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I walked by Cocteleria Juancho a few times without seeing it. Well, I saw it but it looked more like an ice cream stand than a place to have cerviche and even all the people outside eating from Styrofoam cups didn't give me a clue despite my having eaten cerviche the same way in Cartagena only a few days earlier. They just looked to be enjoying themselves much like you imagine icecream revelers to be doing. To be fair, it was dark and the street not exactly inviting since I was walking around alone, my wife in bed with a bad belly. Finally, I walked across the street to see that it indeed was the famed city institution despite its humble look and lack of any sign. Hell, you'd think after 33 years they might have got a sign but I guess the didn't need one. It was tiny but very busy and I jumped hesitantly in line eying up the cup sizes I could choose from.
I pointed at 13 oz and muttered “mixto” and a cerveza and sat down waiting for my order which despite the crowds was ready in no time. It didn't look like a lot but it was very filling and when I looked around I noticed I was the only one with such a big portion. No wonder I though everyone was eating ice cream. It was full of shrimp with a splattering of snails with the most marvelous concoction of a sauce I had ever tasted. It was not an authentic cerviche like you would have in Peru and more like the ones I had tried in Cartagena a few days earlier. But there was something definitely different. Along with the garlic, lime, oil, and cocktail sauce I think it has some mayonnaise in it. It was positively addictive and I no sooner left and I was thinking about my next meal there, which was the next day for lunch! I told my wife about it but in her condition nothing sounded good but she was happy I had found something I liked so much. She just wanted me to stop talking about it. The next day I took a picture of it, risking my stake as a regular and garnering my share of stares. What the hell, I wanted to remember this meal.
Favorite Dish: Finally, after the Ciudad Perdida trek, Doreen was able to go with me. I had not been there in a week as the trek is a very full six days but the guy behind the counter recognized me immediately. He also noticed that the lonely gringo was not only alone but was now in the company of a beautiful blond companion, and smiled probably more at my wife than me. Suddenly, I was not the weirdo taking pictures of his cerviche but an okay normal guy. We ordered up two large ones along with a few beers and probably looked like ravenous animals eating it. We had just done a long hard trek where despite the very able guides never seemed to provide enough food. We deserved and needed the calories.
We also went back after our two nights of trekking in Tayrona National Park and to be honest, if I ever go back to this area, going back to Cocteleria Juancho will be one of the main reasons.
A 13 oz cerviche (just shrimp or mixto) was 10000 ($5) but you need a fair appetite to eat that much. The 10 oz one for 8000 ($4) is more than enough for most people and most locals eat even smaller sizes though admittedly this could be for financial reasons too as it's not really cheap considering all you get with it are a couple saltine crackers, and it seems never enough of them. The ice cold Club Colombian beers were only 1000 COP (50 cents), a real bargain after Cartagena. Oddly enough, we were the only ones drinking beer with our food, the locals seemed to prefer sodas.
Updated Nov 28, 2010
Address: Carrera 1 No. 18-67, between Calle 22 & 23
When you are on the coast, you have to seek out fruit drinks. While they have them everywhere in Colombia, the ones on the coast along with the fruit is just better unless you find a fruit that is found more naturally in the highlands. Now, coming on the heals of Cartagena's amazing fruit drinks, the vendors in Santa Marta had a very tough act to follow. On top of this, I felt guilty seeking them out when my poor wife was lying in bed with stomach problems when she loves fruit juices more than just about anything, and certainly more than I do. That said, I do like them and know a good thing when it's around just has to be taken advantage of!
Favorite Dish: There is are two rows of juice vendors on Calle 16, starting at Carrera 5. If you walk down that street, they will good-naturedly try to get you to have one. I tried one and the drink was just okay but that could have been a matter of picking a fruit that was not in particularly good shape. The next time I went to another place and it was not only great but the owner gave me a whole pitcher of juice rather than a big plastic cup. It might not have been the most hygienically cleaned pitcher but it was huge.
The very large drinks were 2000 COP ($1) and while maybe not quite as good as Cartagena, certainly good enough to visit the stands a couple times a day! I had zapote (known as mamey in Cuba and Florida where I'm from) the first time and it was just okay. It's an expensive fruit and think they didn't use so much and made up for it with additional sugar. Tomate de arbol was another favorite. This tart fruit tastes nothing like a tomato so give it a try if you see it.
Updated Nov 28, 2010
We had been exposed to arepa con huevos in Mompos about a week earlier and had continued our steady breakfasting on them in Cartagena. This is a regional dish where the typical corn cake-like arepa is deep fried rather than on a skillet and in the middle of the whole process an egg is slipped into slit to form a pocket. We knew it was only available on the coast and our time in that area was to be limited. Unfortunately, my wife had gotten a bad one on our bus trip from Cartagena to Santa Marta and was paying the price for it during our first days in town. So, I found myself the first morning in town out looking for a street vendor with the goods. I needed my arepa con heuvo fix. I finally found one on the corner of Calle 12 and Carerra 5, just up the street from the cathedral.
Favorite Dish: Not only did he have my arepa but also avena, the sweetish oatmeal-based drink that seems to go perfectly with the salty savory arepa. I was to eat break on that corner every morning I as in town. D did join me when she was feeling better, after one of our treks but she never quite enjoyed them ever again and still says she feels sick when just thinking about them.
The first day I paid 1800 COP (90 cents) for one arepa con huevo. The second day I tried one of his fried cheese fritters and not only had an avena but also a guayaba drink, all for 2300 COP ($1.15).
Updated Nov 13, 2010
This no name corner diner looked to be a Santa Marta institution. It seemed to be positively packed every time I walked by it while out looking for something interesting to eat. In fact, I didn't get in the place until one of my last days in town. Oddly enough, it was when my wife was feeling a bit better and we had returned from our six day trek to La Ciudad Perdida. I saw a couple of rare open spots at the counter and we pounced on them. It's a super bustling place and the menu is up on the wall as well as all the fried goodies being on display in glass cases in front of you in case you don't know any of the names.
Favorite Dish: We had two meat and one chicken empanada as well as fried potato ball. D washed hers down with an orange juice and I tried a corn-based sweet drink a bit like coconut milk. The food was very good but not all that different than what some of the better street vendors sold and the drinks were not as good as at the fruit juice stands. I'd say it was worth going for the experience and certainly they have a huge variety of fried local delights.
We paid 5500 COP ($2.75) for the two drinks and four fried snacks.
Written Nov 13, 2010
While walking around one morning and after already eating an arepa con heuvo but still a bit hungry, I happened upon this tiny little hole-in-the-wall place that sold nothing but bunelos. In fact, it was called appropriately enough “La Casa del Bunelo!” Bunelos are dough balls made with some generally tart cheese. They can be sourish and are a bit of an acquired taste but some like this are more like a pastry and not so cheesy. I kind of like them both ways but this less sour variety hit the spot after already having something savory just minutes before. It almost could have used some powdered sugar! In either case, they are best when eaten fresh and this little place must makes small batches and I never had one that wasn't.
Favorite Dish: They were also very small and one only coast 500 COP (25 cents) so great if you only want to try one or are not truly hungry but just peckish. The serve the donut ring-type version that is made from the same dough but for some reason has a very different texture when shaped like this. It takes more dryish bagel kind of consistency. I didn't like them as much as the bunelo but it was nice to try it.
Written Nov 13, 2010
On our way back to Santa Marta from the Ciudad Perdida trek we were supposed to stop for lunch along the way (included in the price of the tour), but as our transport broke down and we had to go by public bus we couldn’t stop along the way. We had to wait with the lunch until we came to Santa Marta. We ate at Hotel Miramar and had food from the lunch menu (but it was many hours pasted lunch). We didn’t pay but I saw in the menu that the lunch was 4000 pesos, very cheap for what you get.
First we got a soup. Then we had a fruit drink and a big plate with meat or chicken, rice, platano, beans or spaghetti and a little bit of salad. I also had a coke. Miramar have got other things on there menu, like hamburgers.
Written Oct 27, 2007
Address: Calle 10C No 1C - 59
Phone: 5 -423 3276
Next to the Gold Museum is a Juan Valdez Café. It is a very nice place with an outdoor café were the tables are spread out, not too close to each other, in the shade under some tall trees. There are many different sorts of coffee to choose from (the coffee is Colombian of course) and cakes. I had a black coffee and a brownie and it was 3800 pesos (July 2007).
The Juan Valdez Cafés can be found in most major cities in Colombia. The cafés are open Monday to Saturday between 8 - 22 and on Sundays between 8 - 18.
At Juan Valdez you can also by T-shirts and Colombian coffee to bring home.
Written Oct 28, 2007
Address: Calle 14 No1
Phone: 5 - 629 2898
Coming back to Santa Marta from Tyrona I realised it was a public holiday and many places were closed. There is a cheap restaurant near Casa Familiar and it was open. It is a welcoming place and my meal, soup, beef, rice, banana, salad and a juice, was 5000 pesos. Unfortunately I never saw the name of the restaurant, but it is just in the corner of Calle 11/Carrera 2.
Written Sep 23, 2008
I've been here 6 months and just found this place. Here you will find homemade ice cream with the usual and unusual flavors – chocolate, strawberry, avacado, cañandonga (which is a costal fruit, Rocio can show you the large seed pod. It tastes faintly of chocolate and is nutritious. It contains iron), melon, zapote (yummy), coconut, mora (blackberry), corozo (like cranberry or raspberry), cinnamon, yerba buena/mint, albahaca/basil, pétalo de rosa/rose flower, coco/coconut, lulo, maracuya/passion fruit, and more. It only comes in a small plastic cups. There is a small freezer where you can select your flavor and then sit at one of the tables and chairs on the walk way or walk back to Parque de Los Novios and people watch.
Go and say hello to Rocío and her cat Tutti. Her husband is also an owner.
Favorite Dish: I especially like zapote, corozo, and mora but I haven't tried them all yet. There are about 30 flavors! I don't think there is a bad flavor to be had. I love that it is homemade and I am supporting a local small business. Rocio mentioned that they opened their business 2-3 years ago but it wasn't until the construction of the pedestrian walkway (it used to be for vehicles) that their business could do well.
Updated Apr 24, 2011
Address: Calle 19 No 3-25
The restaurants catering to the locals serve a comida corriente. This is a set menu usually consisting of a soup with meat, and a main of salad, rice, beans and either meat, fish or chicken. A soft drink will usually acompany the meal. These meals will normally run to about 2,000 pesos and can be bought throughout Colombia. (USD 1.00 = 2,800 pesos)
Favorite Dish: The fish (snapper) is delicious.
Written Jan 22, 2003