High altitude, low prices

A street in San Blas.
A street in San Blas. Photo: Margie Politzer/Lonely Planet

Steve McKenna finds a budget-friendly place to enjoy grilled alpaca.

WHAT Sumaq Restaurant.

WHERE Cusco, Peru.

HOW MUCH Three-course meal for 15 soles ($5.70).

WHY GO After an enforced two-month closure brought about by landslides and flooding, Machu Picchu is once again open for business.

Most visitors to the famed Inca citadel base themselves in the atmospheric city of Cusco, where every other building seems to be a cafe or restaurant, with touts preying outside, menu in hand.

Although many are expensive by Peruvian standards - especially those fringing the city's picturesque Plaza de Armas - there are bargain meals to be had if you hunt around.

Head to the grittier backstreets of central Cusco, where the locals eat, and you'll be able to bag a three-course meal for about 5 soles.

But the quality is rarely impressive and the starkly decorated, smoke-filled joints aren't particularly conducive to a pleasant, relaxing - or romantic - night out.

Thank your lucky soles, then, for places such as Sumaq, which offers a cosy ambience, fast, friendly service and, importantly, fine food for excellent prices.

Sumaq is in San Blas, a neighbourhood of steep, narrow, winding cobbled streets that rises up from the Plaza de Armas.

The name of the restaurant bodes well. In the indigenous Andean language, Quechua, Sumaq translates as "beautiful, tasty and delicious".

It's a tiny little place, with just four tables and a capacity of about 18. Such intimacy is welcome in a city such as Cusco, where the high altitude (3300 metres) means night-time temperatures can dip towards freezing.

Equally pleasing is the heat that blazes from the kiln in the open kitchen, spreading even more warmth through this humble little eatery.

Sumaq's decor is infused with Inca-inspired tapestries and memorabilia, plus a large, framed photograph of Machu Picchu.

Sumaq's wide-ranging menu includes a selection of meat and vegetarian dishes, including the Peruvian favourite, cuy - guinea pig. I had, however, already decided on the set menu. For starters, there's a selection of soups to choose from, catering for vegetarians, carnivores and fish lovers. I opt for the sopa de cusqueno, a thick, creamy concoction doused with beef, vegetables and spices. It's delicious.

Snubbing the other mains of oven-fired pizza and lasagne, I order the grilled alpaca steak. I'd seen plenty of alpacas, the smaller cousins of llamas, ambling through Cusco's streets, alongside women in colourful Inca-era costumes.

My alpaca, served with rice, salad and fried potatoes, is juicy and much less fatty than a regular beef steak.

I just about have room for the dessert of pancakes lashed with honey and leave Sumaq feeling a full and happy customer.

FREE STUFF For an aperitif, you can choose between a small glass of red wine or a pisco sour, Peru's national cocktail. You can also have a free soft drink with your meal, or a cup of coca-leaf tea afterwards. A complimentary basket of garlic bread is included as well.

ADDED BONUS If you're looking to carry on late into the night, there are half-a-dozen bars in San Blas offering deals of two or three cocktails, including more pisco sours, for about 12 soles.

DETAILS Sumaq, Siete Angelitos 622, Cusco. Opening hours: noon-3.30pm; 6.30pm-11pm.

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