Do you have a favorite street? One that you love to walk down, where you take time sit on a bench and look at the trees and admire the gardens and the ivy-covered houses? It can create a peaceful moment that takes you away from the big-city traffic.
I have a street like that. I can always find a good excuse to walk down it. When I’m nearby checking out new coffee shops or restaurants I’ll go out of my way to head down that street and get the feeling I’ve escaped to a small town outside Bogota.
So when a restaurant opens up on my favorite street, I pay attention.
Recently the World’s 50 Best Restaurants came out with some news that will affect Colombia’s top restaurants and chefs. And, if you live in Bogota or are planning a visit, this may very well affect you too.
It’s about their restaurant awards for Latin America.
However, before I get to the news, I want to talk about the awards themselves. Because you may be asking yourself why in the world you should care about restaurant awards.
Perhaps you’ve heard criticism of restaurant awards. After all, who is truly qualified to judge restaurants? Chefs, journalists, people in the restaurant industry – couldn’t they all be biased or have criteria that are completely skewed? Sure, they do know much more about the industry than the average person. But then again, the average person that would consider following their suggestions might not value the same dining experiences.
If that’s what you’re thinking, well…you’re right.
You could also ask yourself how they can judge the best offerings in a vast area, such as an entire country or a vast region. Have their judges eaten at all of those restaurants to be able to compare all those experiences?
And again, you’d be right: few judges can afford the luxury of trying all the restaurants in a large area or even one city. Unless, of course, you’re Jeffrey Merrihue, the man who’s literally eaten through the world’s best restaurants list. But he’s a different story, which we’ll someday get around to telling our version of.
Another point you could question is what are those awards based on? Glitz? Famous chefs? Fancy ingredients that few people can afford? A restaurant owner’s influence in the industry? You could be right about each of those points. At times, restaurants do get on those lists because of everything except the chef’s skill in the kitchen.
So why should you care about these awards?
Because in spite of any challenges and drawbacks to choosing the restaurants that make it onto the lists, awards are still the best way to recognize and congratulate those who are doing something extraordinary in a tough – and often unforgiving – industry.
Most food awards do give a nod to lesser-known chefs who are doing extraordinary things in the quiet obscurity of their kitchens and other delightfully creative spots (home stoves, backyard fire pits, or rural gardens).
Yes, after taking their turn in Peru and Mexico, the awards ceremony will land this September in another gem of a culinary city, Bogota.
For those of us who believe in the restaurant industry’s ability to change lives and the value of discovering Colombia’s fascinating culinary traditions, we truly do applaud this move.
This year the world will turn its eyes to Bogota and ask, “Why Colombia?” And over the next 7 months leading up to the awards ceremony, the chefs, restaurant owners, culinary schools, and yes, food writers here in Bogota will stand up and shout out the clear answer.
So keep your ears open this year to discover the best in Colombian ingredients, innovative techniques, renewed traditions, and perhaps the most passionate chefs anywhere. Because whatever Colombians do, they bring to it a passion and energy that takes the ordinary and makes it shine.
A word of warning – remember that many of the true gems in this city and around the country have never been on an awards list, and probably never will be. Over the coming months we’ll be focusing on those little-known but incredibly valuable chefs that the world has largely forgotten to talk about. Please join us – subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date (you’ll find the form at the bottom of this page).
Perhaps you’re not interested in fancy restaurants with staggering price tags. That’s right up our alley, too – after all, the best way to discover a city’s culinary roots is to get out on the street. Read about some of our favorite places for food lovers in Bogota.
Colombia’s top chef, Leonor Espinosa, brings international attention to lesser known ingredients like corozo, yacón, and fried ants. Her artistic creations have put her in the limelight. In 2016, her restaurant LEO, in the heart of Bogota’s downtown financial district, was at number 16 on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
That achievement positions her as the best chef in Colombia. Although some chefs have reached that fame by expanding beyond Colombia’s borders for inspiration, Leonor sticks not just to Colombian food, but to food from little-known regions of the country.
Through her Leo Espinosa Foundation, she works with small rural communities all over Colombia. She brings rare ingredients and methods to her restaurant and combines a love of discovery with a sense of social well-being.
Even the coffee at LEO will make you feel good: it comes from a rural Afro-Colombian community that has been afflicted by unrest and violence. For a more casual look into Colombian cuisine, try her Misia restaurants.
Calle 27B # 6 – 75, Bogota
Criterion has been on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list ever since the awards began. Led by Colombia’s beloved culinary brothers, Jorge and Mark Rausch, in 2015 the restaurant moved up the list to come in at #18 and in 2016 they placed at #29.
Criterion’s location in Zona G puts this duo in one of the hottest restaurant areas with some of the top dining establishments. The menu is based on French cuisine with Latin touches. Hidden among foie gras, gigot d’agneau and bouillabaisse on their menu, they include typical Colombian dishes like the famous posta negra cartagenera, a braised short rib with tamarind and panela (raw sugar). Their desserts appropriately focus on Colombia’s outstanding tropical fruits, with guanabana sorbet, coconut mousse with arequipe cream, or cuajada (fresh cheese) with melao and guava sauce.
Calle 69 A # 5 – 75, Bogota
One of the first Colombian chefs to gain celebrity status, Harry Sasson headed up fine dining back in the mid-1990s in Bogota.
His restaurant, set in a gorgeous National Heritage mansion with a Tudor look, is just a stone’s throw from one of the most impressive gastronomic scenes in the city. From the elegant upstairs bar and chef’s table to the bright and modern atrium outside, Harry knows how to set the scene for an outstanding meal. This is where heads of state, national and international artists, and famous musicians go for memorable meals.
The menu isn’t just about Colombian food. You’ll find Asian and international touches mixed in with Colombian ingredients. Dishes done on a Japanese robata grill sit on the menu next to salads with hearts of palm from Putumayo, the south of Colombia. Harry came in at #40 on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2016.
What Juan Manuel wants to transmit to those who eat at his version of heaven is Stop. Live the moment. Look at what you have in front of you, and look again because maybe you didn’t see it right the first time. Feel it. Smell it. Turn it over and over and understand it. Each minute of life is precious and we won’t get it back.
After visiting the restaurant you’ll understand why Barrientos is considered among the top chefs in Colombia. El Cielo came in at #30 on the Latin America’s Best Restaurants List in 2015.
Calle 70 4-47, Bogota
Andrés Carne de Res
Volumes could be written about the craziness at Andrés Carne de Res. It’s on most must-do-while-visiting-Bogota lists. And when you walk through the door, you’ll realize why. Musicians wander from table to table to play typical Latin ballads, waiters are dressed in colorful and bizarre outfits, and random objects such as steel cows and neon hearts dangle from the ceiling.
The menu is almost 70 pages long, presumably in an attempt to list the majority of Colombian dishes. As the name suggest, this place shines when it comes to meat preparations like lomo al trapo. Most of the dishes are overpriced for typical Colombian food, but what you’re really paying for is the party (which is priceless).
The original restaurant is in Chía, but if you don’t want to battle traffic to get out of the city, try the five-level monstrosity in Bogota for a crazy, fun night out. Andrés Carne de Res squeaked in at #49 on the Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2016.
Calle 3 N° 11A – 56, Chia
Calle 82 #12-21, Zona Rosa, Bogota
Where do you love to to eat in Colombia? Do you have your favorite Colombian chef? Please tell us about them! Let’s start our own 50 Best Restaurants in Colombia list.
La Candelaria is one of Bogota’s most fascinating neighborhoods, both bohemian and historic. It’s uncomfortably crowded down by the main plaza but takes on an eerie calm up by Chorro de Quevedo, the fountain and plaza where they say Bogota got its start.
I can feel the history as I walk on the quiet streets past buildings whose foundations were laid in the early 1600s. The cobblestone streets are crowded with red tile roofed houses painted in vibrant colonial colors. Occasional splashes of street art invoke the past and present, modern and historic, European and indigenous.
Quick Reviews are short peeks at restaurants in Colombia
While Matiz tends to fly under the radar, it’s one of the hidden jewels in Bogota’s dining scene. A refined and understated restaurant set in an ivy-covered restored house near the posh Parque de la 93, Matiz is based on Mediterranean roots. Chefs from around the world have taken their turn at the stove here, and each new chef brings a different air to the restaurant.
Quick Reviews are short peeks at restaurants in Colombia
One of the first Colombian chefs to become a celebrity, Harry Sasson headed up in the mid-1990s what has become a fine dining boom in Bogota.
His restaurant is set in a National Heritage mansion with a Tudor look. It’s just a stone’s throw from Zona G, one of the most outstanding gastronomic scenes in the city. This restaurant is where heads of state, national and international artists, and famous musicians go for unforgettable meals.
Over the past two years Flavors of Bogota has grown at a rapid pace, and it was finally time to make the move to a self-hosted site. Now that we finished that process, we wanted to take a moment to thank you for your patience.
I visited Medellin not long ago, and a friend of mine from over at GringoEng spoke glowingly about a place to get the best pizzas in the city, made in a wood fired oven, and I knew I had to try them for myself. In fact, not an hour after she told me about them we were on our way to find Zorba Café.
We always seem to have the desire to celebrate those in our community whose creative impulses make them look beyond themselves and their immediate benefit and see the big picture of the community they belong to. These are people who manage to reach deep within and find what matters most, and then publicly present that for others to share.
For women working within the male-dominated restaurant industry, that’s not easy to do. But Chef Luz Beatriz Vélez has been doing that for years. As chef and co-founder of the restaurant Abasto in Bogota, she has been busy focusing on local ingredients and working with farmers and artisan producers.
Of course, Luz Beatriz hasn’t been alone in her mission. Her search for fresh, local ingredients in Bogota led her to found Abasto in Usaquén (a neighborhood in the north of Bogota) with Benjamín Villegas of Wok fame. That was back in 2007, at a time when the farm-to-table mentality was barely mentioned in the city. This is food that goes beyond the search for the freshest ingredients. It’s food with a social message, a call to buy from the local farmer and promote fair trade in Colombia.
Not surprisingly, the awards have followed. Year after year she’s been on the ‘Best of’ lists at the La Barra Awards, a sort of Oscars for the food industry in Colombia. In 2012 and 2014 she was voted Second Best Chef in Colombia. And Abasto took the award for third best casual restaurant in 2014 (this year’s awards are coming up soon, so we’ll see who wins).
One of Luz Beatriz’s passions is arepas, those little patties made of corn flour or ground corn that are the backbone of the Colombian diet (Abasto gets creative and makes them with other vegetables). In fact, her passion for the bread of Colombia led her to take her arepa recipes to Madrid Fusion, Madrid’s prestigious gastronomic festival.
Some ingredients don’t come from that close to Bogota – for instance, it’s obvious that octopus can’t be found in the high plains of Bogota, but it can come from Colombian coastal waters; and in Abasto, that’s where it’s from.
Check out the webpage to see the different fruits and vegetables used in Abasto. Chonto tomatoes made with native seeds. Gulupa. Granadilla. Cubios. Ají wai-ya. Macadamia from the coffee growing region of Colombia. Marañón (cashew) from Tolima. Homemade marmalades and organic honey. Their homemade breads are brought over from the Usaquén store: rye, quinoa, or squash breads, scones and muffins. Their organic coffee comes from small farms, and is roasted in the Abasto Bodega in Usaquen.
They use a variety of Colombian cheeses in their dishes: queso paipa, cuajada de Choachí, queso costeño, siete cueros del llano and campesino de cabra. Breakfast is one of my favorite times at Abasto, with an array of arepas (guajira, mote, egg, quinoa, purple corn) and some of the best pancakes I’ve had in South America.
Abasto recently opened up a new version of itself in Quinta Camacho, Bogota. I was invited to the launch, and curious about Luz Beatriz’s new project, I joined the chefs, food writers, editors of food magazines, bloggers and other supporters of Abasto to check out the new place.
This Abasto is right on the corner of Carrera 9 in Quinta Camacho, Bogota. Just a few blocks to the west of Zona G, which has long the main focus of the gastronomic scene in Bogota (guess what the G stands for), Quinta Camacho is the natural extension of the G Zone. The area is filled with English-style houses; a neighborhood that entrances with its Old World feel, restaurants with gardens out front, and parks that run through the middle of the streets.
Abasto Quinta Camacho resides in a large two-story house from the 1950s. Downstairs, the kitchen houses a Josper oven, which is a mix somewhere between an oven and a charcoal grill, and makes a very tender product.
At the launch, we ate:
Grilled hearts of palm with lemon and olive oil: grilling them brings out a nutty taste.
A creamy arroz caldoso, something similar to a risotto, with shrimp and a spot of avocado.
Empanadas filled with papa criollo and hogao with lulo aji. Does that sound like Greek to you? These are flavors that you just have to come to Bogota to try.
Sausage sandwich with chimichurri on homemade bread.
Grilled octopus with tomato veggies and a touch of ginger.
Chontadura empanadas with cubio. Frankly, when they told me what this was, I did not want to eat it. I’ve had chontadura on the streets of Bogota, and it hasn’t been a pleasant experience – a bland, flavorless mass of orange. And improperly cooked cubios are a grey, slimy mass of root vegetable. BUT don’t get discouraged – these empanadas were wonderful, crispy on the outside and flavorful on the inside. The cubio sauce was tangy and refreshing.
Appetizers from COP$11,000 to COP $15,000**
Main dishes from COP$18,000 to $35,000
Calle 69A # 9-09, Quinta Camacho, Bogota
** COP means that the prices are in Colombian pesos, not that there are Colombian meal police watching what you eat.**
Steve Collins, a travel writer and broadcaster from Australia, has the interesting job of interviewing people from around the world that are involved in the art and business of travel.
Steve recently interviewed me for Radio Roaming to discover why Bogota is such a great destination for travelers. We discussed a little bit of everything about Bogota, from food to bicycles to pre-Columbian art.
Here are some of the topics we covered:
Do you need to know Spanish to have a good time in Bogota?
Are Colombians helpful to tourists visiting the country?
Is there a need to acclimatize to the high altitude in Bogota?
What the future holds for tourism in Colombia.
I also shared some tips on how to survive Bogota traffic.
Art and culture
How to get a taste of pre-Columbian art and history in Bogota.
How to take advantage of Bogota’s ciclovia (bike routes that stretch throughout the city).
What are the most outstanding foods to taste in Bogota?
What areas of Bogota are the best for finding exceptional restaurants?