Los Quingos de Belén was a perfect way to begin what would be a great culinary experience in Popayán. This upscale but still very authentic restaurant just on the edge of town specializes in regional dishes and while not cheap, they serve huge portions in a very charming atmospheric setting. There is a large outdoor seating area but we preferred to sit inside to enjoy the room's considerable ambiance. Service was efficient and very professional without sacrificing friendliness. Though it was relatively empty, you could tell it was only because we were there at an off time, mid-afternoon and that it surely was very busy for lunch and dinner.
I had the very typical Bandeja Paísa for 15,000 COP ($7.50) which consisted of ground beef, beans, chorizo, deep-fried pork skin or chicarone, rice, arepas, plantain, and half an avocado. It was topped with a perfectly done fried egg. I had this meal a few times earlier and while some were larger, this was by far the best quality one. Don't get the idea that it was small either, it was ample. This is a notoriously gut-busting meal and it being slightly smaller was not a problem, especially considering its superiority. The arepas in particular were very nice. Some places just give you packaged ones that are not toasted while these were very nicely done. The avocado was a joy.
Favorite Dish: Doreen had chicken smothered in mushrooms also for 15,000 COP. We were very happy to see luladas on the menu since we fell in love with this fruit drink in Cali and were hoping to find it in Popayán. They were 4000 COP ($2) each and a bit small compared to what we had become accustomed to in Cali. They also seemed to be made from frozen lulos so not really the best version of the drink we'd had. The bill came to 38,000 ($17) and I was surprised to not see either a service or tax charge as it typical of upscale restaurants in Colombia. The service was to good I rounded up the bill to 40,000 COP. He seemed very happy with the tip.
Our meals and experience was so good we went back for another meal since I had eyed a few great sounding one on the menu. This time I ordered their signature meal, Los Quingos Tipicos for 15,000 COP, which was quite possibly better than the Bandeja Paísa. This huge sampler had chorizo, blood sausage, cubed grilled beef, a tamale, yucca, and empanadas de pipián with their typical chili-infused peanut-based dipping sauce. This was really a big and excellent quality meal, possibly the best one I had in Colombia especially for range of food and authenticity. About the only thing missing were the arepas but it did have some nice wafer-like corn chips that went well with the salsa. D had another chicken meal, this one smothered not only in mushrooms but also ham and cheese, again for 15,000 COP. She had a limonada for 3000 COP and I went for a beer for the same price. I gave another 2000 COP tip since there was again on additional charges and the service was exemplary so our total was 38,000 COP ($17).
One of the great things about staying at Hostel Trail was the owners' penchant for knowing the local dining scene. Since they had been living there for some time, they had eaten in many of the town's many restaurants. They conveniently had a small map on the wall detailing not only what places had what food but also where they were in relation to the hostel. One such gem was Sabores del Mar which most certainly did have tastes from the sea, and in a decidedly Caribbean style. This tiny place oozes the feel of the islands and the owners who obviously hail from there, add lots of character to the atmosphere. It is only open for lunch and is very busy due to the great food and prices. But squeeze in, it's worth a bit of cramped eating.
Favorite Dish: The first day we ordered the popular almuerzo or set lunch which came with a very nice soup starter and free beverage. I got a salted cod in a tasty sauce and D got the fried fish which was a little boney for her tastes, though certainly tasty enough. Our intention of splitting the meals was thwarted by my meal being on the “fishy” side for her. I quite liked it but am used to dried fish, and the sweetish-spicy sauce coupled with the salty taste of the fish was a nice combination for me. The meals came with rice and plantains as sides. Our bill came to 9500 COP ($4.25) for both set lunches so obviously a bargain.
We decided to go back a few days later and order from the “regular”menu as we had not had encocado (a coconut-based curry typical of the Caribbean) while in Colombia but had enjoyed it once on the Galapagos Islands in a restaurant quite like this little one. I got calamari and D got camarones or shrimp. Both were tasty but not exactly what we were looking for and the portions seemed a bit small for the price. That said, we did enjoy the meals and were glad we at least got to have encocada once again, even if not up to the memory of our Ecuador trip. The bill on our second visit came to 32,000 COP ($16) but included soup and a beverage once again.
Hosteltrail turned out to be a great hostel, but not just because it was a nice place to stay but because the young couple that own it are foodies. They turned us onto a few good places but mostly what I would like to thank them for is telling me about La Fresca. I asked where I could find the best empanadas de pipián and without hesitation they said this little place was THE place to get them. I had a few up on the hill in front of the Capilla de Belén but it only whetted my appetite to try more and hopefully better ones. Here was my chance. Unfortunately, D was still not feeling great and after our cheesy arepas con queso decided to take a nap. I headed for La Fresca. This small local snack shop might draw you in if you were looking for a cold beverage to quench your thirst but even at that there are countless more enticing places in Popayán more likely to garner your attention. Needless to say I would have never found my crispy treats without the tip. Once inside, it was a very typical South American hole-in-the-wall kind of place with simple tables at one of which I seated myself. The girl behind the counter quickly came up and warmly took my order. My beer was brought out immediately and the food not long after, piping hot.
Favorite Dish: Since I was alone I just grabbed a Club Colombia beer and an order of ten of the very tasty empanadas de pipián. The girls mother and grandmother were busy hand-making these babies so you are talking fresh. They are two-bite size and very crispy, almost like a corn chip with a tasty filling of yellow potatoes mixed with peanuts. But the real star is the dipping sauce which is peanut-based and infused with chilies for an extra kick. Now, this sauce was hot, unlike the more watered down one up on the hill near Capilla de Belén. My bill came to 3800 COP ($1.70) for the empanadas AND beer! And this was an ICE cold Club, one of Colombian's most expensive mass-produced beer. As mass-produced beers in Colombia go, Club is about as good as it gets. Is it great? No, but ice cold, it goes very well with these babies!
I could not wait to bring D back the next day when she was feeling better as this was the rare place where you could eat a snack and have a beer with it, and not stick out too much. Typically, all the Colombians had soft drinks with theirs. They do not generally mix drinking with eating for some odd reason even if these empanadas are made for beer! Your mouth practically cries for a beer once you taste this sauce. We got 24 this time around, in 12's to ensure they stayed hot. Along with three Clubs our bill came to 10,000 COP ($5). Though I found them again and often they were good too, I never enjoyed them as much as at La Fresca, definitely one of my favorite Colombian dining/drinking experiences.
I accidentally came across this small corner café, Madeira Café, which is a pleasant place for a cup of coffee or tea. They also serves delicious brownies and other sweets to accompany your coffee. On a hot day, a freshly made natural juice can be the thing to cool you down. And on chill evenings, a canelazo or special coffee with liquor can warm you up.
The earth-tone interior is furnished with wood and wrought iron tables and chairs. Besides the ground floor seating there is also a small balcony for a more intimate meetings. The service is good and the atmosphere relaxed and homey. They play very good music. During my visit it was only Brazilian as they wanted to pleased me :) I had a short conversation with the owner. Because of my knowledge of Brazilian music (and also Portuñol, the Portuguese version of Spanish that I spoke), she thought I was a Brazilian. A nice compliment for me :)
Next to the café is a shop selling local handicrafts, chocolates and coffee.
Favorite Dish: I had a nice cup of Cappuccino Madeira which consisted of espresso, foamy milk and orange liquor. It was very delicious!!
Restaurante Colonial belongs to the next door Hotel Colonial. It is just round the corner from HostalTrail. I passed by several times before one morning I finally decided to come in and try one of their local specialities. Among other things, you find empanadas de pipián, tamales de pipián, champús, natural juices and milk shakes on the menu. They serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In the evening I passed by for the last time as I was leaving Popayán the next morning. I was with the Canadian woman from the hostel. When I saw the owner (she was about to close the restaurant) I just wanted to say goodbye. But she invited us inside to have a glass of Colombian sparkling wine with her. An early toast to the New Year! Soon, her niece joined us as well, and we had a lovely ladies evening :)
Favorite Dish: I had my first Colombian champú and immediately liked this unusual thick drink made with crushed maize, fruits (lulo and pineapple), sweetened with panela and seasoned with cinnamon and cloves. Yummy!!!
That evening I did not think of having dinner. I was actually quite full after sampling the delicious local street food for the whole day. I was looking for the supermarket to buy water and the foodstuff for my breakfast (cereals, yoghurt and bananas). Then suddenly a little veggie restaurant drew my attention. I thought it would be great to have a healthy warm meal anyway so I went inside to have a look.
Naturaleza y Vida is a good veggie place that serves full course meals for only 2.000 COP. It's a very simple place with benches and long tables and most of the guests are local people. Later I talked to Eddie from HostalTrail and he knew about it. He agreed it was a good place and he used to visit quite often as well.
Favorite Dish: The meal consists of seven different things, from soup, main dish (cereals, vegetables, meat substitute and beans), dessert and a glass of juice. The service was quick and the food fresh and tasty.
We were walking around the trendy market area close to the Capilla de Belén and though it was interesting we found ourselves in need of a pick-me-up. Our beloved Cafe Kaldivia was not nearby at that precise moment and since we had come a way and walked uphill to get there, we wanted to enjoy a coffee in this cute little area called Pueblo Patojo. We were happy to find La Nigua Cafe which certainly could have turned out to be a tourist trap, given its location but thankfully did not. The interior was cool looking but quite small and with it being a beautiful day, we sat outside.
Favorite Dish: We had two very nice and good-sized espressos served in cute cups along with a small chocolate and appropriately though not always the case, cold water to chase it down. It was a very nice coffee and at 5000 COP ($2.50) for the two, a nice price considering the location.
I had read about a great sounding restaurant called La Cosecha which specialized in grilled meats but it was on the outskirts of town, closer to the bus terminal than I wanted to venture. Its sister eatery was much closer to the hostel and with the same menu albeit perhaps some of the ambiance, we decided to go there instead. Lonchería La Viña turned out to be just fine and with plenty of atmosphere to boot. It's an upscale Colombian place with nice décor and big wooden tables and chairs. It has a rustic feel to it even though right in the middle of the city. Service was prompt and friendly.
Favorite Dish: I had a gorgeous carne asada (12,000 COP or $6.25) which came out on a searing hot metal plate with fries, an arepa and a couple of nice sauces for dipping. D opted for the cerdo chuleta (12,500 COP) which was an overflowing from its plate pork schnitzel served with tons of rice and a salad. We decided on two lulo drinks (2000 COP or $1 each) rather than beer since our time in lulo land was limited. Unfortunately, the tartness of the fruit was overshadowed by too much sugar in this version. Both meals were excellent and if anything D's was too big. We had a hard time eating it all but with no doggy bag in sight, we did. ;) Our bill came to 29,000 COP (just under $15) with no service/tax charges which can be typical of the more upscale places in Colombia.
Though our breakfast the day prior at Pan Tolima was quite good, we stumbled across Tapipan while taking photos in the morning and decided to drop in as they had almojabanas as well as full breakfasts. It was very small and obviously very local from the steady stream of people popping in for baked goods to go or a quick bite to eat. The waitress was friendly and our food was out in no time.
Favorite Dish: We both got two fried eggs with hot chocolate. Since it was a bakery, you could choose what kind of bread you wanted and we bot got almojabanas, a bagel-like cheesy bread that went well with the eggs. It was not a huge meal but plenty to start our day and at only 6200 COP ($3.10) for both meals, very reasonable.
This is the kind of place you only find by walking by it. It's a real no-namer but we came upon it when walking from the hostel to Piko Riko on Calle 4 and smelled the tasty looking arepas cooking in a small oven right in the small eatery's open doorway. It took us a few days to get around to it but since we had a relatively small breakfast that morning and it was our last day in town, we figured this was the time.
Favorite Dish: This place only serves one thing: arepa de choclo con queso. Well, I guess you can get it without the cheese but why? This is a thick corn pancake type snack, split in half and filled with a stringy mozzarella type cheese. Cooked in a clay oven, they came out piping hot and were quite filling for their size. The corn cake part of them was very slightly sweet, not due to sugar but just the natural sweetness of corn and it went well with the salty cheese within. This was a tasty snack and certainly worth trying at only 1500 COP (75 cents) each.
In need of a pick-me-up after our massive lunch at Los Quingos, we happened upon a very trendy but entirely affordable place for coffee called Kaldivia Cafe. With open shuddered windows, warm-hued painted walls decorated with coffee/Colombia memorabilia, and simple but stylish wooden furniture, it was too inviting not to enter. It was very much a local's hangout albeit a somewhat upscale one. Beggars seemed to congregate outside to pray on your guilt for spending for a coffee what could buy a cheap meal. Despite that, once inside, it was a very relaxing place to hang out. It is thankfully self-service much like a Starbucks and counter help was friendly and efficient in getting us our drinks on all three of our visits. This was definitely a daily stop for us.
Favorite Dish: The first time in I got a double espresso (2500 COP or $1.25) and D got an espresso with sweetened condensed milk (1900 or about a dollar). Both were excellent and served in nice cups, making for a great overall experience. The second time in we both got double espressos but on the third go we both opted for cold coffees as it was fairly hot out. I got an iced moka and D got an ice coffee with sweetened condensed milk. Both were 4000 ($2). They were both beautifully presented and mine in particular was quite thick and rich, more like a milk shake than a coffee, especially when you are used to drinking espresso with no sugar in it! Needless to say, we missed this place in our next stop in Colombia.
When it comes to rotisserie chicken, South America as a continent seems to have it down pat and Colombia is no exception. Popayán certainly had quite a few scattered around town but Piko Riko got our nod mostly due to its proximity to our hostel but also because it always had a few locals within obviously enjoying their wares. It's a neon-lit no frills counter service place typical of South America so not a place you go for the ambiance. Look elsewhere for that romantic anniversary meal but look no further for succulent rotisserie chicken at very economical prices.
Favorite Dish: As experienced rotisserie chicken eaters in Colombia, we know well that half is enough for both of us. So, we got one medio with fries, two beers, one pepsi for D and her still iffy stomach, and one ice cream. The chicken was tender, juicy and very tasty. It came surprisingly with a small potato and a few arepas. This is not so unusual but since they were not mentioned on their “menu” board we ordered fries. We were glad we did since the potato and arepas were also typically cold while the fries were some of the best we've had in Colombia. Poker is a common mass-produced beer in Colombia. It's nothing special but if cold goes well enough with a meal. The total came to 14,000 COP ($7).
While strolling around our first morning in town, I happened upon a nice looking bakery right on the Parque Caldas or main square. I popped in for a couple of almojabanas, a cheesy pastry typical of Colombia, and made a mental note of the restaurant attached as after a quick solo photo shoot, I would return with D for a more substantial breakfast. We came back and found an immaculate and very modern though still very much authentic Colombian eatery. Though you ordered at the counter, the food was brought out to your table. It was quite bright and roomy and with its location on the square, quite convenient.
Favorite Dish: We both opted for the Desayuno Americano which was not really a typical American breakfast as it consisted of two eggs any style, an arepa, and a piece of break. It came with a very nice side of fruit and we both went for the papaya. It also came with hot chocolate which was also quite good. Everything was very good quality and it was certainly had a nice atmosphere. Our bill came to 10,000 COP ($5) for both meals.
Though we had just had lunch an hour or two earlier, we came across a snack we could not refuse when visiting the Capilla de Belén. I had read about empanadas de pipián but had not seen them prior to this and here they were staring me in the face.
Favorite Dish: An older woman had a makeshift stand just outside the chapel so I ordered four of them and was surprised to be charged only 800 COP (40 cents) but once I saw them, I realized they were quite small and more than likely not even enough for me let alone my wife. I was also given a small bit of sauce to go with them and was warned that it was very hot! This was the chili-infused peanut-based sauce I had also read about. I scurried off to share them with D and while they were quite good, I could have used more sauce but was too embarrassed to ask for it. It was getting late but figured I would find them somewhere else in town at some point since they were a local specialty.
La Cave is a nice French restaurant with a lunch menu of the day (not on Saturdays). The lunch is 6500 pesos (July 2008) and it is different from what is served in many other places and it is highly recommended. I visited on a Sunday and got a tasty vegetable soup (with broccoli) and a mango juice. On the main plate there were brown rice, quiche with onions and mushrooms and a spit with chicken, onions and pepper. On the salad, with cauliflower, there was mustard dressing.
There is also a menu with other dishes, sandwiches, natural juices and different bread.
The restaurant is open:
Monday - Friday between 7 - 22
Saturday between 7 - 16
Sunday between 8 - 18