When it comes to dining out in Colombia, Bogota’s biggest rival is Medellin. Once better known for Pablo Escobar and the Medellin cartel, the city of nearly four million is now flourishing with world renowned architects setting up public works in once dangerous slums and a vibrant cultural scene that includes everything from the largest collection of works from native son Fernando Botero to an always lively zona rosa around Parque Lleras. Mostly concentrated in El Poblado and neighboring barrios, the quality of Medellin’s restaurants has grown considerably in recent years. Here’s our picks for where to eat right now:
Inside the MAMM (Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín), this has been the restaurant I’ve come back to more than any other when I’m in Medellin, usually for a long lunch with a cocktail or glass of wine. The 80-seat space is designed like a mid-century French bistro and serves a style of food that touches upon New Orleans, the Colombian Caribbean, and northern Brazil. There’s a decent lunch burger and their soundtrack (and occasionally live music) is superb (jazz, blues, north African, Caribbean). Carrera. 44 #19a-100, Ciudad del Rio; bonuar.com.
Cordon Bleu graduates American Rob Pevits and Colombian Carmen Ángel, have been at the forefront of Medellin’s dining scene for several years, playfully combining Colombian ingredients with international cooking styles. The menu isn’t flashy or gimmicky, just well executed dishes like a banh mi (with chicharrón glazed in tamarind and palm sugar) or Tacos de Tête de Cochon (wood fired pigs head with mole negro on green nixtamalized yuca tortillas topped with pickled yacón and nasturtium). The restaurant is semi-industrial with two levels of dining areas, plus a patio and bar with original cocktails and a good list of G&Ts. They also have a location in Cartagena. Cra. 36 #10a-27, El Poblado; carmenmedellin.com.
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). Carrera 40 # 10A-22, El Poblado; elcielorestaurant.com.
The same owners as Bonuar, Herbario is a large, industrial space with high ceilings and a meat heavy, international menu. Dishes are seasonal and, like at Bonuar, nothing on the menu will blow you away, but all is well prepared. Chefs from other parts of Colombia often do pop-ups here. Carrera 43D, #10-30, El Poblado; elherbario.com.
High on a hill in a shopping area above El Poblado, Etéreo is brash and trendy. It has a big open kitchen with a plating area splashed with bright lights that makes it look like a television show. The menu is eclectic, with dishes like curried shrimp and a pannacota ceviche. It can get loud on some nights, when a DJ is in the back bar area blasting house music. Carrera 25, #2 Sur 155, Mall Platinum, Los Naranjos; Facebook page.
Operated by the crew from Carmen, Humo is a southern U.S. style BBQ joint that emphasizes slow cooked meats and cast-iron cooking. Think pulled pork, Kansas City style pork ribs, and beer braised wings. Carrera 35, #8a-45, El Poblado; Facebook page.
In a modern villa in the middle of Medellin’s beautiful botanical gardens, In Situ is surrounded by plants grown for the restaurant. The menu isn’t particularly exciting, though reliable with housemade pastas, salads, and grilled fish. Calle 73 # 51-14, Medellín.
Every city needs a reliable burger spot. Juicy Lucy near Parque Lleras is a good option here. While the burgers are better at spots like Humo or Bonuar (lunch only), Juicy Lucy’s are stuffed with cheese and kind of addictive. Carrera 37 #8A-32, El Poblado; Facebook page.
La Cantine Bistrot Francais
Beside Ocio, this light-filled bistro is laid back, ideal for long lunches or dinners that extend into wine fuled nights. The menu is unpretentious, with duck magret and moules frites. Cra. 33 711, El Poblado; restaurantelacantine.com.
La Serenissima Venezia
Run by Juan Manuel Barrientos, pizzeria La Serrenissima has a Venetian theme with striped shirt wearing waiters that look like they just stepped off a gondola. The pizzas are thin crust and baked in a wood burning oven. Carrera 40, #10A-13, El Poblado; Facebook page.
Inside the posh Charlee, Medellin’s version of an Ace hotel, Lucia is a Tuscan style eatery with a meat heavy menu and a decent wine list. Calle 9a #37-16, El Poblado; thecharlee.com/restaurante-lucia-2.
Hidden beneath a design store of the same name, Makeno is serious find. Most don’t even realize it’s there. The short menu has dishes like a grilled solomito with guayaba chimichurri and a lamb burger. Carrera 37 # 10-35.
One of the better coffee roasters in Medellin, Pergamino has a large mostly open air seating area that makes it a good spot to catch up on email with a scone and cold brew. Carrera 37 #8-37, El Poblado; pergamino.co.
Open since 2013, Ocio is headed by Laura Londoño, who spent nearly a decade in Lyon going to culinary school and working in Michelin-starred restaurants, including L’Astrance, as well as Sydney, Australia. The menu uses mostly local ingredients, but leans Mediterranean with touches of Asia in dishes like their asado de tira with a soy-ají glaze that’s served with sticky rice. Designed by Londoño’s husband, Ocio has probably the best looking interior of any restaurant in Medellin. Carrera 33 #721, El Poblado; restauranteocionline.com.
This tiny, 18-seat minimalist bistro near Parque Poblado has an intentionally short menu so they can play with whatever is in season, leading to dishes like buñuelos de arroz con puerro y raita and chicken chorizo with bourbon and yuca. There’s a strong cocktail list, one of the city’s best. This is the kind of restaurant that should be in every city in Latin America. Calle 9, #43 B 28, El Poblado; oseamed.co.