By Maribel Rivero
Though Gustu remains the number one destination for foodies heading to La Paz, a new crop of restaurants, as well as some old classics, give La Paz just enough of a foodie culture to warrant a couple nights’ stay. From fresh-made Italian pastas to authentic Mexican, there’s something to please even the pickiest of palates. Fancy a drink? Be sure and find some of the incredible local brews, too.
Since opening in April 2013, Gustu has received loads of critical acclaim from the global culinary scene. Founder Claus Meyer chose two innovative and highly experienced chefs, Kamilla Seidler and Michelangelo Cestari to cultivate Bolivian gastronomy and form a culinary destination. Beyond the acclaim, Gustu presents 100% Bolivian food and drink products, including the décor that highlights the riches of the Andes to the Amazon. Perhaps the most notable experience a diner can have is witnessing the hard working and aspiring young Bolivian cooks via the open kitchen. As part of the Melting Pot Program, in partnership with Gustu, students are accepted into a culinary hands-on training and education program. Students complement your dining experience by presenting your chosen entrée with a detailed description of your order to further understand the unique Bolivian products prepared especially for you.
In the heart of the Sopocacchi Embassy district you’ll find an unassuming yellow home with a whimsical Llama with a moustache for its logo. This restaurant has loads of character, with its pictures of moustachioed celebrity icons adorning the walls. They also house-made pastas and provincial French cuisine. It’s French food that’s unpretentious and leaves you with a comforting home-cooked feeling.
Yerba Buena is housed in the Casa Grande Hotel in Calacotto. This swanky restaurant is a sure bet for a nice meal and attentive service that perhaps may be amiss in the rest of La Paz. Chef Luis Fernando Ayala has created a variety of plates that meet any taste from composed salads, common Amazonian fish options, and local meats to sate any appetite.
Paceña La Salteña
From Monday through Saturday you can enjoy a salteña for breakfast or lunch. Paceña La Salteña presents the classic empanada dough filled with juicy beef or chicken. It’s all about the right amount of savory juice and filling with the perfectly thin crust pastry that makes the right salteña. Everyone has their favorite vendor in their neighborhood but Paceña La Saltena does the job just fine. With a variety of locations around town, you won’t have to go far to get one of Bolivia’s most beloved dishes.
Expat tip: Be sure to watch the locals as they eat their salteña or you will have juice all over your shirt.
Ill Portico is well known in Mallasa, a suburb area of La Paz. A 15-minute cab ride is well worth the visit for a perfectly crisp wood-fired Neopolitan style pizza. Their fresh ingredients are simple but tasty, and their pastas are made in-house.
If you eat a heavy lunch like most Bolivians, then a light snack is all you need at night. There is no better place to enjoy artisan charcuterie such as Llama salami and goat cheese from Tarija than Hallwright’s in Sopacacchi. A simply adorned colonial building turned into a vinoteca, Hallwright’s is the perfect option for the end of a week or light dinner option with wine recommendations from the knowledgeable staff.
Flanigan’s Cave Gourmet
For a slightly higher-priced option, Flanigan’s offers diners a Mediterranean experience with quality choice cuts of beef, fresh pastas and salads, and a great wine selection. The interior are handsomely decorated, with a minimalist feel, making it a sure bet for an elegant evening for two.
This unassuming eatery is not fine dining but it’s definitely fine Mexican food. You feel like you’ve just walked into a Mexican home with the smell of guajillo chiles cooking away creating a mouth-watering aroma. The smell of tortillas toasting on the comal, ready for the perfect taco paired with a Corona or Dos XX makes the Mexican experience complete. Stick to the tacos and ask for extra lime for the guacamole.
Pampa y Rio
Pampa y Rio features fish flown in daily from the Beni, the Amazonian area of Bolivia. Paired with meats from the low lands of Santa Cruz, Pampa y Rio makes for an excellent surf-n-turf option. Handsome décor and friendly service will warrant a second trip.
For a sure bet for street-fare classics, Las Cholas, located on the rim of Calacoto, is known by any taxista. Las Cholas is a permanent row of stalls that serves up guaranteed authentic Bolivian street fare options such as pork sandwiches with escabeche “sandwich de chola”or “anticuchos” beef heart or chicken heart skewers served with salsa, made with a personal touch from la casera. It’s a must visit for any traveler new to La Paz and even for locals.