Getting to San Pedro de Atacama is a journey in itself. Tucked in the middle of the Atacama desert, this popular town in the north of Chile is an oasis, surrounded by spectacular scenery. San Pedro de Atacama is one of Chile’s top three most visited destinations. As a result, restaurants abound all competing to attract the tourists walking down the main street.
Have you ever felt overwhelmed by restaurant’s choices and worried about stepping into a tourist trap? That’s how we felt when walking around San Pedro de Atacama. We were searching for the authentic restaurants, the real “gems” in the midst of all the popular restaurants in the tourist zones. We followed our instincts and used our tips to avoid tourist trap food.
So, can you find authentic food experiences in San Pedro de Atacama? An unequivocal, yes!
If your travels take you to San Pedro de Atacama, here are 3 restaurants where you can enjoy the local specialities and eat like a local.
Table of contents
1 – Baltinache Restaurant
Baltinache is not your typical restaurants. Located on the outskirt of town, you will not see it unless you are walking in its direction. And even if you are looking specifically for the restaurant, there is a chance that you could miss the entrance which blends right into the adobe style architecture.
Baltinache is a small and intimate restaurant which serves indigenous fusion food. The chef, Marta is a Mapuche, the native population from Chile. Her husband César, is from San Pedro de Atacama and he brings the local flavor to her cuisine.
We talked in detail about our meals and experience in this guest article Exploring creative cuisine from the Atacama desert in Chile.
Here, we want to point out the originality of this indigenous fusion restaurant. There is no menu. When you walk in, you will be given two choices to choose from based on the season and availability. The cuisine is creative and simple at the same time, the emphasis is on the use of local ingredients.
Don’t miss out on the local specialties. Start off by ordering the local drink, Pisco Sour Rica-Rica. This cocktail made from the famous Chilean Pisco brandy prepared with the local plant Rica-Rica, that we discovered and talked about in the food of the desert article.
Each dish we savored incorporated Mapuche and local ingredients.
One of the most exquisite dishes we had was the famous Chilean fish called Reineta. The fish was accompanied by sautéed mote (wheat), which is used in the traditional Chilean drink mote con huesillo. A delicious salsa (sauce) made with olives and Rica-Rica was drizzled on the Reineta and mote. What a delight!
2 – 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 rentals shops and keep going way past the currency exchange stores. Towards the end of the street, you will a door with the 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.
It is worth making the trek off the beaten path to experience authentic Chilean food at Charkikan. The simple adobe brown colored decor welcomes you and the friendly staff will immediately put you at ease.
Take advantage of the delicious and generous portions, and order the food Chileans eat on a daily basis. Start off your meal with Sopaipillas, one of the 10 popular Chilean dishes worth trying. These are simple flat breads made with pumpkin flour and they are very popular throughout Chile. The Sopaipillas are served with pebre, a Chilean condiment made with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, onion, olive oil, garlic and ground spicy aji peppers. Simply delicious, don’t miss this starter.
In keeping with the local and authentic theme, try Terremoto, one of the 6 famous Chilean drinks to experience like a local. Terremoto means “earthquake” and it references just how strong the drink is. Terremoto is made with pineapple ice-cream, mixed with a sweet fermented white wine called Pipeño and grenadine. The drink is strong and sugary and surprisingly refreshing.
Be sure to enjoy all the delicious local options at Charkikan.
3 – 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 another great place to eat typical Chilean dishes.
Not a fancy restaurant, this has place exudes 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. The service is great and the staff work seamlessly together all 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 pretty generous. Go hungry or plan on sharing.
One dish we highly recommend trying is the Patasca. This is a hot stew made of corn, potatoes, pork, beef and onions. What makes this stew unique is that it is native to the Atacama people (indigenous people of the Atacama desert and altiplano or high plain region). It is also made with white capia variety of corn that is unique to this region.
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 that are lined up on the northern side of town. You will find about half a dozen or so small food joints open for lunch. Each of the joints have a fixed menu with a couple of local specialties for a very reasonable price. You will find 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.
The started on the menu was a fresh vegetable soup accompanied with pebre served with round white breads. This was a perfect start to open up our stomachs for the main dish.
For the main meal, we had a choice between several typical Chilean dishes. We ordered the churrasco vacuno (thin sirloin steak served with rice) and the omelette de verduras (vegetable omelet). Both were fresh and tasty. Nice and easy meals to get us going for the rest of our afternoon in the Atacama desert.
If your travels take you to the Atacama desert, you should absolutely explore the unusual landscapes and beautiful surroundings.
During your stay, take the time to appreciate the local and unique flavors. Choose the restaurants that offer local and authentic cuisine. In between your tours and excursions, open up your taste buds too. Go beyond the expected and get a taste of the unusual flavors of the Atacama desert.
Baltinache Restaurant, Domingo Atienza, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
Charkikan Restaurant, Toconao 475, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
Las Delicias de Carmen, Calama 370, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
Tuksa, Licancabur, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
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Have you been to San Pedro de Atacama? Did you check out any of these restaurants? Share your experience below.
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Claire is a culinary explorer, digital nomad and engineer brain behind Authentic Food Quest. Together with her partner, Rosemary, they created Authentic Food Quest to help people find the best local food on their travels. For over 5 years they have eaten their way through South America, Southeast Asia, Europe, and North America while sharing the best local food experiences on their website. Authentic Food Quest has been featured on top publications such as Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Honest Cooking. Claire and Rosemary are also authors of Authentic Food Quest Argentina and Authentic Food Quest Peru, available on Amazon.