Voting is underway for the 2017 Latin America 50 Best Restaurant list, for which the ceremony will be held in October in Bogotá, Colombia, so we thought it would be a good time to go over some of the restaurants not already represented on the over-hyped list that, we think, deserve consideration. The culinary offerings throughout Latin America are expanding rapidly as economies develop and more and more people go out to eat. The chefs in the region are better trained, better informed, and more creative than ever. Many of the restaurants mentioned below are relatively new or remote, so have been overlooked by voters, or they really don’t give a shit about the list so they don’t market themselves for it. Regardless, it’s doubtful that all of these restaurants will enter the list this year, but in a perfect world where votes were given to the best restaurants in the region, they should all have a chance.
Without question, Villanos en Bermudas is the most ground breaking restaurant to open in Colombia in years. Headed by Sergio Meza and Nicolas Lopéz, the restaurant is set in a three-level funhouse in Chapinero Alto and is the first restaurant since Andrés Carne de Res in Chía to try to capture the insanity of this incredible city. I think it will be highest new entry and will soon rival Leo Cocina y Cava for the country’s top ranked restaurant.
This remote restaurant set inside a hotel on the coast of Ecuador is set amidst a variety fo diverse ecosystems. Chef Rodrigo Pacheco is foraging for fruits in the tropical dry forest, growing his own cacao in the cloud forest, fishing and collecting shellfish in the mangroves, and working with indigenous communities to discover ingredients that have never been applied to fine dining.
With Maito finally entering Latin America’s 50 Best list last year, the first for a Panamanian restaurant, several others are likely to follow. Jose Olmedo Carles’ tiny Casco Viejo restaurant is one of them. It went tasting menu only when it seemed impossible in Panama, yet it’s succeeding wildly and with a new R&D lab down the street, is experimenting with fermentation and endemic ingredients.
Fresh off a stint at three Michelin starred Maemo in Norway, Carlos “Chombolin” Alba’s farm to table restaurant in Panama City keeps getting better and better. Alba’s technique continues to improve and their large backyard farm gives them control of ingredients like few can. Additionally, the bar program rivals any other in Latin America.
It blows my mind that a Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurant list does not include Hartwood. Is it because it’s owned by a gringo? Or because it’s all the down in the jungles of Tulum? Regardless, the cooking, the attention to the ingredients and the work with indigenous communities combine for one of the best meals in Mexico.
Tijuana seems to get lumped in with San Diego to the point that some forget it – and its vibrant restaurant scene – is part of Latin America. Javier Plascencia’s flagship restaurant, serving modern Mexican cuisine in a chic setting, has helped redefine the cuisine of Baja California. Plascencia also has a more casual spot in Valle de Guadalupe that is equally stellar, using open-fire grilling to perfect result, Finca Altozano. Pick your poison, both deserve the look.
Meaning flower in Basque, Lorea is headed by Mexican born chef Oswaldo Oliva, who spent two years at El Celler de Can Roca and then many more working in the R&D kitchen at Mugaritz. Its only fault is that it is still quite new, so many voters might not have been there yet.
Leo Lanussol and Augusto Mayer, a young cook and pastry chef duo, left working with celeb chef Narda Lepes to open their own venture set inside an ex-mechanic shop. The seasonal produce-focused menu of small shared plates, mostly cooked in a wood burning oven, changes daily.
I’m aware that Ali Pacha is a vegan restaurant in Bolivia. Chef Sebastián Quiroga, who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu in London and worked at Gustu, is cooking with vegetables and grains better than almost anyone else in South America right now.
Chef Felipe Schaedler does incredible things with Amazonian ingredients and has helped create the first commercially available Amazonian mushroom (an enormous undertaking), his only problem in making the list is that he is in the Amazon and not São Paulo.
Felipe Bronze’s Oro received a Michelin star a couple of years ago in São Paulo, then it closed. It has reopened better than before, with a new emphasis on wood fired cooking, and has regained that star.
Header image of Banzeiro in Manaus, Brazil.