By Joanna Marracelli
When talking about Latin American food cities, Bogotá, Colombia may not be the first place that comes to mind. Well, that is all changing. With the positive press Colombia has been receiving regarding the growth of tourism, it’s no wonder the country has stepped up its game in terms of quality and amount of culinary offerings. The Bogotá Food & Wine Festival is getting bigger and better with each year. Bogotá is leading the way with areas like Zona G (gourmet), La Macarena and Uqsaquen noted for their rapidly expanding dining scene and is poised to become the new culinary mecca of the continent. From family-friendly dessert places to French-inspired dishes reinvented, here are the places to eat now in Bogotá.
Originally featuring Chef Diego Vega from Lima, Peru, the helm has now been turned over to Chilean born Nicolas Quintero. The chef has been known to greet his customers personally and that is just one level of the attention to detail found here. Great service, flawless presentation combined with creative international offerings. Don’t miss the pork ribs or the seafood dishes-the tuna tartar being a standout dish. A model for excellence in the city.
Billed as classic French cooking done Colombian style, Rausch brothers Jorge & Mark operate one of the most creative and consistently successful restaurants in all of Bogotá. You will see French menu usual suspects such as Steak Tartare or Magret de Canard but decked out in Latin American flavors like yellow rice, camote & corn. Earning accolades such as best restaurant in the country and coming in at #19 out of the Top 50 in Latin America, Criterion is a must visit.
Set in a renovated mansion, Harry Sasson looks more like Bill Gates house than a dining establishment. Since opening his first restaurant in 1995 and now running Harry’s Bar, Harry’s Cafe and Harry’s bakery, Harry Sasson is one of the most beloved and celebrated chef’s of Colombia. The menu could be descried as Asian-inspired fish and meats but cooked with Colombian spirit. But that just won’t do it justice. Come find out why this restaurant is a favorite among locals, chefs and always makes any ‘best of’ list out there.
Chef Manuel Barrientos, nicknamed one of Colombia’s rising stars, is one of the country’s hottest upcoming chefs. El Cielo made it on the list of Top 50 restaurants in Latin America and the emphasis here is not just on great food but also how it makes you feel. His creative, neuroscientific approach will engage all of your senses during your dining experience. Highly conceptual with some theatrics thrown in for good measure, it’s a unique adventure that’s bound to entertain and delight.
A swanky setting for the jet-set crowd, Nolita, is another Rausch brother enterprise. The menu is eclectic and features everything from steaks to pastas to seafood. The real star here is the setting. The restaurant is simply gorgeous with every detail well-thought out. Great for enjoying well-prepared food in a see and be seen location.
The name here says it all both in their approach to food and also for their environmental impact but definitely not for the colossal flavors. Located in Chapinero Alto, it also houses a funky boutique of the same name. Mini-mal takes local Colombian ingredients like Copoazú from the Amazon, the beloved, national fruit lulo and indigenous beverage chicha and turns them into culinary masterpieces. The flavors will excite you and if you are new to Colombian foods, this is the perfect place to start your food odyssey.
This is one of those places that has stood the test of time. Started in 1902, Las Margaritas has got to be doing something right in order to have remained a favorite among Rolo(a)s for that long. Owner Julio Rios will likely greet you at the door, share in some of the fantastic history of the restaurant and urge you to try one of their most famous dishes-the humble empanada. They are known to be the best in the city and with a squeeze of lime, a heap of aji, one bite will let you in on why. The quintessential soup of Bogotá, the ajiaco, is one of the finest versions you will find anywhere in the city.
For those wondering ‘what exactly is Colombian food’? Look no further than Club Colombia. Specializing exclusively in typical Colombian dishes served with style, the portions are hearty, the ambience is seductive and it’s conveniently located in the Zona Rosa. Sobrebarriga, calentado and caldo de costilla will soon become part of your vocabulary as you explore some of the country’s best and beloved cuisine.
La Macarena has blossomed into a neighborhood full of hip, funky cafes and eateries. The creative tapa menu at Tapas Macarena is one of the areas most loved. Intimate, cozy and softly lit, don’t miss their perfect patatas bravas, tuna or pinchos. Get there early or make a reservation as it’s popular with queues forming by 7 pm. And in a city where service is often an afterthought, the warmth you receive here is a welcomed change.
Small menu, creative, French-inspired organic dishes, friendly staff and cheaply priced. What’s not to love? This small café churns out a different menu every day, limiting the choice of entrées to about five. With food this well thought-out, you won’t really mind. Located in La Candelaria, the historic district, it’s a perfect place for lunch after a day of museum hopping. Be sure to go before 4, as they are only open during lunch hours.
Andres Carne de Res
This is one of those places where a description of it will just fail miserably. You have to go and see for yourself. No, you have to experience it. Located about 30 minutes outside the city in the suburb of Chia, you simply cannot come to Colombia and not experience it. It started out back in 1982 with just a few tables and now spans the length of four football fields with multi-levels. Andres is packed with cirque de soleil-like acrobats, performers & actors, the menu is about 20 pages long, and the entire restaurant (which serves about 2000 patrons at a time) turns into a giant dance party after the sun goes down. It’s a fantasy, dream-like place that you have to see to believe. And oh yeah, the food is good too! Sumptuous Argentine steaks are the star.
Daniel Castaño, born in Bogotá, trained at the NY French Culinary Institute and worked for ten years with Mario Batali, has brought several concept restaurants to the city. Emilia Romagna is one of Bogotá’s best Italian restaurants featuring homemade pasta, meats and seafood. Castaño is also co-owner of Julia, which serves wood-fired pizzas that could stand against some of the best in Brooklyn. Speaking of that borough, Gordo is Castaño’s latest venture which turns out contemporary American comfort food in his effort to bring Brooklyn to Bogotá.
La Puerta Falsa
Whenever celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain visits a place, normally two things happen. The first is that the restaurant gains some kind of cult status and the second is that the prices go up. Both of these things happened at La Puerta Falsa but that doesn’t take away from the fact that the tamales are to die for. There is no denying that many will come just because said chef went too but the food lives up to they hype at this casual eatery. Be brave and try the aguapanela con queso (hot chocolate with cheese). You will be pleasantly surprised at the unlikely combination.
Noteworthy especially for its breakfast and brunch, Abasto has a market attached to it and strives to bring you food that has not traveled far to get to your plate. The interior is warmly decorated with fruit-filled wicker baskets along with a fireplace and will invite you to linger for hours. If fresh, organic, local food is your idea of heaven, Abasto is a must-visit. They work hard to deliver the freshest food possible utilizing Colombia’s bio-diverse ingredients. It’s worth trekking up to the Usaquen neighborhood for, which has recently seen a prolific growth of restaurants.
La Fama BBQ
Meat. Heaping portions. This is what La Fama does best. American southern style barbeque meets traditional Colombian barbeque and the result is meaty, lip-smacking goodness. La Fama refers to a Colombian term for butcher shops and a walk through the door will have you understanding why. The smoker for the brisket is imported from Tennessee, plants grow out of pickle jars and picnic tables are stocked with plenty of paper towels to sop up the drippings.
Quinua & Amaranto
In La Candelaria, the streets aren’t as polished, the beautiful people are all up north dining in Zona G but some gems remain down in this part of the city. Magdalena Barón, who also runs the recently opened Reverdeser, has operated this vegetarian staple for many successful years. Serving more than just quinoa, it pleases both the vegans and carnivores with the same gusto. Her daily menus are always changing and a great value in terms of quality of food.
Crepes & Waffles
Where do families go when they want to hang out together during a leisurely Sunday afternoon? Or students that have a hankering for something sweet? How about the couple who just finished date night at the movies? The answer is all the same. Crepes and Waffles. This chain restaurant is not gourmet in any sense nor is it fresh, local or organic. It’s good valued, honest food and it’s near and dear to Colombian’s hearts. The star here is the obvious but they serve more than the name suggests!
The last in the Rausch brother owned restaurants, Bistronomy has two locations, one in the restaurant-filled Zona G, the other up further north in Usaquen. If poached pears in red wine served alongside foie gras make your mouth water, Bistronomy should be on your radar. The menu is inspired by international flavors and the décor is decidedly more casual than their other more upscale establishments.
Piqueteadero El Chorote
A piqueteadero is a type of rustic, casual eatery. Meals are often shared on communal tables and typical offerings include piles of meat like chorizo, chicharrones, fried organs accompanied by yucca and corn on the cob. Located in La Calera, 30 minutes outside city, El Chorote, is one of the best places to experience this traditional type of restaurant. It’s even better if you come with a big appetite and some of your best friends.
They recently moved to bohemian La Macarena but they’ve been serving up authentic Mexican fare for years. There is no menu here and the diner is invited on a journey to experience Mexican flavors with highly personalized service (i.e. they will cook to your preferences). The owner spent a great deal of time in Oaxaca, Mexico and it shows. High quality, reasonably priced for what you get and icy margaritas help make this a place you have to eat now.
Yes, there are eighty seats at this cevicheria and it’s probably one of the best places in Bogotá to sample the Peruvian classic dish. The other seafood specialties like grilled prawns and octopus as well as other beloved Peruvian favorites such as tiradito are expertly prepared. Service is friendly and the space is relaxed which makes it perfect for an informal lunch.
Leo Cocina y Cava
This is Colombian food, TV-superstar Leonor Espinosa’s original restaurant (since then, she has opened two others, including the polished La Leo Cocina Mestiza in the B.O.G. Hotel and Mercado, on Parque 93). Leo, as she is affectionately known to her devoted fans, is at the forefront in advocating the use of Colombian ingredients. Representing foods from the different regions in Colombia, her flagship restaurant elevates these traditional ingredients into works of art.
Often dubbed ‘Paris in Bogotá’, this restaurant brings the bistro idea and a slice of France to Colombia’s capital. The atmosphere is buzzing, the place is consistently packed and the quality of food is high. Go during weekends for live jazz music, order a steak frites with béarnaise, wash it down with one of their tasty cocktails and soak in the authentic atmosphere. Reservations are a must.
Mediterranean cuisine set in an up and coming neighborhood, Chapinero Alto, Salvo Patria serves a succulent, melt in your mouth version of osso bucco that is not to be missed. Also known for their desserts and especially the coffee, where they work closely with local farmers to ensure the best quality for their patrons. The skilled baristas serving it up will leave you with the impression that this is the best coffee in the city.
All too often, restaurants with revolving restaurants serve subpar food. This is thankfully not the case at La Fragata. Located in the World Trade Center, you will be treated to unbeatable 360 degree views of the city while happily indulging in some fabulous seafood. Call ahead for reservations as it does get packed.
Tonoshii Lounge and Sushi Bar
Featuring live music, bold decor and the city’s best sushi, Tonoshii is the ideal place to kick back after work with a cocktail and some quality sushi. Located inside the Marriot Hotel, the atmosphere is both relaxed and perfect for getting together with friends over some small sharable plates.