The Traveler’s Guide to Restaurants in Colombia

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When you think of gastronomic experiences abroad, Colombia probably doesn’t make it to your list. You’re likely to have France, Italy, Japan or Thailand. But the South American destination is likely to be far from consideration. Which is a shame because restaurants in Colombia are doing delicious stuff, creating inviting experiences and making local food unforgettable.

Does Colombia Have Good Food?

Gastronomy Sancocho Food
Colombian cuisine uses corn, legumes and chicken as some of its typical ingredients. For example, with sancocho con pollo (chicken stew). Photo from Pixabay

Although Colombia has yet to reach worldwide recognition in the foodie world as one of the top culinary destinations like other South American countries , it’s slowly creating a buzz.

The food in Colombia is diverse, with creative chefs combining the Spanish and African flavors with Latin cuisines. The restaurants Colombians go to are developing a unique food culture that honors indigenous communities and uses innovative techniques. A trend that has been at the forefront in the South American dining scene.

Yes, Colombia has good food to share to travelers. It doesn’t matter if you’re unfamiliar with native ingredients or that you’re a sophisticated foodie — Colombian restaurants and the Latin dining scene will have something sumptuous, delectable and memorable to put on a plate, bowl, or arepa, which delicious on its own.

Which City in Colombia has the Best Food?

Food on the table
Bogota is home to many restaurants Colombians and tourists would frequent, like this upscale roadside resto serving piqueteadero fare,  like morcilla, chorizo, grilled beef and pork, smoky grilled corn, yuca and sweet plantains, among others. Photo from El Tambor’s Facebook page.

Of all the cities in Colombia, the capital city has to contain some of the more restaurantes Colombianos seek out. Bogota is home to a delectable array of dining destinations — from a casual joint for arepas to upscale restos for tasting menus to piqueteaderos (roadside spots) for grilled meats to hipster cafés serving Colombian roasts.

Bogota also welcomes the most tourists, followed by Cartagena and the once-notorious Medellin. Alongside traditional dining institutions, you’ll likely find international restaurants from franchised hotel chains and places that do chef collaborations. In all, traveling diners have a tremendous number of options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Where should you eat?

Andrés Carne de Res

Think TGIF but with Latin cuisine. Andrés Carne de Res is a lively, casual spot that specializes in grilled dishes and traditional Colombian dishes. It’s the ideal restaurant for tourists who want more familiar options for their meals. With your bacon-wrapped fillet mignon, you could get a taste of arepa con queso antiqueno, which is an iconic Colombian sandwich-like dish. You could also go for the arepas de choclos (sweet corn cakes) or the sopa de mondongo (beef tripe stew).

Restaurante El Tambor

When in Colombia, why not enjoy dining al fresco. The restaurante Colombiano is perfect for travelers who love outdoor barbecue.

Henry Sasson

Henry Sasson is Colombia’s most famous chef. His restaurant serves a good mix of Colombian and Spanish fare, done through traditional cooking methods. Expect large cuts of meat with complementing side dishes.

Local by Rausch

If you’re a bit more adventurous with your palate, check out the Colombian restaurant run by celebrity chefs Jorge and Mark Rausch. Sit for a delightful meal of Colombian dishes done the modern way. Try the ajiaco (a soup of three different potatoes, chicken and corn) presented as an empanada.

Chicheria Demente

If you want carne de res (beef), check out the American chef-run Chicheria Demente. This neighborhood restaurant in Bogota is inspired by piqueteaderos. Order up the dry aged beef, organic chicken with picked vegetables and yucaa poutine.

Mini Mal

The Mini Mal is credited as one of the pioneers of Colombian food movement. The restaurant’s chefs are proponents of national ingredients, promoting their use and helping diners rediscover them. One of the creative dishes you may want to savor is the octopus, calamari, and shrimp in a coconut milk curry with cupuaçu, which is a chocolaty fruit with a hint of melon or pineapple.

Restaurante Doña Elvira

For truly traditional, no-nonsense comida Colombian, head to Cundimarca in Bogota for Restaurante Doña Elvira. Here you’ll find everyday Colombian fare like sobrebarriga (Colombian-style flank steak), cazuela frijoles (Colombian beans with pork belly) and mondongo. The cafeteria-style dining spot is affordable, so it’s ideal if you’re on a budget while traveling.

What are Typical Colombian Dishes?

Empanada on table
Empanadas are some of the most popular street food in Colombia. You’ll find them almost anywhere in different cities and re-invented in Colombian restaurants. Photo from My Colombian Recipes.

When you’d rather just have the typical Colombian dishes, learn the options you’ll have when dining out al fresco, indoors in a cozy spot or on the streets.

Arepas

Great for snacking or for lunch. This sandwich-like dish comes in many variations with different fillings, from the savory to the sweet.

Oblea

Still hankering for a sandwich-type meal? Try this wafer-thin sandwich. It’s typically filled with sweet stuff like caramel, chocolate sprinkles and condensed milk.

Sancocho

For heartwarming soup, try the sancocho. You can have it with chicken, beef or fish. This rich almost stew-like soup is cooked with typical Colombian ingredients: potato, yuca, plantain and rice, in some cases. It’s unlike what a Dominican restaurant would serve since its sancocho doesn’t contain potatoes but auyuma, a type of pumpkin.

Cazuela de Mariscos

Love seafood soups? The cazela de Mariscos celebrates the bounty of the sea with fish, lobster, shrimp, octopus, calamari and oysters simmered in rich coconut, tomatoes and vegetable broth.

Tamales

This mix of maize dough, chicken, pork, and peas is a traditional Sunday breakfast. You’ll usually find them in local markets.

Empanadas

Its filling varies by region, and they are perfect as snacks on the go. It’s traditionally eaten with some drops of lemon and aji picante sauce. And much like the arepas, empanadas are one of the most popular street food in Colombia.

And then there’s the bandeja de paisa. It’s Colombia’s unofficial national dish. And one you can’t eat on the go because this hearty dish is meant to be savored while sitting at the table after a hard day’s work. The bandeja de paisa is a complete meal featuring minced meat, red beans, chorizo, arepa, a fried egg, chicharron, morcilla (black pudding), rice, sweet plantain, and a slice of avocado. It’ll keep you going throughout the day with more than enough protein.

Go Beyond the Restaurants in Colombia

Once you come back from visiting Colombia, you may miss the rich, layered flavors and the riot of textures from the local dishes. And you may find yourself googling “Colombian restaurant near me.” If your results come up empty from where you’re located, try making a Colombian snack or main dish in your kitchen. You can always order the ingredients online and YouTube can show you how-tos for cooking typical dishes from Colombia.

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