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Atacama desert is home to various plants and herbs used in traditional Andean recipes.
While exploring the local cuisine in San Pedro de Atacama, we were surprised and impressed by the creativity and flavors of the food.
Chefs and cooks we met, proudly bring the flavors of the desserts to guests at their restaurants.
On your visit to San Pedro de Atacama, use this guide to the food and best local restaurants.
Get to know Atacama desert food at any of these best restaurants in San Pedro de Atacama.
Top Atacama Foods Not To Miss – Food of The Desert
It’s the driest desert in the world, an astronomy hub, host to the Atacama Rally Dakar, and a flowering desert.
Unlike the Sahara or Mojave desert, the Atacama desert is pretty cold, with temperatures ranging between 0°C and 25°C.
The lack of rainfall makes it growing anything complicated, but there are surprising specialties.
The northern part of Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia all share a border as well as the Andean cuisine and culture.
Therefore, in San Pedro de Atacama, you’ll find both native ingredients and Andean cooking in the desert food.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: If you want to experience many of the Atacama staples in one seating, we recommend this ethno-gastronomic experience. Discover Atacama through the senses. An experience led by chef Lickan Antai, you’ll learn about Atacama foods, herbs, and local drink pairings on your culinary journey.
1. Patasca – Slow-Cooked Corn and Meat Stew
Patasca is a traditional dish from the Atacama people of Chile. These are the indigenous people of the Atacama desert and the high plain or altiplano region.
It is a stew or soup made of pork, beef, corn, and potatoes. The unique ingredient in this dish is the type of corn used.
The word patasca refers to “broken corn,” referring to bloated kernels of corn that swell and burst open while stewing.
The additional ingredients include lamb, dried jerky, and tripe. The dish is slow-cooked with corn, potatoes, and squash until all the flavors elegantly combine.
Pastasca is traditionally consumed during festivals. It is also a typical dish from the Andes, and you’ll find variations in Peru, Argentina, and Bolivia.
We tried Patasca on a cold desert night in Atacama and enjoyed the surprising mix of flavors.
The dish is simple and flavorful. It’s also not easy to find, and we recommend heading to Las Delicias de Carmen restaurant to try this local specialty.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Moon Valley in the Atacama desert has one of the most extraordinary landscapes in the world. It has been described as similar to landscapes on the moon. Our short video gives you a glimpse of the place. We recommend taking a small group tour to explore this geologic spectacle. This 4 – 5 hour tour takes you the different points within the valley ending with a magnificent sunset.
2. Quinoa – The Andean Mother Grain
Quinoa was first cultivated in Bolivia and is found across the Andes region.
It is a grain that resists high altitude conditions and is rich in nutritional value.
In the Atacama desert, many rely on it as the primary source of nutrition, along with corn and potatoes.
For the Incas, quinoa was the main food staple and deemed the “Mother of All Grains.”
Quinoa is a plant that belongs to the same family as beets and spinach.
It is nutrient dense and rich in protein and fiber. It is also versatile and used in many different recipes.
Quinoa salads, soups, and even bread were wonderful ways we enjoyed this Andean specialty.
So important is quinoa that the United Nations declared 2013 as the International Year of Quinoa.
This was in recognition of the practices of the Andean people in preserving quinoa for present and future generations.
Quinoa, a typically Chilean food, can be found on many menus of the best restaurants in San Pedro de Atacama.
3. Papas Andinas – Native Andean Potatoes
The Andean potato is a starchy, tuberous root vegetable, native to the Andes region of South America.
These native potatoes date back to the Inca period and come in many varieties.
While in the Andes region, we saw yellow, red, and even green ones.
The potatoes are small in size, some about a finger’s length. Due to the cold in the high altitudes where they grow, the flavors and nutritional properties are strong.
In San Pedro de Atacama restaurants, Andean potatoes are featured prominently on menus.
The potatoes are colorful, much more delicious, and tastier than those you’ll find outside the region.
Be sure not to miss these small, flavorful potatoes at any of the best restaurants in San Pedo de Atacama.
4. Llama Meat
Since the 15th century in the Andes, Llamas have been an essential source of food and sustenance.
The meat from these South American camelids was an essential source of protein.
In San Pedro de Atacama, you’ll find llama meat in delicious stews or served as a steak.
There is a popular “a lo pobre” Chilean dish served with fried eggs and fries.
And in San Pedro de Atacama, this popular dish is served with llama meat, eggs, and fries.
Llama meat is delicious, and we tried several preparation styles while in the Andes region. The texture is similar to steak though the flavors are more intense.
To taste Chile’s unique desert flavors, visit any of the best restaurants in San Pedro de Atacama.
5. Rica Rica Herb – Atacama Desert Herb
Rica Rica is a bush or small tree that grows abundantly in the Andes highland north of Chile and Bolivia.
This herb is characterized by its aroma, strong essence, and medicinal properties.
It’s scientific name is “phil deserticola Alcantholippia,” and it belongs to the Verbenace family.
In Chile, it is known to be a local homeopathic remedy for treating an upset stomach and problems with the heart, kidneys, and blood circulation.
This aromatic and versatile herb is used in sweet and savory preparations.
In San Pedro de Atacama, it is most often consumed as tea, ice cream, and in cocktails like pisco sours.
When we first arrived in San Pedro de Atacama to explore Chile’s desert specialties, we drank a lot of Rica Rica tea to adjust to the high altitudes.
Rica Rica is fragrant with a mint-like taste that works exceptionally well in ice cream.
It’s a great refreshing treat to help cool off from the intense desert heat.
In Pisco Sour, Chile’s national cocktail, Rica Rica adds a distinctive mint-like flavor that we highly recommend.
When visiting Atacama restaurants, try drinks and local foods that incorporate this indigenous herb.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: Atacama is one of the world’s foremost stargazing centers. The dryness, altitude, and clear skies with an absence of light pollution means the stars and planets of the southern sky are there for all to see. We recommend taking an astronomical tour and marvel at the spectacular sky. This was one of our favorite Atacama experiences.
6. Pepino Dulce – Melon Pear or Pear Melon
One of the fruits we discovered and quickly fell in love with was Pepino dulce.
This fruit is native to the Andes region and is found in both Chile and Peru.
The name, we learned, was given by a Spanish explorer who called it Pepino or cucumber for the strong resemblance.
The fruit is oval-shaped with yellow with purplish stripes. The skin is thin, and the flesh is yellow, juicy, and soft.
It has unusual flavors, like a blend between melon and pear. When cut open, the center of the fruit has many flat, round, edible seeds.
In addition to enjoying it as a fruit, many restaurants in San Pedro de Atacama add it to salads for a refreshing sweet taste. You’ll also find it in savory soups and drinks like smoothies.
Pepino Dulce fruit is an experience not to be missed in Chile’s desert.
Try it in different styles and find your favorite way of enjoying this native Chile fruit.
7. Merken Spice – Traditional Chilean Seasoning
Merkén spice, also spelled Merquen, originates with the indigenous Chilean people of the Mapuche Tribe.
It is a traditional seasoning made with Goat’s Horn Chile or aji cacho de cabra and is mildly spicy and smoky.
This spice is often used as a base ingredient in many dishes native to the Atacama Desert region.
For instance, at some Atacama restaurants, you’ll find papas andinas prepared this smoky chili peppers.
Llama meat is also rubbed with Merken spices for added flavors at other restaurants.
If your travels take you to Santiago, you can try Merken and other native Chilean ingredients at Borago restaurant.
This is one of the most popular places to sample the diversity of Chile’s indigenous flavors.
8. Algarrobo Pods
Algarrobo pods come from the Algarrobo trees (Prosopis chilensis) found throughout much of South America.
These tall, spindly trees grow in arid areas and produce brownish pods with a sweet interior.
Once harvested, the pods are opened, dried in the sun, and ground up to make flour.
This flour, a rich source of protein, is used in different Atacama food recipes.
The nutty flavors are used in aloja, a fermented drink not to miss.
Algarroba flour is also used in desserts and as a flavoring agent or thickener in many different recipes.
Depending on the time of the year you visit San Pedro de Atacama, you may need to seek it out at restaurants that offer delicious Chilean food.
9. Rosa de Año – Atacama Desert Rose Bush
The rosa del año, are petals of an Atacama flower that rarely blooms and is said to taste like a rose.
The name roughly translates to yearly rose and is found at the foothills of the Andes Mountains.
This flower blossoms in the desert after the annual rainy season, and has a delicate rose-like scent with pinkish-red petals.
Although the rosa del año only rarely blooms, its delicate flavor makes it a prized delicacy among local chefs.
The flowers are edible and said to have sweet, tangy rose-flavored flavors.
Atacama desert restaurants use these delicate rose petals in local sweets.
They are incorporated into pancakes, quinoa cakes, carob desserts, and more.
Along with other indigenous Atacama desert ingredients, rosa del año, is facing extinction.
Though, efforts are being made locally to preserve these endemic herbs.
10. Sweet Fruit of the Chilean Chañar Tree
The chañar is a small, thorny tree that grows exclusively in northern Chile and Argentina’s arid areas.
It is an endangered plant of the Fabaceae family and important for the Atacameño people in Chile’s northern desert.
The tree bears fruit that is sweet and edible. Its sweet fruit is ground into flour or made into a thick syrup-like molasses known as “arrope de chañar.”
Chanar has been long revered for its medicinal properties. The syrup is used as a remedy for colds and stomach aches.
Within the culinary realm, ground chanar flour is used in bread and confections.
It’s also used in cocktails, including a fermented drink called chicha or aloja de chañar.
Of course, the chañar fruit can be eaten raw or made into a dish called chañar añapa.
This nutritious dish is made by mashing the fruit with milk, water, and flour.
Syrup from the chañar tree is growing in recognition for its culinary potential.
Seek out dishes or foods at San Pedro de Atacama restaurants made with the sweet flavors of chanar.
Top 10 Restaurants To Have Atacama Food
San Pedro de Atacama is one of the most popular destinations in Chile, attracting tourists from Chile and world travelers alike.
With visitors year-round, different restaurants in San Pedro de Atacama cater to tourists. That said, finding the ones that serve great food with a focus on local delicacies is challenging.
With this selection of the best restaurants in San Pedro De Atacama, we trust that you will find better options than tourist trap.
AUTHENTIC FOOD QUEST TIP: In San Pedro de Atacama, they are various affordable and lovely places to stay. We personally stayed at Hostal Mamatierra and loved the chill vibe. You can check here for more accommodations in San Pedro De Atacama.
1. Baltinache Restaurant
Baltinache is a small restaurant located on the outskirts of town.
It isn’t easy to spot as the entrance blends right into the adobe-style architecture.
This intimate restaurant serves indigenous fusion food. The chef, Marta, is of Mapuche descent, and her husband, César, is from San Pedro de Atacama, so they bring the local flavor to her cooking.
Baltinache offers great local food and there is no menu. Once seated, you choose from two options based on what’s available that season.
The cuisine is creative and simple at the same time, with an emphasis on using local ingredients.
Start your Chilean culinary adventure with a Pisco Sour Rica-Rica. This cocktail, made with the famous Chilean Pisco brandy and prepared with the local plant Rica-Rica, is a great way to kick off your meal.
Each dish you savor incorporates Mapuche and local ingredients. One of our most exquisite dishes was the famous Chilean fish called Reineta.
The fish was accompanied by sautéed mote or wheat, used in the traditional Chilean drink mote con huesillo.
And a delicious salsa made with olives and Rica-Rica, drizzled on the Reineta and mote, was a spectacular delight.
We had one of our best restaurant experiences dining at Baltinache.
Address: Domingo Atienza 2, 1410000 Antofagasta, San Pedro de Atacama
Hours: Wed-Sun, 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm; Mon 1:00 pm – 3:30 pm, Closed Tuesday
Price: Three-course meals cost around 20.000 Chilean Pesos (approx. $22)
Pro Tip: This restaurant gets booked up quickly, so reserve your table.
2. Las Delicias de Carmen Restaurant
Towards the end of the main street is this overlooked gem, Las Delicias de Carmen.
Named after Carmen, the chef and owner, this is one of the best local Atacama restaurants.
It’s not a fancy restaurant, but it exudes a local charm. You will walk right into a large open room decorated with local artifacts.
On the walls and hanging from the ceilings are llamas and traditional baskets.
Everyone works together seamlessly offering good service under the watchful eye of Carmen.
The food is homemade, and the menu has an extensive selection of traditional Chilean food.
The serving sizes are generous. Order the complete menu and plan on sharing.
One main dish we highly recommend trying is the Patasca. This hot stew is made with corn, potatoes, pork, beef, and onions.
This stew is unique because it is native to the Atacama people. It’s also made with the white capia variety of corn unique to this region.
Address: Calama 370 B, San Pedro de Atacama
Hours: Open every day 12:30 pm – 9:30 pm
Price: Main dishes start at around 7.000 Chilean Pesos (approx. $7.95)
Pro Tip: Portions are large, you can share plates.
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3. La Picada Del Indio
La Picada Del Indio is located along the adobe streets on Tocopilla road.
Push open the double doors, full of stickers and the daily menu written on the sides.
On the inside, you’ll appreciate the earthy interior with stone walls and an open stone oven. There’s also a lovely outdoor seating patio.
You want to get the local specialties, particularly any of the delicious preparations made with quinoa.
Look for quinoa’s nutty and delicious flavors in your meat or fish dishes. Or perhaps in a salad or dessert.
Start with a pisco sour Rica and enjoy specialties from the desert. Expect generous portions, delicious food, and friendly service.
Address: Tocopilla 418, San Pedro de Atacama
Hours: Open Thur -Tues, 12:00 pm – 4:30 pm and 6:30 pm – 11:00 pm; Closed Wednesday
Price: Menu of the day options from 6.500 Chilean Pesos (approx. $7.15)
Pro Tip: Arrive early to avoid a wait during busy periods.
4. Restaurant Ckunna
Restaurant Ckunna is housed in a historic building that was home to the first school of the town.
The rustic interior with wooden beams and stone walls creates an inviting and comfortable atmosphere.
The menu pays tribute to the flavors of the Antiplano combined with the chef’s creativity yielding delicious Atacama food.
The restaurant uses local ingredients such as chañar, quinoa, and Algarrobo to create classic dishes with a contemporary flair.
Try appetizers like the quinoa andean salad. And, for main dishes, try Filete Chañar, a grilled steak smothered in chañar sauce.
There is also an outdoor patio shaded by native trees where you can relax and enjoy your meal.
An oasis in the desert, Ckunna is one of the best restaurants in San Pedro de Atacama.
Address: Tocopilla 359, San Pedro de Atacama
Hours: Open Tue – Sat, 4:00 pm – 10:00 pm; Closed Monday
Price: Average price is 17.000 Chilean Pesos (approx. $18.70)
Pro Tip: Enjoy the outdoor fire pit in the cooler evenings.
5. Charkikan Restaurant
When heading out of the main street, take a right and make your way over to Toconao avenue.
Keep walking past all the bike rental shops and way past the currency exchange stores.
Towards the end of the street, you will see a door and menu printed on either side of the entrance.
Look up, and when you see the Charkikan sign, you know you’ve come to the right place.
This rustic and charming restaurant serves typical Chilean food and is well worth the visit.
Upon entering, the simple adobe brown colored decor welcomes you, and the friendly staff will immediately put you at ease.
Start your meal with traditional Chilean sopaipillas. These simple flatbreads made with pumpkin flour are popular throughout Chile and make good starters.
Choose the daily specials, which are traditional Chilean foods. From empanadas to pastel de choclo, there’s something for everyone.
When in Chile, do as the Chileans do and enjoy a Terremoto. This drink, which translates to “earthquake,” is made with pineapple ice cream mixed with a sweet fermented white wine called Pipeño and grenadine.
This drink is strong, sugary, and surprisingly refreshing.
Relish the pleasant atmosphere and try all the delicious local options at Charkikan.
Address: Tocanao 475, San Pedro de Atacama
Hours: Open every day 12:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Price: Starts at 4.000 Chilean Pesos (approx. $4.55)
Pro Tip: Come here for a pretty good local drink of pisco sour – they have nine variations of the drink!
6. Cafe Adobe Restaurant
Cafe Adobe restaurant opened in 1997 and is one of the most popular restaurants in San Pedo de Atacama.
It’s a popular meeting point for locals and tourists alike.
This rustic restaurant has an impressive patio with a giant fire pit in the center for bonfires for cooler nights.
The menu at Cafe Adobe is an exciting journey through Chilean cuisine, with many stews taking up much of the spotlight.
Eat the traditional Patasca stew, a great option on the menu. Seafood lovers, on the other hand, can indulge in the shrimp patasca, described as ‘wonderfully decadent.’
Steak lovers will enjoy filets accompanied by Andean potatoes. And to go along with the dishes, Adobe offers a full bar and an extensive list of Chilean wines, including the national favorite, Carmenere red wine.
Live music under the vast open sky adds to the experience. The combination of good food, friendly staff, and live music makes this one of the best Atacama deserts for connecting with nature.
Address: Caracoles 211, San Pedro de Atacama
Hours: Open every day 11:00 pm – 12:00 am
Price: Main dishes at 13.500 Chilean Pesos (approx.$14.85)
Pro Tip: Since the restaurant is partially outside, dress warmly.
7. La Casona Restaurant
Always popular La Casona restaurant in the center of town is known for hearty Chilean cuisine.
The large interior with white walls and blue trimmings is inviting and comfortable.
There is a terrace on the exterior with an open adobe fireplace and a stage for live music events.
The restaurant’s signature dish is Camarones al Pil Pil, a delectable shrimp dish cooked in white wine sauce with merken.
Other traditional Chilean specialties to try are the traditional casserole dishes.
Choose either the Pastel de Jaiba, a delicious crab casserole, or Pastel de Choclo made with beef and corn.
Accompany your meal with local Chilean beers, wine, or pisco sours, and enjoy one of the best Atacama restaurants.
Address: Caracoles 195, San Pedro de Atacama
Hours: Open every day 12:00 pm – 11:00 pm
Price: House specialties start at 10.900 Chilean Pesos (approx. $12)
Pro Tip: If you like meat, ask for Parillada a La Casona for two
8. Tuksa – Food Shacks Outside of Downtown San Pedro de Atacama
If you want to go beyond the restaurants in town, you could explore the little shacks lined up on the northern side of town.
You will find about half a dozen small food joints open for lunch.
Each offers a fixed menu with a few local specialties for very reasonable prices. You will find them busy with locals and tourists alike.
We chose Tuksa on the far left of the strip. We were attracted to it by the menu, clean environment, and ability to see the cook making the food.
Our lunch menu started with a fresh vegetable soup, and pebre served with round white pieces of bread.
For the main meals, we had a choice between several typical Chilean dishes.
We ordered the churrasco vacuno or thin sirloin steak served with rice. And, a vegetable omelet or omelette de verduras.
Both dishes were fresh and tasty. These food shacks are convenient no-frills eateries with typical dishes at a reasonable price.
Tuksa is a cozy shop or stall to enjoy a leisurely afternoon lunch.
Address: Licancabur 10, San Pedro de Atacama
Hours: Tues – Saturday 12:00 pm – 4:00 pm and 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm. Sunday 6:00 pm – 11:00 pm, Closed Monday
Price: Prices range from 5.000 Chilean Pesos (approx. $5.50 ) to 17.000 Chilean Pesos (approx. $18.70)
Pro Tip: Get the lunch special for traditional special dishes at reduced prices
9. Emporio Andino
One local favorite in the Atacama desert is Emporio Andino, just west of the main Caracoles street.
It’s a cafe and pastry shop and is highly regarded for their empanadas.
The large and plump empanadas are stuffed with your choice of chicken, meat, vegetables, or potatoes.
You can also enjoy excellent coffee, smoothies, juices, and a wide range of desserts, including delicious chañar cakes.
The vibe is chilled, and the ambiance casual. This is an excellent spot for breakfast or to relax and unwind after a day exploring the desert.
Address: Caracoles Esquina Domingo Atienza, San Pedro de Atacama
Hours: Open every day 10:00 am – 10:00 pm
Price: Price of empanadas starts at 2.500 Chilean Pesos (approx. $3.00)
Pro Tip: Excellent options for vegans and vegetarians.
10. Awasi Restaurant – Relais et Chateaux
Awasi Atacama’s only Relais & Chateaux hotel is tucked away in the remote Atacama desert.
It is one of those unique places where luxury meets nature drawing inspiration from pre-Inca ruins.
The food by chef Juan Pablo Mardones is the reason Awasi is on this list.
Using herbs, roots, and ingredients from the desert, you’ll taste the diversity of flavors from the world’s driest desert.
Savor quinoa and native potato dishes. Edible Algarrobo pods and rosa de año are crafted into tasty and beautiful plates.
Desserts made with the sweet fruit of the Chilean chañar tree and an impressive wine and drinks list complete the experience.
The only downside is that you have to be a guest of the hotel to enjoy the chef’s expression of the terroir.
Address: Tocopilla 551, San Pedro de Atacama Chile
Hours: Breakfast is served from 7.30 am to 10:00 am, lunch from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm and dinner from 7.30 pm to 10:00 pm
Price: Meals included in hotel nights
Pro Tip: Minimum 3-night stay
A place of unimaginable beauty and awe-inspiring vistas, the Atacama desert is also home to some of the world’s most intricate and exciting cuisine.
It’s full of enticing and unusual flavors and local desert ingredients that create something unique.
In Chile’s driest desert, we were impressed by the diverse flavors we found at the San Pedro de Atacama restaurants.
Take time to explore the local and authentic cuisine on your visit. And watch how the desert flavors excite your taste buds.
Have you been to any of these Atacama foods or visited any of the restaurants in San Pedro de Atacama? Please let us know which ones in the comments below.
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Claire is co-founder of Authentic Food Quest and a lover of simple and exquisite cuisine. Since 2015, with her partner, Rosemary, she has been traveling the world as a digital nomad, creating content about local food experiences.
Her advice from visiting 45 countries and more than 240 food cities has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post. She has also co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
An ex-mechanical engineer, Claire is responsible for SEO, keeping the website running, and the fun food & travel videos on YouTube.
When Claire is not eating, she can be found running or cycling. Find out more about Authentic Food Quest