Surrounded by soaring peaks, Colombia’s second largest city Medellín was once only known as the stronghold of Pablo Escobar. But over the course of two decades, the city has transformed into a thriving metropolis boasting a vibrant food scene. With year-round al fresco dining a tempting option, the city boasts a fine array of eateries. Here are ten restaurants that characterize that city’s rich diversity.
Make sure you work up an appetite before visiting either of the two Mondongos in Medellín, each of them offering generous portions of authentic Colombian cuisine and attracting a lively crowd of local diners. Meat eaters should sample the house specialty of sopa de mondongo, a hearty tripe soup served with avocado, fried giant plantain, lemon and arepas – a Colombian corn cake. For the best experience, come for Sunday lunch when the restaurant is full of high-spirited Colombians and the atmosphere is electric. Queues can often be out of the door so make sure you come early to bag a seat.
Calle 10 # 38-38, Medellín, Colombia, +5 74 3122346
For a more wholesome lunch option, El Herbario is a trendy eatery that puts an emphasis on well executed, vegetable based dishes: nourishing grilled legumes with goat’s cheese, generous green salads and flavorful soups each scattered with a good fistful of fresh herbs. Those wanting something a little more substantial will find an extensive selection of seafood and fish dishes. Set in a spacious warehouse-like hall, the décor is cutting-edge and contemporary with high ceilings, wooden seating and metallic trimmings. The floor-to-ceiling wine wall is stocked with a superb selection of wines. The restaurant’s ambience also includes live guitar music.
Carrera 43D #10-30, Medellín, Colombia, +5 74 311 2537
Gastronomes will surely find a visit to the accomplished Carmen an unforgettable treat. Run by an American-Colombian couple who both trained at the prestigious Cordon-Bleu, the menu melds Colombian flavors with a strong Californian influence. Diners have various eating areas to choose from. The elegant dining room overlooks an open kitchen and is full of light with floor-to-ceiling windows and a 1950s retro ambience. On a warm day, head to the conservatory that leads out to a luscious garden. Here, guests occupy lounge seating and sip heady cocktails amid tropical plants and ivy covered walling that achieve a unique sense of serenity far removed from the urban hustle-bustle.
Dir. Cra 36, # 10A-27, Medellín, Colombia, + 5 74 311 9625
Surrounded by lush greenery in the heart of Medellín’s botanic gardens, In Situ reigns supreme for the city’s most aesthetically attractive eatery. Housed in a modern and minimalist villa, all white concrete and glass paneling, the restaurant’s interior gleams with polished wine glasses and starched white table spreads where diners can sit and look onto a view of the gardens. The menu offers a broad array of dishes that give a modern twist to classic Colombian flavors with specialties including salmon tartare, racks of smoked pork, and pesto-stuffed chicken.
Calle 73 # 51-14, Medellín, Colombia, +5 74 320 85 07
Adventurous foodies will find a feast for all the senses at El Cielo, run by chef Juan Manuel Barrientos who has taken his native city by storm with his experimental kitchen creations based on molecular cuisine. The imaginative menu features local ingredients prepared with technical complexity and creative innovation. Think frozen mists of herbs and jars of liquid nitrogen. Under a glass ceiling, diners tuck into an elaborate 11 or 20 course tasting menu divided into sensory ‘moments’. Some no bigger than a single bite but each are a joy to swallow. These include artichoke-stuffed prawns, macaroons with champagne jelly, and decadent rose petals with which to wipe your hands after eating.
Carrera 40 # 10A 22, Poblado, Medellín, Colombia, +5 74 268 3002
Situated in a thatched roof house, there is something utterly beguiling about Amelia with its quaint décor comprising a mosaic-tiled floor, wooden beams and cupboards, and intriguing religious imagery brandished across the walls. The restaurant offers a Swiss themed menu on which the fondue and crêpes are the main draws. Come with a group of friends to share el fondue mixto: a decadent ensemble of rich melted cheese and chunks of charcuterie, to be washed down with a bottle of red wine. Follow this with an indulgent sweet crêpe topped with chocolate sauce, vanilla ice-cream, and a zesty berry sauce.
Calle 10 b # 36-23, Medellín, Colombia, + 5 74 311 3951
With a menu offering a winning combination of Italian and French inspired cuisine, La Provincia dishes up generous portions of flavorsome fare with a particular talent for seafood. Its squid ink risotto and lobster fettuccini are two stellar choices. Dessert is equally as alluring, with a melt-in-the-mouth passion fruit crème brulée topping the bill. The surroundings are warm and tasteful with a dining room featuring red-painted walls, wooden flooring, and French windows that lead out to an intimate al fresco terrace hedged by huge potted plants. With a buzzing ambience and amiable service, it’s the perfect place to dine out in style in the trendy El Poblado neighborhood.
Calle 4 sur # 43A-179, Medellín, Colombia, +5 74 311 9630
Super swanky Mystique enjoys a prestigious status for its refined international cuisine, presided over by lauded lawyer-turned-chef Juan Pablo Valencia. The stylish interior is a treat, with its patterned wallpaper and moody lighting. There are also two chefs’ tables up for grabs, where guests can enjoy views of the culinary magic being whipped up behind the scenes. Its two menus provide a combination of regional and international cuisine. Start with the flavor-packed fish ceviche and move onto a main course of superbly crafted lobster ravioli. Wine connoisseurs can also enjoy the impressive selection of vintages and champagnes.
Carrera 33 No. 7-55 El Poblado, Medellín, Colombia, +5 74 311 82 21
For the best pizza in town, head to the trendy Café Zorba outfitted with exposed brick, tufted leather couches and low, bare bulb lighting that attracts a young, bohemian crowd. Located in a leafy park in the El Poblado district, Zorba offers a variety of treats with its menu full of warming home-cooking, delicious smoothies, cakes and pastries. It’s also a great place for a culture kick, as the café supports local artistic talent through an eclectic program of fringe theatre and cinema productions, live funk, jazz and salsa music and experimental art exhibitions.
Calle 8, 42-33, El Poblado, Medellín, Colombia, +5 74 580 4600
Located within Medellín’s Museum of Modern Art, soulful Bonuar stands out for its Cajun-Creole cuisine that takes inspiration from the zingy flavors of the Colombian coast, the West Indies, New Orleans and northeastern Brazil. Its dining area combines classic French bistro with Creole quirks: geometric patterned mosaics, tall bar stools and stained-glass windows. Whether you come for a morning brunch or an evening cocktail, the place always has a buzz about it, particularly when the jazz bands start up for a night of heady rhythm and blues.
Medellín, Colombia, +5 74 235 3577
If you have an appetite for vertiginous views, head to the Café Colombo, located on the 10th floor of the Centro Colombio Americano building in Downtown Medellín. In a minimalist setting, this high-flying bistro serves brunch, light lunch, and dinner options along with the fantastic panoramas over the sprawling city below and the outstretching mountains beyond it. The set menu changes on a weekly basis and incorporates a medley of international dishes, including crêpes, pasta, succulent steaks and fresh fish dishes. Its outdoor terrace is a fantastic place to sit and watch the sun go down.
Café Colombo, Carrera 45, Medellín, Colombia, +5 74 204 0404
By Zoe McIntyre