What to Eat in Colombia
Not too long ago, Colombian cooking simply meant ‘comfort food,’ but chefs throughout the country are using the region’s produce—fish, vegetables, fruit, coffee, and meat—and traditional recipes to create a new world cuisine. Come taste the revolution.
Calle 69a # 5-75, Zona G, Bogotá, Colombia
Once a quiet residential neighborhood near Bogotá’s financial district, Zona G (as in gourmet) is now an all-city dining hot spot that’s abuzz day and night, serving everything from upscale burgers (at Gordo) and pizzas (at Julia) to fine dining (at Criterión) and great brunches. The area outpost of Juan Valdez Café is Bogotá’s loveliest and liveliest. Zona G sprawls over several blocks surrounding the intersections of Calle 70 and Carrera 5.
Cra. 9 #75-70, Bogotá, Colombia
Chef Harry Sasson is nothing short of an institution in Colombia’s culinary realm, one of the people responsible for having reactivated a local interest in haute cuisine. Mixed-grill aficionados will thrill equally to his langoustines (with mushrooms and cashews in a sweet-and-sour sauce) as they will in the sweetbreads (done in parsley, garlic, and oregano). But you’ve also got the perennial house-smoked grouper, or duck that’s cooked twice to make sure every piece achieves just the right consistency. A great wine list and a merry mood overall make any dinner at this historic residence on Carrera 9 a memorable one.
Bogotá, Bogota, Colombia
Once infamous for seedy salsa bars, La Macarena has been transfigured into one of the city’s smartest entertainment districts. Weekends and evenings the streets are packed with neighborhood residents as well as people from all over the city, who come to visit art galleries, bookshops-cum-concert-venues, and other lively outlets; or to take their pick of among scores of intimate dining rooms (including El Patio and El Panóptico) and coffeehouses (like Ázimos), all nestled within roughly a five-square-block area.
Cra. 49 Junín #52-98, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
Bandeja paisa, a hearty luncheon specialty ubiquitous in Antioquia and some other parts of Colombia, is a source of pride to many a Paisa—that is, a native of the province of Antioquia. Presentations vary, but traditionally the plate includes pork rinds, saucy red beans, ground beef, blood sausage, chorizo, avocado, white rice, and fried plantains, all topped with a fried egg. Near Plaza Botero in Medellín, Hacienda Junín offers a great introduction to bandeja paisa, as well as to other Colombian staples.
Cra. 60 #6838, Barranquilla, Atlántico, Colombia
Barranquilla’s must-go eatery for exceptional, local, and home-style specialties prepares its meals using organic, locally sourced produce only. In a warmly decorated, landmark colonial residence, Donde Mamá serves up a Colombian delicacy often found on the country’s Caribbean coast—the traditional mote de queso, yam soup with chunks of floating cheese and bits of pork rind.
Cl. del Colegio #34-24, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
The interior spaces as well as the incredible rooftop at an amazing former mansion in Cartagena’s historic center are the setting for the Colombian Caribbean’s most talented bartenders. The cocktails mixed here are magic potions that transform whiskey, vodka, gin, and rum into can’t-miss elixirs, always with a local lilt. The crowd—sophisticated locals and hip turistas looking for a break from pure tropicalismo—love the DJs who come here to spin jazz, funk, and hip-hop.
Calle 38 # 8-19, Calle del Santísimo, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
Carmen lies at the crossroads where quality, creativity, and sustainability (plus every other big-city culinary trend) meet. The namesake proprietress, alongside musician husband Rob Pevitts (both San Francisco Cordon Bleu graduates), is the genius who imported the restaurant’s California-sybarite style to Cartagena. She also brought a passion for everything that comes from the sea, and even imported her father, who’s responsible for serving up crab, lobster, fish, and octopus in line with standards he picked up on his many travels in New York and Japan.
Av Carlos Escallon 34-01, Centro Histórico, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
The 19th-century residence that houses this restaurant by chef Juan Felipe Camacho presents a subtle maritime vibe. The gustatory offering highlights a little bit of everything, but seafood and local shellfish—in generous portions—are the stars of an unpretentious international menu that’s anchored by a celebrated dish of sautéed snapper in coconut-shrimp sauce. Also available: exquisite carnivore dishes like grilled beef shoulder with blood sausage and piquillo peppers.
Manga, Fuerte San Sebastián del Pastelillo, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
This dockside restaurant has a charming historic patina, as it is part of an actual fishing club headquartered in an 18th-century military Cartagena fortress, San Sebastián del Pastelillo. Sit at outdoor tables with views of the city, the bay, and the club’s private marina and pier (some of your fellow patrons arrive by boat!), and dine on freshly caught seafood. On weekends, live music—jazz, bossa nova, and flamenco—animates the scene.
Calle #36, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
A menu as curated as it is creative greets diners within this venerable town house not far from the cathedral and Plaza Fernández Madrid, in Cartagena’s historic city center. Talented chef Heberto Eljach blends Japanese, Italian, and French culinary influences with local ingredients and, naturally in this seaside town, anything that hails from the sea. His popular ceviche, for instance, contains octopus, shrimp, and fish, but also suero atoyabuey (a kind of sour cream), pork rinds, and a roasted arepa; the braised oxtail “jam” comes with lobster risotto.
Cra. 6 #3425, Cartagena, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
Ready to plunge headlong into every kind of Colombia nightlife? La Jugada covers all the bases. Labyrinthine levels disclose seemingly innumerable party scenes, with a different, edgy DJ lording over all, in sundry music moods; you’ll also find mellow lounges and electric cocktail bars in addition to all the utterly packed, bacchanalian dancefloors. Be sure to hit the roof for yet another—what else?—romantic downtown Cartagena view, perfect for some pitch and woo.
#712, Cl. 79b, Bogotá, Colombia
You’ll be surprised just how much they pack into Bar Enano, the “dwarf” sized saloon in at Restaurante El Bandido. Recent buzz has to do with lab-precise craft cocktails that have garnered media and specialty-organization accolades. Yummy bites keep you thirsty for more. The boîte’s naughty vibe—vintage cheesecake photography and other kitsch, alongside great retro music—makes it a top tipple indeed.