Eat List: Bogotá, Colombia : New Worlder

Bogotá has one of Latin America’s more intimidating dining scenes to explore. There are seemingly thousands of beautifully designed restaurants, scattered all over town. With the city’s heavy traffic, just getting from one to the next in a reasonable amount of time seems impossible. And, like the crazy, chaotic city itself, Bogotá’s culinary scene is full of contradictions. The best restaurants are not always the over-hyped fine dining spots, though sometimes they are. They aren’t always the latest, trendy gastropub, though sometimes they are. They aren’t always the beloved classic spot, though sometimes they are. Still, Bogotá is the beating heart of Colombian gastronomy, the place where the full scope of ingredients from points as distant as the Pacific Coast, the Amazon jungle, and the Guajira desert all come together and explode in a brilliant, magical display that is simultaneously expanding inward and outward with each passing day. Here’s our recommendations for navigating the wonders of Bogotá’s food scene.

Andrés Carne de Rés & Andrés D.C.

Opened in 1982, Andrés Carne de Rés is a roadside steakhouse in the rural town of Chía, 45-minutes north of Bogotá. Continuously expanding by adding dozens of dining rooms and buildings, not to mention antique knick-knacks that line every wall and wooden post, it’s now something of a steakhouse city accommodating 3,000 people each night. Serving an array of grilled meats (bife chorizo, lomo al trapo, churrasco) and typical dishes (arepas de maíz, sancocho, morcilla) from a 76-page menu that gets cooked up in more than a dozen different kitchens, it might be the most Colombian restaurant that ever existed and one of the most fun dining experiences you will ever have. Their four-level urban location in the Centro Comercial El Retiro, Andrés D.C., is much more accessible, has similar food, and is still a wild party, though not quite the same experience. Calle 3, Chía; Calle 82 no. 12–21, El Retiro; andrescarnederes.com.

Black Bear

Named after Chef Andrew “Black Bear” Blackburn, this high-end bar and eatery sits on a block full of other upscale spots. Cocktails are the primary reason to come here, though the creative small plates like fish and quinoa croquetas or octopus buñuelitos are reason to come back. blackbear.com.co.

Casa Lelyte

Opened in 2017, Casa Lėlytė is a chilled-out, four room boutique hotel in a Chapinero Alto house with an intriguing vegetable driven restaurant and bar. The chef, María Angélica Bernal, was inspired by New York’s Dirt Candy, where she worked briefly. Their light-filled dining room is also one of Bogota’s best brunch spots. Facebook page.

Chichería Demente

Following the success of a tapas bar in Cartagena’s Getsemaní district, Demente has expanded to Bogotá with this parrilla chichería hybrid in an old house in La Concepción. The meat heavy menu is comprised of dry aged beef, sweetbreads, and more original creations like jerk rabbit and arracacha poutine. Wash everything down with one of their mildly fermented chichas. Calle 69 #15-08; Facebook page.

Club Colombia

This maze of dining rooms in an ivy-covered house in El Retiro was founded by noted chefs Harry Sassón and Leo Katz. The menu focuses on traditional Colombian fare from around the country — which you’ll find at lower prices and embodying more soul at simple eateries around town — but the atmosphere and full bar here can’t be beat. Calle 82 no. 9–11.

Donostia

The original restaurant in Tomás Rueda’s empire, Donostia’s market driven fare has shifted over the years from Mediterranean to Colombian, though there’s still the blackboard list of tapas that change daily and an unpretentious fixed menu that’s superbly executed. The restaurant’s brick walls, beamed ceilings, and leather booths make it one of the La Macarena neighborhood’s most elegant spaces. Calle 29 no. 5–84; elorigendelacomida.co.

El Bandido

El Bandido serves straightforward French bistro fare with a side of live jazz on most nights. Most interesting are the oversized share plates like coq au vin and suckling pig. Hidden within the restaurant is the cocktail bar El Enano. elbandidobistro.com.

El Chato

Álvaro Clavijo had stints at Per Se and Noma before opening this progressive Colombian bistro in Chapinero Alto. The restaurant, the highest new entry in the 2018 edition of the Latin America’s 50 Best list, serves creative yet accessible fare inspired by local ingredients and works to minimize waste. Dishes are original and tasty, like grilled squid stuffed with mushroom tartar and thinly sliced beef tongue with a sauce made from hormigas culonas. The space and menu were recently revamped in 2017 to rave reviews. El Chato might be the best all around dining experience in Bogotá. Facebook page.

El Cielo

Juan Manuel Barrientos has come to be the face of celebrity chefdom in Colombia, appearing on television shows and advertisements everywhere. His relatively affordable tasting menus tend to show off molecular techniques whenever possible and do not shy away from employing sensory displays throughout the meal (washing hands tableside with cacao, coffee served in a liquid nitrogen fog to represent the cloud forest, etc). While the original El Cielo is in Medellín (and they have since expanded to Miami), the Bogotá location is the most modern outpost. Calle 70 no. 4–47; elcielorestaurant.com.

El Gordo

Updated American pub grub and original cocktails are served in a Brooklyn-style setting with a tin ceiling, exposed brick walls, and a long, lively bar. Their burgers are among the best in the city and the menu boasts plenty of dishes — like pork belly tater tots and fried pickles –to soak up alcohol after a long night of revelry. Carrera 4a no. 66–84; gordobar.com.

El Pantera Taquería

Local star chef Camilo Ramírez has opened a taquería in Quinta Camacho, topping tortillas made from a masa of Colombian corn with things such as eggplant or cochinita pibil, chapulines and avocado, smoked chicharrón, and roasted chicken with mole. Drinks include three types of house made horchatas (Kola, caramelo, and vanilla), margaritas, agua de jamaica, and Colombian beer. Carrera 10a #69-22; Instagram page.

Guerrero, Compañía de Sándwiches

Argentine chef Francisco del Valle runs this cult-favorite sandwich shop that has broken Bogotá out of its stale gourmet burger trend. The sandwiches are giant, two handers on house baked bread with creative fillings like chicharrón with sweet potato, tilpaia milanesa, and bondiola. Carrera 9 #69-10; Guerrerocia.com.

Harry Sasson

Harry Sasson is one of Bogotá’s classic fine dining restaurants. While the restaurant is no longer the most exciting in Colombia’s capital, it’s consistent, the service is superb, and the clubby setting is refined without being stuffy. The menu is long and varied with meats cooked on a wood-fired grill, and smaller plates cooked on a robata grill, as well as a mozzarella bar, empanadas, Turkish style pizzetas, and more. Carrera 9 #75-70; harrysasson.com.

Juana La Loca

Designed by Brazilian architect Isay Weinfeld’s, this is perhaps the most beautiful restaurant in Bogotá. It’s wood-clad dining rooms and terrace are set on the third floor of a mixed-use building. The menu has shifted away from modern Spanish tapas to more eclectic fare. Think: foie gras burgers, chicharrones de cochinillo, gnocchi with duck ragout. Facebook page.

Julia

The best pizzas in Bogotá are being made in the wood-fired ovens at Julia, which now has multiple locations around town. Opened by Daniel Castaño, who spent years with now disgraced chef Mario Batali in New York before returning to Colombia to open multiple Italian restaurants, Julia serves authentic Neapolitan-style pies with typical antipasti like eggplant parmigiana and plates of prosciutto. Carrera 5 no. 69a–19. juliapizzeria.com.

La Escuela Restaurante & Panadería

Part of the nationwide Escuela Taller program that trains disadvantaged Colombians affected by decades of war in various parts of the country, this restaurant is set inside the central atrium of a beautifully restored colonial near Plaza Bolívar, and serves regional dishes like chuleta valluna, a pork dish from the Valle de Cauca, and mojarra frita, a Magdalena river style fried fish, alongside fresh juices. Their streetside bakery specializes in typical breads like pan de bono and roasts its own fair-trade coffee. Calle 9 no. 8–61; www.escuelataller.org.

La Puerta Falsa

Bogotá’s oldest surviving restaurant has been passed down from generation to generation of the same family since 1816. The two-floor eatery is set in a 400-year-old building and serves an assortment of typical Colombian snacks. Their old-fashioned Santa Fe tamale or chocolate complete (hot chocolate with a slice of cheese, bread, and butter) are two of the city’s most iconic culinary symbols, though they also serve a few other traditional dishes whose recipes have also endured over the last 200 years. Calle 11 no. 6–50. No phone.

Leo

Fresh off being awarded the Basque World Culinary Prize, Leonor Espinosa’s flagship restaurant is Colombia’s best according to the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurant list and it shows no signs of slowing down as it celebrates 10 years in business. Energized by Espinosa’s phenomenal foundation Funleo, which uses gastronomy as a form of sustainable development in rural Colombian communities, the CYCLE-BIOME menu, created with her daughter and sommelier Laura Hernández-Espinosa, is based on the studies of different Colombian biomes and ecosystems through research supported by numerous biologists, producers, and farmers. Endemic ingredients and ancestral knowledge is woven into 20-plus courses that take the diner on an exploration of Colombian biodiversity, and feature a pairing that dablles between artisanal drinks, wine, and beer. Calle 27B no. 6–75, Pasaje Santa Cruz de Mompox; restauranteleo.com.

Masa

Now with three locations (on calles 70, 81, and 105), Masa has become Bogotá’s preeminent bakery and brunch destination. Sisters Silvana and Mariana Villegas mill their own flour that they use for artisan breads, bake incredible pastries (including originals like the cruffin, a croissant-muffin hybrid), and have some of the best sandwiches in town. Their enormous, newest location on Calle 105 might be the most beautiful food space in Bogotá. Calle 105 # 18A-68; Somosmasa.com.

Mercado Paloquemao

Come early, around 5AM, when Bogotá’s largest market opens, to experience the place at full swing. This is the best spot for tasting native fruits like curuba and to snack on arepas and lechón from the many food stalls. plazadepaloquemao.com.

Mesa Franca

Opened in late 2016, Mesa Franca is already making a name for itself. A sort of Colombian bistro in the same vein as El Chato and Prudencia, the restaurant serves fish from the Pacific coast and house made pastas, plus a line of snacks like buñuelos and carimañolas to accompany their bar program. Facebook page.

Mini-mal

Agronomist turned chef Eduardo Martinez knows more about Colombian ingredients, particularly from remote regions like the Amazon, better than any other Colombian cook. When Mini-mal opened in 2001 in a Chapinero Alto house, it was meant to be a way to support the country’s artisanal fishermen, mollusk collectors, family farmers, and indigenous cooperatives. Since, it has evolved into one of Bogotá’s most interesting restaurants. Transversal 4Bis 70 no. 57–52; mini-mal.org.

Misia

Leonor Espinosa has experimented with more casual restaurants to follow her groundbreaking Leo Cocina y Cava over the years. Misia is the most promising. Focusing on popular cuisine from around the country, with special attention paid to the Caribbean Coast, Misia has an all-day menu with ceviche, housemade sausages, arepas and fried snacks, posta negra (black beef), and various rice dishes, along with more than 50 varieties of fresh fruit juices. A second location opened in the Zona G at Carrera 7, no. 67-39. Transversal 6 no. 27–50; restaurantemisia.com.

Osaka

A stylish branch of this chain of Nikkei restaurants that began in Lima and is now expanding with locations all around Latin America, at Osaka, the menu is long, with a complete list of ceviches, tiraditos, Peruvian izakaya dishes, robatayaki dishes, and maki. osaka.com.pe/bogota.

Prudencia

One of the few good dining options in La Candelaría, lunch-only Prudencia, set in a Republican-era house redesigned by prized Colombian architect Simon Vélez, stands out for its creative, ever-changing menu based in local, seasonal ingredients. Pasto-born and Los Angeles raised Mario Rosero, a Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park grad, likes to smoke and ferment, minimize food waste, and cook things long and slow. Carrera 2 #1134; Prudencia.net.

Rafael

The fusion food of Lima chef Rafael Osterling pairs Peruvian ingredients with touches of Asia and the Mediterranean. You won’t find standard preparations of recipes like conchas a la Parmesana or patarashca, a banana-leaf cooked fish dish, but beautifully executed, contemporary versions of those classics. rafaelosterling.pe/en/bogota.

Rey Guerrero Sabor Pacifico

Cali-born chef Rey Guerrero has become Colombia’s ambassador to the cuisine of the Pacific Coast, one of the more fascinating food destinations in the country. Guerrero has spent years researching the traditional dishes of the region and the menu is extensive, including several combinations of rice and seafood, like the arroz tumabacatre with shrimp and shellfish. There is also a ceviche with piangua, the region’s delicious black clam, a great fish burger, and several excellent seafood stews. Everything is perfectly executed, the ingredients are of impeccable quality, and the price is reasonable. Calle 77 no. 14–20; reyguerrero.co.

Salvo Patria

Salvo Patria is the neighborhood restaurant and coffee bar that everyone wished was their local spot. Sourcing is taken seriously here, with origin coffees, line-caught fish, organic vegetables, free-range chicken, and house-aged meats. Soulful, simple dishes like rabbit ragout and morrillo pastrami sandwiches pair well with their astutely chosen wine and cocktail list. Calle 54a no. 4–13; salvopatria.com.

Tábula

With its garden wall and piles of logs, Tomás Rueda’s rustic, family-style restaurant has been doing wood-fired cooking since before it became a global trend. Tábula serves a mix of small plates and share plates with Mediterranean influences. It’s a great restaurant for a long lunch where you will, undoubtedly, keep adding to the order while lingering over  a glass of wine…or three. Calle 29 no. 5–90; elorigendelacomida.co.

Villanos en Bermudas

It took two non-Colombian chefs with experience in some of the world’s best restaurants, Argentina’s Nicolás Lopez and Mexico’s Sergio Meza, to infuse Bogotá’s dining scene with some global perspective. Their three-level funhouse in Chapinero Alto, divided between a fine dining restaurant with an ever-changing tasting menu and gastropub with original cocktails and a la carte offerings, has its finger on the pulse of where the city’s culinary movement is headed. Champions of small producers, the duo is giving voice to unique Colombian ingredients that have long been overlooked by many Bogotá chefs. Calle 56 #5-21; villanosenbermudas.com.

Side Trip: Mestizo Cocina de Origen

Sixty kilometers west of Bogotá, in the small town of Mesitas del Colegio, this fascinating culinary project is well worth a visit. Chef Jennifer Rodriguez uses fresh local ingredients and ancestral recipes as her inspiration in creating modern Colombian fare that has more sense of place than, possibly, any other restaurant in Colombia. They recently added an attached boutique hotel, Mulato, saving you a late-night drive back to the city. Facebook page.