Sometimes when seem like it could be a very bad and costly mistake turns out just fine. On our way into town from The Plantation House, we spotted an upscale looking place and since we were very hungry we decided to give it a try. It was fairly crowded but it almost looked like a tour bus was what was filling it up. It was certainly a nice looking place and we decided to go for a splurge meal our first day in the Zona Cafetera. The trip was winding down and we hadn't done anything out of our budget since Cartagena. It was cozy despite its size and the waiters treated us like kings despite not being dressed like royalty. There were candles lit on all full tables, a nice touch during the day.
Favorite Dish: Since it was not cheap, we just ordered one meal, a few appetizers and a soup. As it turned out, this was more than enough and we were quite hungry on arrival. Trucha or trout is a Salento specialty so we got Trucha Gratinada which found the fish covered with melted cheese and tons of mushrooms in the sauce. It was a very big portion (350 grams in fact!) and we were glad we hadn't ordered two of them! The crème de Trucha was a tasty soup and filling as it was in a cream sauce. The arepas were nicely toasted and came with a nice salsa. There was also a crunchy yellow thing made of either yucca or corn which was a nice way to start the meal and was brought out for free.
All of the food was quite good and in ample portions. As with many such upscale places, a tip and tax are added to your bill so it was not a super budget option. That said, for 35,000 COP ($17.50) including two fruit juices, it was a great meal in a very nice atmospheric restaurant. We didn't go again but if in town, I wouldn't hesitate to eat there again.
It's very likely Rincon del Lucy would have escaped my eye without its high recommendation in our guidebook but it was highly touted at our hostel as well. Of course, all this adds to just about every gringo in town going there but that's okay, there's only about twenty of us anyway and as long as everyone doesn't go at once, they can still squeeze a few Colombians in too. And they do as the place is a great value one with excellent food, something even locals can't resist. It's unassuming from the outside even with its “Carrera 6” prime location with wide doors on two sides, making it easy to eavesdrop on the diners packed within. The inside is homey with big tree-trunk tables and service is beyond friendly, it's like the owner is serving you. Well, that's exactly who his serving you and this guy knows how to schmooze. We ate here three times and never with any regret. The only reason we went somewhere else was because we weren't hungry enough and knew the portions would be too big!
Favorite Dish: Our first meal was dinner. I had trucha or trout and D had chicken as she was tiring of all the fish. Both were excellent and full cenas which means they included a soup, beverage and even a small desert. The soups were very good and the meals quite large. Unusual for a Colombian cheapie, you have a choice of a variety of side dishes. I went for beans, corn fritters (torte de choclo, a local delicacy), and plantains. White rice is ubiquitous and of course was on the dish as well. D got green beans that were so good I couldn't wait to come back and get my own order of them. The whole lot was 12000 COP ($6) so very good value.
The next morning we decided to try their breakfast and again it was fantastic. We both got huevos pericos as we'd not had them in ages. This is a Colombian staple of eggs scrambled with tomatoes and onions. They came with a very nice fresh arepa which seems to be another thing that Salento does as well if not better than anywhere in the country. There was some homemade bread, a bunuelo (friend cheesy dough pastry) and again the ubiquitous rice. A nice hot chocolate was included as well. Though it was a good deal at 9000 COP ($4.50) for both of us, we felt they could have done away with one or two items and made it cheaper and a bit less filling. If you are a fan of big breakfasts though, look no further, this is the place to go!
Our last night in town, there was little argument as to where we would go. We both opted for the same meal this time around. A nicely marinated piece of beef was the centerpiece this time around with all the same trimmings except this time I got the very tasty green beans to avoid obvious bean envy. ;) The cena or set meal price was again 6000 COP ($3) each. No regrets once again.
While walking on our first day down the main drag of town Calle Real, admiring all the colorful paisa architecture, we noticed a sign heralding wild coffee and intrigued we walked in. To be honest, Colombia had been a bit of as disappointment in the caffeine department despite it being renowned for great beans. To be fair, we had the same experience in Ecuador and any number of third world countries noted for coffee. It seems all the “good stuff” is exported and the locals are left to drink swill. Now, don't get me wrong, we had some good coffee in other towns in Colombia but it was only after looking hard and certainly not found in anything but upscale places, and never referred to in the largo lingo as “tinto.” No tinto was a fairly weak black coffee and if you put any milk in it you could say goodbye to any of the bitter flavors associated with the dark brown bean from which it comes. So, we sauntered into what looked like and turned to be the courtyard of a small hotel. In the rear was a small coffee stand and the owner quickly came up and welcomed us in. We asked for two strong coffees and he went back to prepare just that.
Favorite Dish: What he came out with was quite possibly the best coffee we had tasted in Colombia. It was dark, thick, roasty and sublimely bitter yet not overly so. It was a gorgeous cup of java by all accounts. He let us enjoy our brew but after some time asked if we wanted to learn more about his coffee and the ages old beverage in general. We nodded yes and were led to a small table with some self-made books on it. He did the tour in Spanish and we followed as well as we could. His young daughter sat beside him and charmed us with her father's smile and bright lively eyes. You could see this apple fell very close to the tree from whence it came. They were both very engaging and it was an enjoyable “tour” of their plantation. The beans were 100% organic. It seems you can not only buy coffee there and do a live tour, but you can actually stay there with his family which certainly must be a very nice time. But we had already committed ourselves to the hostel where we were staying as well as doing their tour which was right in town rather than on its outskirts. We paid 4000 COP ($2) for the two cups of excellent coffee. We went back again and the owner was equally friendly but the coffee did not seem nearly as strong. We had not bought any of his beans to go as they were out of our price range. It was as much if not more than we would pay for a top coffee back home and we didn't feel like lugging coffee beans around with us for two more weeks. We had four cups and did not get nearly the same buzz as we had got the first day. To be fair, we had been drinking more coffee than we had on the entire trip with free good coffee at the hostel and a stop at another great little cafe in town. So, we had two cups each the second time!
Cafe Jesus Martin is a very nice upscale cafe just off the main square in Salento that has just enough local charm to avoid being an obvious clone of the big chains spreading such places around the globe. With memorabilia hanging from its ceiling, paintings on its walls, and open shudder-clad window opening to the street, this is a place you can really kick back in. The furniture is comfy and low to the ground, making you sink deeper as you contemplate another cup of their excellent java. They are in no means pushy and you could probably sit here all day over one cup but many will venture for a second due to their great value menu.
Favorite Dish: I had an espresso which was robust, roasty, and featured signature tan crema on top and D had cafe Angelica which was an espresso with sweetened condensed milk. This was very different for Colombia but since we eat in Vietnamese restaurants a lot, D has always loved this version of coffee, and she was very happy to find it here. It was 3500 COP ($1.75) for the two coffees. While this is quite a bit more than a couple of tintos in a small town similar to Salento, there is probably ten times the amount of coffee in the cup, not to mention the quality of the beans used. Everything served at the cafe is roasted by the cafe's owner in their factory, and is of excellent quality. We sadly never got back here. There were so many great places to have coffee in town, we had only a few days, and there's only so much coffee you can drink. Well, and still sleep!
Salento was not exactly the fruit juice capital of Colombia but there was an old man with a wheeled cart on the corner closest to Calle Real on the town's main square. One thing that was nice about him was he was out early which is when we were generally craving his specialty, fresh-squeezed orange juice. He was also a sweet old guy that could be anyone's grandfather and certainly endeared himself to us with his friendly nature and also with pulling up a couple of low plastic stools for us to sit on while we drank our orange juice which gave him the opportunity to top them off with what was in his pitcher. It's no wonder we returned every morning.
Favorite Dish: We had the same thing each time, two orange juices which were decent size and as I mentioned always topped off with what was left in his pitcher. The price was always the same too, 2500 COP ($1.25) for the two beverages.
It seems Salento is one of the best places to get freshly made arepas. There are a few women on the street that sell them close to The Plantation House on the main street coming into town. They are generally only out there early in the morning or evening.
Favorite Dish: Locals probably buy them for home use for breakfast or dinner and we followed suit, getting them in the morning and spreading them with cream cheese which we purchased at the main supermarket on the Plaza Bolivar for 2900 COP ($1.45). The arepas were 300 COP (15 cents apiece) and quite large for that price, freshly toasted on a grill and tasting very much like the cornmeal they are made of.
Salento certainly has its fair share of eateries for such a small town but then again it is a tourist destination, especially for Colombians. We didn't sample so many as we found one place we liked quite and bit and with so few days in town, we generally stuck to it. The one problem with it was the portions were generally big so eating there three times a day would have been nearly impossible. The one day we were not on an excursion and ate three meals in the town itself, we looked for a place for a snack as our midday meal as we had already had a big breakfast and were figuring on a big dinner later that evening. D was also hankering for a fruit salad so we found a place that specialized in them as well as had some savory fried treats for me as well. It was called appropriately enough Ensalata de Fruitas and was on the Calle 6, not so far from Balcones del Ayer.
Favorite Dish: D had a fairly large fruit salad which was typical of Colombian, which meant it was on the sweet side. She had found that unlike Ecuador where we had been on our last South American trip, the fruits were not mixed with just yogurt but with a bland grated cheese, lots of syrupy sauces, and even ice cream in some places. The overall effect was far too sweet for her tastes when it comes to fruit. After all, if she wanted an ice cream sunday, that's what she would get! It was a whopping 4000 COP ($2) so not much cheaper than a full meal at some places. I had an empanada de pollo (chicken in fried corn meal) and a torto de choclo (corn fritter). Both were very good and only 500 COP (25 cents) each.
In the morning I visited coffee finca of Don Elias. I wanted to buy organic coffee from his farm to take with me. Unfortunately he did not sell it but he recommended a good place where I could get it. He explained me where the place was. I expected a family home or a shop, but found a lovely Café Jesús Martín instead.
It was only opened in August 2008. The café offers its guests a unique experience to have a drink in a house of the antioqueña architecture, full of sounds, aromas, colours and flavours. Art plays an important role. The walls are decorated with a collection of paintings and several wall paintings, in its corners there are beautiful sculptures as well elements present in the coffee culture. Café Jesús Martín is the space for reading (they have excellent art books that guests can skim over while having a drink) and you can learn everything about the coffee.
On the menu they offer coffee prepared on different ways and with different supplements, home-made sweets (jam, cakes) and wine. They also prepare breakfasts and sometimes sandwiches and lasagne.
Favorite Dish: I had a nice cup of cappuccino while having a look at the books and chatting to the guy at the bar. And of course, I bought a package of coffee (that was the main reason to come here) and a few packages of dried banana chips.
Later I also met the friendly owner lady and she proudly explained me about the café, from the first idea to the final realization. I really enjoyed my visit and was thinking about coming back at night for a cup of wine. But once I got to the guest house I was just too tired and too lazy to return.
Salento is a good place to sample trucha (pink trout) that is famous for the area. With the river running right by the town and the freshest ingredients used, you can't really go wrong with that. Restaurante Andrea was recommended by Rosmira, the owner of Las Palmas guest house where I was staying. It's a simple little place, with wooden tables and benches, very quiet during the week. The restaurant is located on Calle Real, the main street, and you can observe life passing by while waiting for the food. I dined here the evening of my arrival and since then I came back every evening during my 4-day stay in Salento.
Favorite Dish: Restaurante Andrea has delicious oven baked (or grilled) trout dishes served with huge fried patacón (fried plantain), rice and salad on the side. On the menu you find trout prepared on twelve ways. First evening I had it a la plancha (grilled) and then each time I tried it prepared on different way, al ajillo (cooked with garlic), Hawayana (with pineaple and cheese) and with orange, from the simple version to the most sophisticated taste. The trout was nicely soft, sweet and the most delicious I ever tasted!!
For a drink I had each time different juice, lemon, pineapple, mango or papaya. It was freshly made and served in a huge jug, and oh, yummy!!
Arepas are found in several countries of northern South America. They are soft, flat breads made of corn, and can either be filled like a sandwich or just eaten hot with butter. In Colombia arepa has deep roots in the colonial farms and the cuisine of the indigenous people. They are usually eaten for breakfast or as an afternoon snack. Arepas are sold throughout Colombia and there are many ways to prepare them.
Favorite Dish: I especially liked arepa de queso, a cheesy version of traditional arepa. My favourite Colombian breakfast includes an arepa with traditional Colombian hot chocolate or coffee. I was quite lucky and did not need to walk far for it. The neighbour woman of Las Palmas made them every morning in front of her house. I could even ask from the window and she brought it to me (it was just across the street). In the meantime dona Rosmira prepared hot chocolate or coffee for our breakfast.
While Salento was not the fruit drink mecca that the Colombian Caribbean coast had been, they did have one guy with one such stand on the main square but on closer inspection we didn't really like the look of his fruit and decided that our normal orange juice man would get our business.
Favorite Dish: Since we got so close, the owner offered us a sample of one of the more odd Colombian fruits that we had not tried but had seen at numerous stands in Cartagena. We didn't really like it and since we were not buying a drink and did not want to buy a full portion of this sampled fruit, we got a piece of coconut for 500 COP (25 cents).
The day I arrived in Salento it was a Public Holiday and there had been many visitors in the town. Around the plaza there were a lot of food stalls where you could eat trout. Trout is a speciality in Salento and the fish comes from the nearby rivers. The food stalls around the plaza were not there the next day, but you can eat trout probably in every restaurant in town.
I had trout with shrimps. It was served with a big and very thin fried platano. I also bought a bottle of water. For those things I paid 15 000 pesos (July 2008).
I asked for a nice place to have comida corriente (a cheap set lunch menu) and was recommended Rincon de Lucy. The restaurant is situated on Calle Real, one block from the main plaza, towards the steps.
I got a juice and a soup and a big plate with meat, rice, potato, platano and salad. The lunch was good and it was 5000 pesos (July 2008).
Balcones de Ayer is a restaurant half a block down from the main plaza. As I arrived a big party was just leaving and it looked like most of them had eaten trout. I decided not to have trout again but had meat, rice, French fries, salad and a mango juice. It tasted good and it was 17 900 pesos (July 2008). Tax and tip was included in the price on the receipt.
Balcones de Ayer also have got accommodation.
This little restaurant located off of the main street (about 50 feet) at calle 4, Numero 5 - 54, was recommended by our hostel. We tried it once and ended up eating dinner there 3 times during our 4 night stay. After 2 weeks of plato-typico we were craving something a little bit different. This little restaurant is ridiculously lovely. You look in and there is a bar with the glow lights so you´re thinking, bar with empanada. But we gave it a try. We had garlic bread which we thought would be the typical South American white bread with butter thing, but were pleasantly surprised with toasted french bread with garlic, a little olive oil and pesto. Both my husband and I had pasta which was tasty (my husband had bolongnese sauce I had ¨pomodoro¨ sauce). The pasta was cooked well with olives in my sauce and both topped with a little bit of mint. We had a bottle of Rioja (yeah, I´m not making this up) which was from (wait for it.....) a small vino-temp he had on the counter. Served at the correct temp with lovely wine glasses. We were blown away. The next night we had a salad as an appetizer ... cool lettuce, tomato, carrot, corn and olives topped with a little bit of minced tuna. The dressing was a lemon - olive oil dressing. The tomatoes were the best I ever had. My husband had a chicken wrap which was warm, done well with distinct herbs evident (oregano and basil). I had a crepe with pork and carmelized onions. (carmelized onions !) done well. Both had a decorative sauce over the sandwiches. I spoke with the main waiter-cook and asked him about his cooking and commented on how impressed we were. He explained he had spent 10 years in Madrid before coming to Salento. We are having our last dinner there tonight and will get another bottle of wine (he has a selection !) but I and telling you this place was just lovely. Our dinner for the night with the Rioja was 75,000 (about 40.00 USD total), when we had crepes and wraps with 2 glasses of Chilean Cabernet our tab was 66,000 (about 35.00 USD). Certainly more than the plato-typico but worth every penny.
Favorite Dish: Pasta. Done right!