Surrounded by soaring peaks, Colombia’s second-largest city was once only known as the stronghold of Pablo Escobar. But over the course of two decades, Medellín has transformed into a thriving metropolis with a vibrant food scene. Here are nine restaurants that characterize that city’s rich diversity.
Make sure you work up an appetite before visiting either of the two Mondongo’s 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 grab a seat.
For a more wholesome lunch option, El Herbario is a trendy eatery that puts an emphasis on well-executed vegetable-based dishes. These include 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. The restaurant’s ambience also includes live guitar music.
Gastronomes will surely find a visit to the accomplished Carmen – run by an American-Colombian couple, both of whom trained at the prestigious Cordon Bleu – an unforgettable treat. 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 walls that give a unique sense of serenity far removed from the urban bustle.
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 tablecloths where diners can sit and look out onto 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.
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 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. These include artichoke-stuffed prawns, macaroons with champagne jelly and decadent rose petals with which to wipe your hands after eating.
Situated in a thatched house, Amelia is utterly beguiling. Its quaint décor comprises a mosaic-tiled floor and intriguing religious imagery brandished across the walls. The restaurant offers a Swiss-inspired 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, which is 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.
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 emphasis on seafood. Its squid ink risotto and lobster fettuccine are two stellar choices. Dessert is equally alluring, with a melt-in-the-mouth passionfruit 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.
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, cinema, live funk, jazz and salsa music, and experimental art exhibitions.
If you have an appetite for vertiginous views, head to Café Colombo, located on the 10th floor of the Centro Colombo 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.