As with our previous lists, we went through an extensive research process to scout out restaurants all over Mexico, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, compiling a list of finalists from which our 101 best were selected, with the help of an esteemed group of panelists. As we believe that a beachside seafood shack can be just as good, in its own way, as a sleek Michelin-starred establishment, we included restaurants of all types and size, excluding, sometimes reluctantly, only food stalls and street stands (for instance, one of our favorite dispensers of fresh Mexican seafood, Mariscos La Guerrerense in Ensenada).
To conduct our research we consulted industry experts, local food guides, reviews, and listings, and compiled our own knowledge from experiences at restaurants in the different regions. What we ended up with was a short list of 214 restaurants from 25 different countries and regions. This list was then shared with our illustrious panel of judges (comprised primarily of restaurant critics, food and lifestyle writers, and assorted bloggers from across the globe), who undertook the tough task of voting for their favorites across a broad geographical area. In the interests of accuracy and fairness, panelists were asked only to vote for restaurants where they had eaten within the past 12 months.
The voting — based on region, cuisine, and the style of the restaurant (budget, casual/neighborhood, and serious dining/special occasion) — narrowed the list to an honored group of 101. The final list includes a versatile mix of restaurants from all the 25 different countries nominated. The country with the largest number of restaurants on the list, 25 in all, turned out to be Mexico, a place that has, in recent years, embraced concepts of contemporary cuisine without diminishing its own rich culinary heritage. Brazil — where the remarkable Alex Atala of D.O.M. in São Paulo has galvanized the food scene over the past decade — had the second largest number of restaurants, 17, followed by Argentina, with 11 restaurants, 10 of them in Buenos Aires.
Many of our 101 ranked restaurants blend old traditions with new techniques. At El Jardín de los Milagros in Guanajuato, Mexico, motorcycle-riding chef Bricio Dominguez often uses pre-Hispanic raw materials to produce consistently fascinating new dishes. At El Baqueano in Buenos Aires, chef Fernando Rivarola specializes in "native meats" such as wild boar, llama, alligator, rhea (an ostrich-like bird), chinchilla, and hare. At Olympe in Rio de Janeiro, French-born father-and-son duo Claude and Thomas Troisgros, of the famous Burgundian restaurant dynasty, focus on Brazilian ingredients — think yucca, tucupi juice, and açai — incorporating them into classic European dishes.
Several areas, especially in Latin America, have gone through big gastronomic revolutions. Lima, where all of Peru’s seven listed restaurants are located, is one. This blossoming culinary city is home to classics such as three-time "World's 50 Best Restaurants" honoree Astrid & Gastón, Gastón Acurio’s renowned restaurant, which has helped Peruvian food gain international recognition. Acurio and his Lima outpost paved the way for the new generation of Peruvian chefs who are continuing to elevate and reinvent Peruvian food in the country’s capital. One of the biggest new culinary stars, Virgilio Martinez, is serving creative and refined versions of classic Peruvian fare at his Central restaurant in Lima.
Among our best restaurants in the Caribbean, many are located at big resorts, and some are led by familiar culinary stars such as Eric Ripert (Blue) and Jean-Georges Vongerichten (On the Rocks). But not all resort restaurants are fine dining spots. Chef Mark Clayton's Da Conch Shack in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, is an example. This open-air eatery is adjacent to a parking lot, and serves simple, fresh seafood to beach-goers looking for a no-fuss meal.
As you click through our list, reflect on your own opinions and thoughts on our selections — how did your favorite restaurant rank, and what do you think should have been numero uno? In the end, we all have our own opinions on what is "best," and as we can attest from past experience, any list like this one is bound to stir up disagreements among discerning diners; even our own staff was divided on which restaurants should make the final cut.
After checking out The Daily Meal’s 101 Best Restaurants in Latin America and the Caribbean, please share your compliments and critiques in the comments section below — or on Twitter @thedailymeal using the hashtag #bestrestaurants — and let us know what places you think should have been included, or should have been left out.
Elsa Saatela (@elsamaija) is the Travel editor at The Daily Meal. Special contributor Lauren Mack (@lmack), editorial director Colman Andrews (@Colmanandrews), executive editor Arthur Bovino (@Arthur_Bovino), and contributor and blogger The Foodish Boy (@foodishboy), contributed to 101 Best Restaurants in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Foodish Boy shared his personal experience and expertise after having the unique opportunity of working at few of our listed restaurants, included renowned Central in Peru. You can read more about his kitchen-adventures here.