New and varied flavors are unavoidable in Bogotá, Colombia’s largest city, nestled high in the Andean mountains. The minute you touch down at El Dorado Airport, you can smell the sweet scent of toasting cheese arepas as it wafts through the air. And yet, even at the most bare-bones airport café, your average, everyday cheese is often nowhere in sight. Instead, many arepas feature drops of delicious fluffy sour milk cheese worked right into the dough, transforming each bite into a flavorful experience reminiscent of tangy yogurt and fresh limes.
Visitors to Bogotá quickly discover that there is a learning curve when it comes to eating in the city. Thanks to the stable high-altitude climate, which averages 57 degrees Fahrenheit, the city boasts an abundance of locally grown produce that is available throughout the year. Its proximity to the Amazon rainforest also gives it access to exquisite produce that is near impossible to find outside of Colombia. From citrusy maracuyá fruits and tangy limon mandarinas to curled cubious roots and up to 20 varieties of passion fruit, Bogota provides a gourmet sensory overload guaranteed to delight even the most seasoned foodie-traveler.
Once you consider this abundance of rare, local ingredients, it’s easy to see why many of South America’s best chefs are choosing to open restaurants here. Among them, Sergio Meza from Mexico and Nicolas Lopez from Argentina moved to Bogotá to open Villanos en Bermudas in 2016. Only a year after opening, the produce-driven restaurant has already snagged a spot on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list.
“The fruit in Bogotá is outrageous. It is so amazing and versatile, and the stuff from the Amazon region is also some of the coolest produce I’ve ever seen,” says Sergio Meza. “The other best part about cooking in Bogotá is that young chefs want to support each other.”
Bogotá is quickly becoming a playground for many of South America’s most promising young chefs. The resulting culinary community has begun to rival the likes of Lima, Brazil, and the rest of the world. Here, the most exciting restaurants and markets making Bogota an irresistible dining destination.
When it comes to understanding Colombian ingredients, Paloquemao is ground zero. Start with a tamal, a hearty breakfast dish made from corn flour, chickpeas, chicken, pork belly, and egg wrapped and steamed in a plantain leaf that imbues the meat with addictive, custardy flavor. First-time visitors are almost guaranteed to get lost among the market’s mountains of lulo fruits that look like stuffed Roma tomatoes, syrupy granadillas, and fleshy Hall avocados the size of small footballs. The best advice may be to do as the local chefs do and come equipped with a small paring knife. That way, you can cut, peel, and taste anything that catches your eye.
The tasting menu at Leo is a fearless exploration through the mountains, deserts, seas, mangrove forests, and rivers of Colombia. Expect a crash course in indigenous Colombian ingredients including lemongrass-scented rainforest ants, delicate wild rodent meat, smoked rabbit, velvety cacay nut milk, and tallo leaves garnished with crunchy
Andean tuber salt.
Critically acclaimed Colombian chef Leonor Espinosa runs Leo with her daughter Laura Hernandez-Espinosa, who is the restaurant’s knowledgeable sommelier. The memorable wine pairings, which include guava wine, wine made from tart corozo fruit, and coca wine produced with Colombian coca leaves, should not be missed.
Villanos en Bermudas Cl. 56 #5-21
Tucked away in Bogotá’s quietly trendy Chapinero neighborhood, head chefs Sergio Meza and Nicolas Lopez create daily tasting menus that serve as unconventional odes to the city’s best ingredients. Simple and understated dishes like fried chicken skin with thinly sliced pear and chilis are served alongside tender langoustines with spicy banana broth, black garlic butter, and chocolate avocado mousse.
Inside, Meza and Lopez have made sure every detail is delightful. The meat locker features a spinning disco ball and rainbow lights. Even the bathroom is a sight to behold, with walls made entirely of shattered mirrors and glass.
RPM Records Cra. 14 #83-4
Getting coffee at RPM Records feels like hanging out in your best friend’s living room, if only Colombia’s finest musical talent also happened to hang out there. The cozy café-and-record-store hybrid hosts weekly listening sessions, album release parties, lectures, book readings, and live shows, making it among the most lively cultural venues in the city. They serve coffee from Catación Pública, a café and roaster in Northern Bogotá that specializes in organic and fair-trade coffees from Colombia’s lesser-known growing regions. At the front of the shop, a selection of vintage Colombian pins and patches make great souvenirs.
La Escuela Restaurante Calle 9 #8-71
When in Bogotá, it should be a legal requirement to try ajiaco, the capital city’s famous chicken-and-potato soup served with avocado. The rich and satisfying ajiaco at La Escuela Restaurante is made with purple, fuchsia, and red potatoes from 60 Nativas, an eatery with a menu that boasts 60 different types of colorful native potatoes. The restaurant is housed in Bogotá’s picturesque La Candelaria district where narrow cobblestone streets run into historic Colonial Spanish architecture and electrifying graffiti murals.
Restaurante El Portico Km 19 North Highway
On any given Sunday, the sprawling, multiroom Restaurante El Portico is filled with families enjoying tender grilled steaks and seafood prepared table-side on the restaurant’s sizzling indoor grill. Don’t miss an order of chicharron (fried pork belly), and brevas con arequipe for dessert. The sweet-and-sour delicacy features preserved figs garnished with generous dollops of dulce de leche. Afterwards, a hacienda-era church and stables hidden behind the main dining room provide plenty to explore.
Misia by Leo Espinosa Transversal 6 #27-50 and Avenida carrera 7 #67-39, Edificio Oxo
It’s near-impossible to resist the baskets of arepas and carimañolas (empanada-like patties made with yucca flour), as they are carried out from behind the open kitchen to the dining room at both Misia locations. The casual and sunny eateries feature home-style Colombian dishes and an expansive juice menu with over 20 varieties of Colombian fruits pressed fresh to order.