It is always difficult to find a good food place whn travelling around Colombia. There are down town areas where great restaurants abound, but the food at airports and bus stations is generally quite bad. Hygiene standards are appalling and there is a distinct lack of choice.
Imagine my surprise therefore to find Superdog at the Cali bus terminal.
Run by a Colombian lady who has visited Europe several times and is bilingual.
Great menu, good clean, wholeseome tasting burgers and meats, and freshly brewed Grade A steaming hot Colombian coffee for free. The place is open from 06:00 to 23:00 and is full most days. Free Wifi and Sports channels on a huge flat screen TV.
Check it out if you are passing through.
Favorite Dish: Superdog Classic Hamburger.
It has toppings you have never seen before.
Steamed bread and the dogs to die for.
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).
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.
One of the great things about all the amazing fruit is the preponderance of fruit juice vendors. They range from simple freshly squeezed varieties to those making more involved concoctions in blenders. There was a whole row of the latter along Avenida Daniel Lemaitre next to Parque del Centanario. Whenever you walked along this busy street, every one of them beckoned you in for one of their magic elixirs and at these prices we found ourselves stopping a few times a day. Rather than flutter from one to the next like a bee in search of better honey, we found one we liked and went back again and again. The others soon realized we were quite loyal to her and seemed to stop “bothering” us. Since we went so often, she always beamed as she saw us walking up. I guess we were like money in the bank, to the tune of three a day each!
Favorite Dish: Tomate de arbol (tree tomatoes) was our first favorite but once we got her to mix guanbanana with papaya, we stuck to that quite often. They do the drinks with either milk or water but we liked them with milk and of course, they put some sugar in the blender too. It's quite a concoction and we just let them do their thing. They sure seemed to know what they were doing!
The drinks were 2000 COP ($1) each but were quite large and she always gave us the rest of the blender which seemed like another whole drink each. It's no wonder we kept going back to her. When we had them in the evening, we thought they'd do much better if they sold them with rum so one night we brought some and they didn't seem to mind our self-mixing. We decided to get the juices take out and mix our cocktails at the hotel since they had s nice rooftop terrace.
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.
Color de Hormiga (Color of Ants) sure sounded good in our guidebook but it was also very expensive in the scheme of our budget so we didn't make a definite plan to go there. Still, there was no way we would be in such a small town as Barichara and at least not have a look at it. We even went as far as making sure to go on a day it was open as it is closed on Tuesdays. Barichara was charming but small so after a couple hours of wandering around there wasn't much more to see and the good light for photography had long passed by the time lunch rolled around. It was also a hot sunny day and though the city's park was very pleasant, how long can you sit in one place without growing antsy. The restaurant was on the edge of town on a very quiet street high on a hill and looked charming from the outside, with a very cool sign featuring marching ants to their door. Once inside, we were pretty much won over. It was an open air place entirely covered by a high bamboo ceiling and with its elevated orientation, it let in all day's breezes and none of the sun. It overlooked a lush courtyard that features two small pools. The furnishing was simple but somehow elegant. Some light music played very softly in the background. We looked at the menu only as a formality. We were pretty much hooked.
It's a fairly large place so obviously popular despite its prices but we were the only ones there even though it was close to noon on that Monday afternoon. We took our time deciding on our meals as we were in no rush but soon settled on two of their steak options. Doreen ordered the filet mignon in a blue cheese sauce and I opted for the same cut of meat drenched in a sauce made of the restaurant's signature delicacy, the fat-bottomed ants the region is noted for: hormigas culonas. It took some time for the meals to be prepared and to be honest, when we arrived our waiter had not yet done so. The owner actually took our orders. Not to worry, we were there to enjoy the ambiance and escape the midday heat. That we did for over two hours, sipping on a delicious if pricey beverage made of freshly squeezed orange juice mixed with fresh ginger. They were so refreshing that we had three each! We still think about this drink to this day.
Favorite Dish: The meals came out and were very nice size though we were a bit disappointed by the side dishes. Both featured the same: a small salad with an admittedly tasty dressing and fried plantains that seemed mass-produced. It seems that for these types of prices, more imagination could be put into the accompanying sides especially when the meals themselves were so amazing. Doreen's steak was thick, cooked perfectly to her rare stipulation and succulently juicy. The blue cheese sauce was exquisite. My filet was cut in two for some odd reason but despite it being thinner, it was still cooked to perfection as I requested it bloody and it was just seared on the outside and warm within. The sauce was delectable and the ample ants were crunchy and scrumptious. Doreen tried one alone with the sauce and said she could eat them too, even if they looked odd. The cuts of meat were large but I was thankful to get some of Doreen's meal, it was equally good to mine.
Many upscale places in Colombia include tax and service charges on top of their bills which can be around 25% but this one just adds the service of 15%. Our meals along with the six beverages came to 62,000 COP ($31). We decided it was very good value for the quality of food and not really as expensive as it seemed on first inspection. One thing you find in Colombia, is you get a lot more meat (not to mention much better quality meat!) when you pay more money and this was no exception. It was equal to a few meals at the typical cheap places were generally frequent. Well worth the splurge if in Barichara!
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.
While South America might not be noted as a top culinary continent, some countries certainly stand out above others and Colombia is easily one of them. As with accommodation, it might not be the cheapest of all South American countries but overall the quality and range of choices are better too. That said, it was a slight disappointment to us as we had eaten in a particularly good Colombian restaurant while in Ecuador two years prior to setting foot in the cuisine's namesake country so we had very high expectations. Once our initial letdown passed, we found some excellent dishes that we already miss.
Favorite Dish: As with all things Colombian, prices vary greatly. You could pay much for a meal here as you would in North America or Europe if that is what you are looking for. We were not so I cannot report on whether those meals are of the same standard. We did do a few splurgey meals in the $15 range and must say they were excellent and worth doing but we only did this when we were pretty sure the prices were warranted from prior research. These meals were about three times what we normally paid so you can imagine they were quite good. So, expect to pay around $5 for a meal with breakfasts often being half that. These are for restaurant meals and food from vendors is even cheaper and quite often good stuff too. Small snacks are in the 50 cents to $1 range and as a rule hygienically more than safe to consume.
Below is a sampling of our favorite meals in Colombia.
This is also a hostel with a very convenient location, as it is near the entrance of the park. It has nice scenery all around around. The hostel has a restaurant with simple and cheap local food. I had a meat dish with rice salad and fried bananas plus a fruit juice and paid about 4 $.This restaurant is convenient because otherwise you'd need a taxi to go to San Andres. (hotel prices: Double rooms 8$ with bathroom for 2 people and 12$ without bathroom for 2 )
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This restaurant is extremely popular with locals. It's been there for many years. It is a two level restaurant with a great variety of local and South American dishes. It has tasty food and tastier pastries. There are 15 types of coffee (1-1,5$), pasta, pizzas (6-7$), tasty icecream and more. Main dishes cost 5-10$. I liked the 'empanadas' very much. I bought them in good numbers...I liked better the Chilean empanada (0,80$) than the Argentinian one (0,70)
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My opinion was mixed.
My Spanish language skills are decent but do not extend to the fine points on a menu; so after seeing the place had lots of fish (of which I ate much of in Panama), I decided to order the chicken. The taste was alright the problem was that it was a big bowl of chicken hearts or kidneys, blah.
So I called for 'la cuenta' and I could not explain that it was my mistake etc but then the owner stormed out of the kitchen straight to my table and then smiled and said "did I speak English?" and just laughed when I told him my issue.
He immediately sent out a big plate of 'paella' which was delicious and cost more than what I ordered yet the bill was unchanged.
They had a great Spanish-style guitar player and good coffee too!
Favorite Dish: paella
This is a huge chain that is found all over Bogota, in major shopping malls and along fashionable streets.
Most of the time I see a long queue waiting patiently for their ice-cream dose.
The ice-cream is really quite delicious (and in quite large servings). Highly recommended.
Note that 'Arequipe' here in Colombia, Peru is 'Dulce de Leche' as known in Argentina.
'Empanadas' are pastries of various fillings that are very common in South America. From Argentina to Bolivia, they are available and are very popular snacks indeed. However, in each country, they are of a slightly different style.
In Colombia, the style here is that at the 'empanada' shop, there is a huge spread of sauces on the counter. So many sauces that it boggles the mind.
It is not uncommon to see the locals standing next to the counter and for each bite, they drop a different sauce in their 'empanadas'. Excellent choice. Note that some of the sauces are very spicy indeed.
In Colombia you can buy big fresh fruit salads (many of the fruits taste so much better than at home), but too often they put a lot of other things on the plate as well, like a sweet yoghurt sauce and cheese. Most of the times they ask you before adding anything, but sometimes they don’t, so it can be good to say that you want the fruit salad natural (if that is what you want).
If you want to eat cheap you should ask for the comida corriente - a set menu of the day at the cheap restaurants. First you will get a soup then a plate with a piece of meat or chicken, some rice, potato, beans, platanos and a little bit of salad. Sometimes you will get pasta, lentils or chickpeas. There is always a small soft drink included.
The food is not the very best but it will fill your stomach. In July/August 2007 I paid between 3500 - 6000 pesos for the comida corriente, but the most common price was 4000/4500 pesos.
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