We just spent 9 productive days in Colombia, visiting the region of Boyaca, Bogota and Cartagena. We have enjoyed our trip immensely. Even considerable effort on the part of Avianca to make our Colombian experience less then pleasant failed. After a globe trotting for a while I can confidently state that the customer service of Avianca is a permanent horror. They have cancelled our flight without any communication with on one occasion, moved us to a different flight without explanation or communication with us on the other. As well please be aware that although there is a business class launch in Cartagena airport, customers of Avianca are not welcome there because the company refuses to contribute to the maintenance. Please fly to Colombia with JetBlue, Copa, AirMexico or else.
After getting of the plane we were picked up by our friends and immediately driven towards the town of Villa de Leyva in Boyaca. It is a 3 hours drive. Approximately 45 minutes into the drive we have stopped for a meal at the road side restaurant Villaquesada in Piqueteadero. It was Sunday. The restaurant was filled with local crowd. You get the tray and pick up freshly made on open fire dishes from the different stations. You pay for everything at the checkout counter. Very good experience. Everything was freshly made and delicious. Surprisingly despite abundance of meat, there was a broad vegetarian selection. We had a blast. Especially memorable - freshly made arepas. Dirt cheap - about $ 20 for 4 people.
We enjoyed Villa de Leyva for one night, staying in the best place in town - Hospedaria Duruelo. They claim to have the best kitchen in town as well. The trout for the dinner was not mind-blowing, but just OK. The included breakfast was very impressive with the enormous selection of the local fare and fresh fruits. Highlights - 3 types of callentao (breakfast rice dish), the best pan de yuca of the trip.
The next day we started to investigate local towns with the quick stop in Sutamarchan. The town is known for the sausage making skills. There about 20 sausage oriented restaurants. We have allowed ourself to be lured in Fogon al Carbon. Good tasting longaniza and morcilla. So-so arepas.
In the town of Requira, which is a local trade shopping destination, I have observed preparation of one of the strangest thing I have seen in the long time: gelatina de pata. Non-vegiterian desert, made of cow foot cooked for the long time and mixed with the cane sugar. The mixing is taking place on the tip of the stick. Difficult to explain. Have to see. Google it.
The next meal took place on the scenic shore of Sisga water reservoir. It is approximately 1 hour away from Bogota up to the mountains. We have enjoyed our high altitude trouts in El Refugio de Sisga. The trout was delicious. The view was spectacular. The other specialty of the house is the rabbit. Please be aware that the place closes at 5.
Our visit started on Christmas day. On the positive side was the absence of traffic in one of the worse traffic wise places in the world. On the negative side was the fact that all the restaurants were closed. We still managed to have an extensive Colombian buffet in Harry Susson’s Club Colombia. Recommend the place, if you not planning to sample different types of food while traveling all over the country. It has a compilation of the most popular dishes.
For the dinner we visited Andres Carne de Res in Bogota. Although the Chia location was open, we had no stamina to go there. The evening of the Christmas day was very quiet. The food was OK, but probably the most expensive one we had in Bogota. To pass the judgment need try again on a different day.
We have visited Paloquemao Market for breakfast. The freshest bunuelos and pan de bono of the trip. Interesting tamales. Absolutely disgusting “juices”. This part is a complete mystery to me. Colombians seem to be very proud of they “juices”. What I have tried on the market was a mix of milk and sugar with some coloring without any hint of taste of the fruit. We have tried ones labeled Borojo and Guanabana. Either one did not contain the claimed fruits. The crema de lima was very sweet and difficult to consume as well. Lulo with water instead of the milk was OK, but it would not hurt them to put in some sugar!
Another let down was a lunch in Museo d’oro. The restaurant seems to be liked on the food forums. We found their Ajiaco to be revolting and the worse of the ones we have tried. It was brought without traditional condiments with which it is usually served. I have asked for, typically accompanying the dish, capers and was brought 5 (five!!!) ones on the tiny plate. The service was horrible as well with one of the 3 thing we ordered completely forgotten and our drinks being served after we were done with the meal. They did not forget to add the tips though..
We had fantastic dinner in Abasto in Usaquen location. It was not on my radar and we were taken there by our Colombian friends. The place is well known as a breakfast/ brunch destination. Our dinner was exceptional as well. Good local produce. Every component's origin was recited by the waiter. All of us enjoyed every single dish. Excellent meal to complete Bogota experience.
We had relatively uneventful flight to Cartagena. The spectrum of the food there is very different and completely confirms my impression of Colombia as a very regional country. The food experience was good. We were misfortunate to visit during the busiest time of the year. With that in mind I hope that their service standards in the restaurants, with the pricing coming close to Manhattan ones, is better the rest of the year. If not, stick to the street food which is dirt cheap, safe and pretty good.
Another generally annoying for American customers thing about Colombian restaurants (especially in Cartagena) that although they have time of the service, it is not the fact that they will open on time. We have experienced it on very few occasions.
One of those was El Boliche, an upscale cevicheria with high culinary reputation in town. It has opened 30 minutes past announced time.Nothing wrong with the food. Actually we even enjoyed it, but there are few kinks which have bothered me. No English spoken. My Spanish is more than sufficient. The different dish was brought instead of the main dish we ordered. I have returned it. Few minutes later it was brought back by waiter, who mentioned that the dish we have request is not available, which she told me (which she obviously did not). As well walk-ins, like us, clearly treated differently from the Colombian high end clientele vacationing from Bogota. Visit at our own risk. Once again - nothing is wrong with the food.
Maria is one the places where you have to get reservation in advance. The food was OK. There is an attempt to make food a bit more sophisticated than it is. Sometime it worked, other time it did not. I think the chicharron dish was good. The lobster ravioli, presented as the second most popular plate on the menu, was not good and did not contain the lobster. The waiter heavily pushed for a fish of the day and we yielded. It was bonito. This fish requires very delicate treatment, but the one delivered to us was almost cremated. I had to return it. May be the night was too busy, but it did not deliver.
La cocina de pepino. Low key. No reservation policy, which leads to a possible long wait. Not expensive, although not cheap either. The food felt very authentic and different from the fancier places. We liked the food and the experience. Definitely recommending.
Our hotel was in Bocagrande part, which led us to investigation the culinary scene there. We tried “Peruvian” seafood place Mangata. Liked it, although it is very far from the real Peruvian food. Good and friendly service. No English spoken. The place was packed, so probably you have to reserve it in advance. More affordable than in town. Please go if you stay in Bocagrande. Not sure you need to come from the old town.
We were recommended La Olla Cartagenera in Bocagrande, but did not try it. Another place to go there is a chain from Medellin - El carbon de pole. Paisas food, which is not available elsewhere in Cartagena.
La Vitrola. Difficult to get in during the busy holiday week. My hotel’s request for the reservation for me was declined. I had to call from US myself and in my best Spanish beg for a table. Surprisingly I got one. Did not figure if they speak English. I started in Spanish, they continued in Spanish…Liked it a lot. It is a very classy place, somewhat reminding me of Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami. Excellent service. The menu looks a bit old-fashioned, but we liked all the dishes served. Highly recommend for the food and the experience. Please do not listen to the ones who will tell you that it is yesterday’s restaurant. Most likely they simply could not get a reservation…
Carmen. Another popular for foreign tourists place. Good and friendly service. English spoken. General good impression, but I think the food is over the top. No sure that foie gras and truffle oil are representing Colombian food. At least not for me. It is a bit of a fusion, which is in mine mind the worse type of the cuisine. The good ambience and service compensate, but I am in Colombia to eat Colombian (or at least other Caribbean) food.
Celele. We were recommended to go there by the executive chef of the restaurant in Hyatt hotel, where we stayed. The restaurant is just 2 months old. The theme - high end rendition of the local ingredients with authentic technics of cooking. They are still a bit rough on edges, but if you will ask for the recommendation of the restaurant in Cartagena, that will be the one. Brilliant Mompox cheese salad. Something very different from what I have tried in the past. This is the food experiences we are looking for all over the world! Delicious deboned, staffed with vegetables and baked in the banana leaves local fish. We tried the goat with the side of rice with sun-dried local shrimps. Umami explosion. Good drinks. Good chat with barmen who educated me on regional rum differences. Had no room for desert. Do not miss this place. I am sure pretty soon it will be very difficult to get in.