Already recognised as one of the world’s most biodiverse countries, it’s high time that Colombia took its place among the gastronomic greats. With a new generation of chefs and bartenders that have embraced their country’s incredible natural larder, the nation’s eating and drinking identity is stronger than ever. Now is the time to start planning a trip through the three landmark cities of Bogotá, Medellín and Cartagena
La Sala de Laura at Leo, Bogotá
Must order: Coral Reef
The sibling bar located upstairs to 50 Best regular restaurant Leo is where sommelier Laura Espinosa – daughter of the eponymous Leonor – shares ‘Territorio': her ground-breaking line of handcrafted distilled spirits that draw inspiration from Colombia’s biodiverse landscapes and ancestral beverages, such as the Foggy Forest and Andean Foothills. She also heads FunLEO, an NGO dedicated to platforming Colombia’s heritage produce. For this, Espinosa works with indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities to source ingredients such as cacao nibs, macambo seeds and African bee mead to use in her cocktails. Her second drinks list, the beautifully illustrated ‘Reminiscences’ that launched in January 2023, liquifies memories into deliciously drinkable creations, such as her reflections of diving in the Caribbean, sun showers in Bogotá’s savannah and the nostalgia behind the birthday dessert her grandmother used to prepare. Just one year after opening, La Sala de Laura made its debut at No.70 on The World’s 50 Best Bars 2022 extended ranking.
Cl. 65 Bis #4-23 piso 2, Bogotá, Colombia
Humo Negro, Bogotá
Must order: Pirarucu, scallops and spirulina chawanmushi
Chef Jaime Torregrosa calls his bijou restaurant and cocktail bar ‘fine dining grunge’, although the dark walls don't detract from his elegant dishes that are saturated with bright Colombian flavours. From the tiniest of kitchens, the team prepares soused mussels with chorizo foam, or grilled shiitakes with cured egg yolk and arracacha root that are made for sharing. An equal amount of love is injected into the cocktail list, created by mixologist Manuel Barbos. Whet your taste buds with an aperitivo, such as the Cyborg, a mezcal, white tequila, homemade chilli pepper liquor, grapefruit, tamarillo, wakame, mezcal worm and furikake salt concoction, at the bar before savouring lunch or dinner set to an excellent soundtrack of the 80s and 90s.
Cra. 5 #56-06, Localidad de Chapinero, Bogotá, DC, Colombia
El Chato, Bogotá
Must order: Confit trout with heart of palm and cauliflower
After garnering serious culinary clout at the likes of Noma, Per Se and other world-leading restaurants, chef Alvaro Clavijo returned to his motherland to forge his own food narrative in 2017. His casual fine diner El Chato delves into Colombia’s vast pantry, sourcing both familiar and lesser-known ingredients alike, such as culonas (giant ants) for his riff on Béarnaise sauce. The mood is comfort food, such as chicken hearts with confit Andean potatoes and suero costeño (Colombian sour cream), or squid with yacón tuber and smoked trout dashi. The beauty here is that depending on your time or budget, you can order à la carte or head to the first floor’s mostly open-plan kitchen to sample the 11-course tasting menu in a more intimate environment, decorated by glass jars filled with a vibrant rainbow array of ferments.
Cl. 65 #4-76 , Bogotá, Colombia
Mesa Franca, Bogotá
Must order: Beef heart, horseradish and guava vinegar
After notching up kitchen experience at Central (The Best Restaurant in Latin America 2022), Araucania-born chef Iván Cadena returned to Bogotá in 2017 to open an outpost in the now über-trendy Chapinero neighbourhood. Besides championing the farm-to-table experience, he also proposes that signature cocktails need to share centre stage with the food. This perspective means enjoying casual fine dining at Mesa Franca (which translates as ‘honest table’) is accompanied by some fantastic wine pairings from sommelier and co-owner Maria Paula Amador and cocktail pairings from Tom Hydzik. Star dishes include braised local mushrooms alongside cured trout with hazelnut chimichurri and fennel aioli. Liquid wise, Amador reinterprets various classics. Try the Mula Pacifíca, made with viche (a fermented sugar cane distillate that’s part of Colombia’s cultural and ancestral heritage), ginger and soda, or the Milk Punch Manzana (apple).
Calle 61 # 5- 56, Chapinero, Bogotá, 110231
Sambombi Bistro, Medellín
Must order: Morels, black potato purée and radishes
Located on a surprisingly low-key corner close to Medellín’s hectic Zona Rosa, chef-patron Jhon Zárate keeps the menu at Sambombi hyperlocal. The produce of Antioquia region plays a leading role in his comfort-food-led offering, though he also takes inspiration from ferments such as kimchi, as well as aioli and beurre jaune. Start with the exemplary bluefin tuna tartare on sourdough crackers before moving on to the grilled chicken leg with plantain ketchup, black bean butter and pico de gallo. Passionate wine lover Zárate also keeps a well-curated list of vintages that roam the Old World with a focus on low-intervention labels. He loves to chat wine, so ask him what’s new or what’s tucked away off-list. Bottle highlights make up the décor of the well-illuminated and airy space.
Cra. 35 #7-10, El Poblado, Medellín, El Poblado, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
Must order: Pez Palma catch of the day with coconut risotto and chontaduro curry
The first restaurant that launched the eponymous gastronomy group’s growing restaurant fleet, Carmen has outposts in both the City of Eternal Spring and Cartagena. Head chef Juan José Cardenas makes full use of Colombia's gloriously abundant pantry, sourcing line-caught fish from artisanal producers and heritage San Pedreño pork from Antioquia. He then plays around with peach palm to create curries or tucupí (wild manioc root sauce) to make an excellent take on Amazonian aioli. It’s a two-for-one package here, as housed under the same roof is Bar Carmen, led by mixologist Maycoll Tobon Ramirez. Order the Caribe, a direct line to the Colombian Caribbean, made with Barranquilla-produced rum, iguaraya cactus fruit liquor, sesame seed syrup and an extract of Maria Mountain flower. The bar is set to expand later this year.
Cra. 36 #10a-27, El Poblado, Medellín, El Poblado, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
Must order: Blue crab and spider crab
Culinary exploration and experimentation is the name of the game at X.O. Helmed by a dynamic chef trio formed by US transplant Rob Pevitts and Medellin natives Mateo Ríos and Sebastián Marín, the team scour Colombia for native ingredients, with a particularly close relationship with traditional fishermen in Bahía Solano for pargo dienton (Pacific dog snapper), bravo (yellowfin tuna) and medregal (greater amberjack). The resulting menu is a seafood-forward symphony, available in either 11 or 16 courses with just one land-sourced protein, that takes guests on a technique-laden voyage. The Guacho, a creamy rice dish made with shellfish, sweet chilli peppers, spring onions and azotea herbs slow cooked with coconut milk and achiote (annatto), is one of the many highlights. Its dessert map makes for a happy and delicious conclusion that will thrill cacao lovers.
Cra. 36 #10a-45, El Poblado, Medellín, El Poblado, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
Mamba Negra, Medellín
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Must order: Víbora Encantada
To understand Mamba Negra, one of Medellin’s hottest 2022 openings, one needs to understand the roots of co-founder Juan David Zapata. Born and raised in the marginal Comuna 13 – once regarded as the world’s most dangerous neighbourhood – he trained as a bartender at the Learning For Life social programme in 2011 and won Colombia’s largest individual bartending contest in 2018. Atop of Mamba Negra’s impressive rooftop, which offers fabulous city panoramas, Zapata’s dishes draw inspiration from Spain, Latin America and Asia. Think octopus tiradito, Korean chicken or misoyaki-glazed catch of the day. Try the tequila-based house favourite Víbora Encanta, topped with feijoa fruit and kiwi cordial, that comes paired with a mushroom meringue, a typical Antioquian dessert.
Cl. 2 #20-50, El Poblado, Medellín, El Poblado, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
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Must order: Grilled octopus with aguachile
An elegant bistro in the El Poblado neighbourhood, Idílico has become the talk of the Medellín restaurant scene following chef Yeison Mora’s coronation as Revolution Chef at the Bogotá Madrid Fusion in 2022. Inside his restaurant, the light and airy space, decorated with potted palms, ceiling fans and the occasional fluorescent parrot, creates a calm and relaxing environment that allows Mora’s Antioquia-grounded menu to shine. Many of the dishes pay tribute to regional classics, such as arepa and mote soup. The octopus and the lamb with aubergine and pita are also must-orders.
Cl. 12 #43d-21, El Poblado, Medellín, El Poblado, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia
Must order: Kianga
The shining star of South America’s bar scene, crowned the best in continent at The World’s 50 Best Bars 2022 ceremony, Alquímico sets the pace for cocktails in Colombia. On the surface, Jean Trinh’s establishment appears to be fiesta central, judging by the volume of the thumping reggaeton and number of drinks that leave the bar per hour. In reality, a deeper message about Colombian identity is being shaken and stirred here. Spread across three floors of a stunning colonial mansion in Ciudad Vieja, the city’s old town district, start at ground level for a focus on Colombian regions, such as the Pacific or Amazon – try the latter’s Yurupari, a gin-based cocktail infused with copoazú and chuchuwasa tincture topped with soda water. Lovers of classic cocktails should ascend to the first floor for refreshing twists such as the Selva Martini or Sherry Smash. On the rooftop, which packs out every night, signature concoctions pay tribute to ingredients cultivated at Trinh’s Antioquia farm, located 900km south of Cartagena. Try the Yipao, made with mezcal, tamarillo syrup, thyme and bay leaf soda.
Cl. del Colegio #34-24, Centro, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
Must order: Cangreja crab from the San Bernardo archipelago
Bogotá-born chef Jaime Rodríguez was captivated by the ingredients of Colombia’s Caribbean coast, such as cassava, corozo fruit and moringa leaves, and first set out to build his culinary understanding by roving and studying the coastline as part of an NGO, Proyecto Caribe. After honing his mission, he started as a weekly pop-up in a private old-town residence which quickly became Celele; a leading light in Cartagena’s dining scene and the restaurant that won the One To Watch Award in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2019. Rodríguez’s creative hand and passion for deciphering the Caribbean see flora and botanicals used in his uplifting plating. Go big with the tasting menu or order à la carte, both of which are inspired by the region’s many influences including Middle Eastern culture, such as the duck rice dolmas, goat kebabs and twists on traditional dishes, such as the confit hen with barbecued sour guava and fried banana peel. His relentless innovation and elegant comfort food has ensured Celele is now a regular fixture among Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Calle del Espíritu Santo, Cra. 10c #29-200, Getsemaní, Cartagena de Indias, Provincia de Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia
El Barón, Cartagena
Must order: Rosarito
The bar that started Cartagena’s current trend for craft cocktails in 2014, Juan Díaz’s El Baron is tucked away on one of the prettiest and most emblematic squares in the Ciudad Vieja. While its air-conditioned interior is certainly tempting given the Caribbean’s sultry climes, for the best experience here soak up the street ambience which forms El Baron’s unique character. Head bartender Luna Orellano leads the drinks team, who mix signature and classic cocktails for a crowd of both serious local and visiting drinks aficionados. Besides the Rosarito, a mezcal-based drink with coriander, pineapple extract and bitters, the Orion is another must-order; a citrus and nutty concoction made with a Colombian rum base, paired with the tasty crab toast. Cigar fans also rejoice here for its outstanding collection of Cuban imports and local Colombian options.
Carrera 4, Cl. San Pedro Claver #31-7, Cartagena, Colombia
Going further afield? Keep an eye out for…
Mestizo Cocina de Origen, Mesitas del Colegio
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Must order: Balú (chachafruto) hogao
Dedicated to sourcing ingredients from the rural mountain region where she was born, Chef Jennifer Rodríguez has been on a swift rise to culinary stardom, first catching the eye when she landed in the inaugural 50 Next group, Class of 2021. Together with her green-thumbed father, Alfonso, they cultivate ingredients such as chilli peppers and tomatoes on their own rooftop garden at Mestizo, sourcing hyper-locally from farmers where necessary to use in the restaurant’s kitchen. Rodríguez’s hearty dishes are packed with flavour and nostalgia, and many are contemporary revisions of those prepared by older generations in the countryside, such as chicken and corn soup, pork knuckle or rabbit tamales. Breakfast is a big deal at Mestizo, although the two-hour drive from Bogotá means booking in for lunch is a more reasonable option. The family also runs a small hotel on the same property, so expect desayuno with specialty coffee on the menu come morning-time.
Cra. 8 #7-73, El Colegio, Mesitas del Colegio, Cundinamarca, Colombia
El Silo, Quindío
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Must order: Blood sausage with creamed peas on bread
In tune with his surroundings in the heart of Colombia’s Quindío coffee region in the west of the country, chef Julián Hoyos Vallejo manages a small farm that feeds his restaurant, cultivating herbs and vegetables exclusively for use at El Silo. While the area’s coffee culture was granted UNESCO Heritage status, its gastronomy isn’t usually a talking point, which is where Hoyos Vallejo and his Bogotá restaurant experience comes in. Only sourcing additional ingredients from local producers and farmers located no more than 30 km away from the restaurant, while also renewing interest in forgotten ingredients, he creates contemporary creole cuisine that’s hearty and rustic enhanced with technical flourishes. Besides the blood sausage prepared in house, also order pata de gigante andino, a hefty kilogramme of macadamia-fermented chicken leg taken from the forgotten giant Andean species. Vallejo also organises Quindío Café y Sabor, an annual food and coffee festival dedicated to celebrating local cuisines, which is held in September each year.
Cra. 6 #8N40, Armenia, Quindío, Colombia
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Must order: Crudo de medregal (greater amberjack tartare)
Although he had to close the doors of his beloved Cocina 33 on his home turf of Barranquilla, new horizons fortunately opened for Chef Manuel Mendoza. In June 2021, he opened his eponymous establishment in the Caribbean city’s El Prado neighbourhood. While his culinary influences are international, the menu’s core wholeheartedly embraces Colombia, prioritising the use of locally caught fish, such as the underappreciated medregal for his ponzu fish tartare, baby squid in stout and honey and Bloody Mary mussels. Grab an aperitivo at the captivating bar, before savouring its variety of dishes designed for sharing.