Taste Bolivian ‘Alta Cocina’ at Restaurant Gustu
Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants doubled as a culinary checklist when I lived in Peru. The annual awards were helpful to gauge which South American cities were shaping the continent’s alta cocina (haute cuisine). At the time there was growing buzz about Gustu – a colorful restaurant in eastern La Paz that had been steadily climbing the regional 50 Best list. It was the first and only restaurant in Bolivia ever to be ranked, so naturally I wanted to try it.
If you’ve ever been to La Paz you know that landing in the world’s highest international airport is not an easy feat. Teetering between the Andes at over 3,600 meters (12,000 feet), La Paz is a city born from mountain. It’s a place unlike anywhere else in the world, a quality Gustu would capture.
Gustu was founded in 2012 by Danish restaurateur and Noma co-founder Claus Meyer. Named after the Quecha word for flavor, Gustu is a reflection of Meyer’s culinary ethos — local ingredients, responsible sourcing, traditional methods of food preparation; as well as his commitment to corporate sustainability.
I want the full experience but my layover is tight so I opt for the five-course vegetarian tasting. The degustation begins with red and yellow tomatoes over a white Parmesan cream. It’s refreshing. And colorful. Everything I want in a meal. Each dish becomes more interesting as the tasting continues, a testament to Bolivia’s biodiversity. And with ingredients like surubí (catfish), aguaymanto and tuétano ahumado (smoked bone marrow); I wonder what my palm hearts would’ve tasted like with a sprinkle of charqui de alpaca (dried alpaca).
Just like that 45 minutes are up and it’s time to head back to the airport. On my way out, I quickly peruse the market dedicated to Bolivian agriculturalists. I wish I had more time to explore all the local products. But I leave Gustu feeling full and inspired, understanding it’s more than a restaurant. There are few places in the world passionate about preserving a culinary heritage and Gustu is definitely one of them.
Gustu is a 45-minute drive from La Paz’s El Alto International Airport, and is possible to visit during a long layover. Prior reservation is suggested. Make one here.