, scariest, we’re so getting robbed – kind of alley onto a busy and bright street.

We found ourselves right next to a large shopping mall. No causas or rocoto relleno here. Only your typical mall food: pizza, burgers, pasta.

Our first attempt on this quest ended up in a failure. We ate in a chifa (chinese restaurant) that night. It’s Giron, Colombia all over again.

The morning we were supposed to go to Chile we had our stuff packed and were ready to check out. I was sulking because my food wish was not going to happen when Jack said,

“Hey, why don’t we stay another day?”

It might’ve seemed obvious – but to us the idea of staying another day just so that we can eat seems a little, well… pig-gish. Which was not us at all.

But the new us is well, food oriented.

So we cancelled our hostal in Chile and went to La Capitana for lunch. This time, it was opened. And filled to the brim with people.

La Capitana Picanteria - Arequipa

The place was nothing fancy with wooden tables and benches.

The menu at La Capitana - Arequipa

The owner offered us a tour of the kitchen where giant vats of stews, mashed potatoes, and God knows what else were being prepared.

Most of them seemed to contain vast amount of meat.

Lesson #2 – Picanterias are not vegetarian friendly.

Waitresses zoomed past us carrying plates of food, dipping into the vats and slopping big heaps of brown gooey onto large plates. It was chaos.

We ordered a double, which is a sampler of 4 types of appetizers. I mentioned in my best Spanish to bring us anything without meat in it (always a scary thing since ‘meat’ means different thing for different people).

The double at La Capitana - Arequipa
The double at La Capitana - Arequipa

He came back carrying 4 plates that consist of:
– A stew of pumpkin and cheese in a very rich broth.
– Baked spaghetti in a cream sauce.
– Mashed potato slash stew thingy (has hidden meat in it).
– A fried fritter of ? (what I hoped was not meat because I ate it all).

This picanteria took us to a new level of gastronomic confusion.

We had very little idea of what we were eating. It doesn’t matter though.

It was really good and it was really rich. All that cheese and cream and oil and more cheese.

I see now why siesta is a national pastime here. If this is what they have for lunch (and it is – the place was packed and was getting even more crowded as we leave), it will take a body some hours to digest it all.

The couple we were sharing the table with seemed disappointed that we’re not eating the famous rocoto relleno or chicharron. We told them we neither eat beef or pork. They seemed confused – what do you expect from a picanteria?

So in the end, we never really managed to try Arequipa’s rocoto relleno or chicharron – but we’re glad to have been a small part of this town’s food tradition.

Because of that we (and our stomachs) rate this quest a success.

La Capitana Restaurant - Arequipa

Arequipa will always be remembered as the town where food took more priority over sceneries (which we’re pretty big on) and the town where we got to know our inner foodies.

(and Peru will be remembered as the country where our pants got a lot tighter).

Tell us:

How food oriented are you during your travels?

Where to stay in Arequipa: Los Andes B&B. Located about half a block from Plaza del Arma.
Recommended picanterias in Arequipa:
– La Capitana $, Calle Los Arces 209, Cayma
– La Nueva Palomino $$, Calle Misti, 407 – Yanahuara

Valuable Resources

  • Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders, for those who love anything weird and offbeat.
  • Resource Toolbox: How I find cheap flights, accommodations, and other travel hacks.

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10 Replies to “The Quest for the Best Picanteria in Arequipa”

  1. I was wondering if I should try La Capitana and I'm going to head there today after reading your post! Thanks for casting away any doubts about the authenticity of this place!

  2. Todd and I went on a similar quest (confession, Todd was totally inspired by yours!) in Arequipa. But, being pork eaters, we went out to find the best adobo arequipeño in Arequipa. We couldn't try them all, but after a little trial and error, we found an outstanding adobo!

  3. For us, traveling is all about food. We always try to find out the best local haunts to visit in a city. Sometimes, the journey to get there can be just as fun as eating the food itself.

  4. Peru is definitely one of the best places in South America for food. I just absolutely love the ceviche there. And how food oriented am I? Umm, well I just took a Thai cooking class yesterday here in Chiang Mai 😉 does that answer your question 🙂

  5. Funny that you ask the question about being food oriented when traveling. We are literally watching the travel channel on the best beach eats (as I read this post) which made us take stock of all the cool places we ate o the beach. One of our best (there were many) was on otres beach in Cambodia (which wasn't very touristy) and there was a beach restaurant which doubled as someone's house. There was this guy who worked there, he had a sparkly gold tooth and would wave us in. They had the most amazing Amok (which you can get vegetarian). Anyways, whatever we asked, the guy would say "why not!". So we would say we wanted a fruit smoothy and he would say "why not". A little Amok please, "why not". I don't know if we went there daily because of him or because of that yummy Amok. It was great. We also loved the amazing roti/curry sauce combo on another untourisy island in Malaysia called the Parenthians. Oh man, the ladyboy who made it every day loved what she was doing. Making the Roti was her thing and everyone would go there in the morning for that. Oh man, the memories. Nothing like traveling through your stomach. Can't wait to see what you eat in Africa.

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