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The Fine Art of Eating in Colombia

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The Fine Art of Eating in Colombia
Colombian cuisine offers everything from comforting country-style fare to delicate seafood confections. Factor in what top chefs are cooking up in the cities, and the justly renowned coffee, and you’re looking at a menu that knows no end.
Photo by Nicolás Sastoque
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    100 Percent Colombian
    Regional specialties include Bogotá’s signature potato soup, ajiaco, ladled into bowls by home cooks and in the dining rooms of eateries like the Casa Santa Clara in Bogotá, atop Monserrate Peak. To get a taste of Medellín’s belt-busting bandeja paisa platter (it includes pork cracklings, avocado, fried plantains, rice, and beans), try Hacienda Junín. Barranquilla’s cheese-and-yam mote de queso is a signature dish at Donde Mamá, served up in the landmark colonial residence where the restaurant makes its home.
    Photo by Nicolás Sastoque
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    G Is for Gourmet in Bogotá
    In Bogotá it seems like restaurants cluster along certain stretches, as if to keep chefs on their toes, competing with one another to achieve new heights. The best example might be Zona G (as in gourmet), a district that’s buzzing day and night, serving everything from fancy burgers (at Gordo) and pizzas (at Julia) to fine dining (at Criterión), not to mention great brunches. If you're only hungry enough to hit one place, start with neighborhood pioneer Harry Sasson.
    Photo by Alejandra Cardona
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    Eat (and Dance) Like the Bogotanos
    Once infamous for seedy salsa bars, La Macarena has been transformed into one of the city’s smartest entertainment districts. Between art galleries and music venues, you’ll find scores of intimate dining rooms—try El Patio or El Panóptico—as well as coffeehouses like Ázimos, all packed into about a five-square-block area.
    Photo by Alejandra Cardona
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    Getting Past Bandeja Paisa in Medellín
    No Paisa, or proud local, will let you leave the Medellín region without trying the local specialty known as bandeja paisa, a hearty lunch dish that includes pork rinds, red beans, ground beef, blood sausage, chorizo, avocado, white rice, and fried plantains, all topped with a fried egg. If you’re going to do it right, Hacienda Junín is a good place to start. But bandeja isn’t the only thing served in Medellín; check out the variety of options available at the bars, restaurants, and clubs surrounding Parque Lleras.
    Photo by Tom Griggs
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    Cartagena Cuisine: Not Walled In
    At some of Cartagena’s hottest tables, like Alma or Carmen, you might imagine yourself in Tokyo or San Francisco’s hippest districts (the chefs at Carmen have, in fact, done stints in those international cities); Donjuán occupies a stunning former mansion; and the Club de Pesca down at the marina is fabulously old-school. The walled city is wide open as a culinary mecca for every taste.
    Photo by Nicolás Sastoque
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    Nights, Caribbean-Style
    The zenith of Colombia’s party culture must surely be the annual Lenten carnival in Barranquilla. But the good times never cease at that city’s La Troja, where salsa and other tropical music genres thunder out of speakers till well past sunup. In Cartagena, the graffiti-scrawled streets in the rapidly gentrifying Getsemaní district fill up with street musicians offering a preview of what’s heard in nearby watering holes. That said, third-millennium Caribbean merrymaking is also evolving in other directions. Become a believer at Cartagena’s impossibly sexy, sophisticated cocktail lounges and nightclubs, like Alquímico, which also serves up top-notch jazz, funk, and hip-hop.
    Photo courtesy of Alquímico