Between the Andes mountains and Colombian architect Rogelio Salmona’s bullring sits Bogotá barrio La Macarena. Ten years ago, this neighborhood was off limits, but now it’s saturated with bohemian charm and eclectic cuisine. La Macarena is the trailblazer of the foodie scene in Bogotá, a city quickly turning into one of South America’s leading foodie destinations. These ten restaurants display the delectable palate of barrio La Macarena.
This Italian mainstay exudes an intimate and romantic ambiance similar to a 1920s Parisian neighborhood filled with poets whittling their quills. The room is petite, the lights are dim and the decoration is eclectic. El Patio is the cornerstone of La Macarena; it was the first restaurant in the neighborhood to open its doors to culinary patrons. Fine red wines and classic Italian dishes like beef carpaccio, ravioli, lasagna and gnocchi make this restaurant a savory delight. For a simple pizza, Bella Italia offers a gourmet slice and is located a few steps away from El Patio. After living in Rome for 30 years, owner Edgar Alberto Mondragon brought back to Bogotá his love for wood-fired pizzas.
World traveler and food philosopher-turned-restaurant owner, chef Tatiana Navarro creates traditional Mexican cuisine with a contemporary twist. Agave Azul does not offer a printed menu, but instead a gastronomic discussion and journey between the chef and her discerning foodies. This five-table restaurant is accessed by reservation only and should not be booked on a hurried evening. Pepper is celebrated at Agave Azul and can be found in most of the culinary offerings. Acclaimed favorites are the jalapeño margarita, slow-cooked organic beef with spices and dried peppers atop passion fruit salsa, and the salmon ceviche marinated in habanera sauce.
The Dutch-Colombian owned Tapas Macarena showcases delicious imported Spanish cheeses, jamon hanging from windows and wall-to-wall racks of Spanish red wine. The seven-table restaurant sits on the most popular corner of La Macarena where Madrid style tapas overrun the street (the owners, Peter and Maria Hoogeveen also operate two more restaurants close by, La Taperia and Gaudi). Tapas Macarena offers a jovial atmosphere where life is celebrated through music, meat, cheese and wine. Menu suggestions range from montaditos, morcillas al chutney with a local uchuva dipping sauce, patatas a lo pobre – which is a sunny-side-up egg with Serrano ham, scallions and potatoes, and a carafe of homemade Sangria to go with anything.
The Spanish phrase en obra translates into English as ‘in development.’ This title perfectly suits the space it describes. The capacious room draws similarities to the beginning stages of a newly constructed building, with sleek concrete walls and a meticulous industrial design. The witty title also pays homage to the gentrification process La Macarena has recently undergone. The menu at En Obra is chock-full of Asian fusion dishes that can heat up the taste buds of any guest. The restaurant serves menu items from seafood soup, squid and halibut, to a palate-cleansing ginger mojito.
Known as chef Julian de Bedout’s first restaurant in Bogotá, La Gloria offers a combination of Belgian, French and Mediterranean cuisine with an emphasis on seafood. The converted house-turned-restaurant offers three different room styles from classical Parisian, to shabby chic, and al fresco dining. For those who enjoy outside terraces and live entertainment, La Gloria hosts weekly music and comedy events. The coveted menu items are Belgian-inspired langostinos mechados, which are butter sautéed prawns stuffed with bacon and asparagus, and calderetas de mejillones, a miniature cauldron overflowing with steamed mussels.
Bogotá Beer Company is a popular Colombian chain located throughout 12 select neighborhoods in Bogotá. La Macarena is one of these lucky neighborhoods. BBC micro-brews are made from imported malted barley and hops that get mixed with Bogotá’s purified water. The varieties of beer offered here begin with ale and end with stout. The beer is paired with menu items like specialty hamburgers, hot-dogs, onion rings and potato wedges. BBC is a favorite hangout for sports fans, touting decorations of large screen plasma TVs and sports photography. During soccer games, the restaurant turns into a roaring sea of yellow, gold and blue.
Azimos is La Macarena’s dog-friendly organic cafe that serves healthy food, offers free WiFi and displays local art installations. The tables are dressed in a ubiquitous red-and-white checkered picnic cloth and double as produce stands for an organic market on Saturdays and Sundays. Azimos sells many of their menu items individually, like eggs, cheese, coffee, pastries, bread, wine, and in-home baking goods and utensils. The intimate cafe is a great venue for a healthy breakfast or charcuterie lunch. For breakfast, the desayuno mix is popular and comes with orange juice, black tea, spinach scrambled eggs, bacon and a quinoa arepa. For lunch, the gourmet quiches and panini sandwiches are well represented, and for dessert the raspberry cheesecake or chocolate torte will satisfy any sweet tooth.
An eye-catching former Yugoslavian flag of red, blue and white flies outside Beograd, meanwhile inside the smells and flavors of Eastern Europe abound in the kitchen of Serbian chef Katarina Markovich. Her story is one of success. Markovich fled the war-torn city of Belgrade during the 1990 NATO bombings and arrived in Bogotá with her daughter, homeless and broke. She worked her way from the bottom-to-the-top of the restaurant scene, eventually saving enough money to open Beograd. Armed with secret recipes created by her Serbian grandmother, Markovich has made a business out of serving her country’s food to local Colombian clientele, tourists and the occasional Romanian royalty. Beograd favorites are Turkish coffee, karadjordje (beef fillet with ham and cheese), rabbit, goulash soup and vegetarian eggplant moussaka.
ChibChombia is adorned with patriotic Colombian decor and offers typical meals such as changua (milk broth with chives and an egg), arepa con huevo (fried egg inside a corn cake), caldo de costillo (broth with a short rib) and hot chocolate served with cheese and sweet bread. Soups and hot drinks are common in Bogotá as the city’s altitude climbs to a chilly 8,612 feet. Colombian artifacts line the walls of ChibChombia, while wool-woven tapestries lie on tables surrounded by exposed wooden beams and thick stucco walls, all encompassed by a traditional Spanish Colonial building.
The name says it all. La Jugueteria can pass for an international toy factory that serves grilled food and artisanal drinks. Located on the corner of La Macarena’s most popular street, this playfully themed restaurant is filled from floor-to-ceiling with carousels, dolls, trains, games and old Star Wars relics. The restaurant offers a unique dining room and bar experience popular for family meals and festive celebrations. The menu items are equally as playful, with names like Rag Doll (tenderloin ‘lomo’ meat wrapped in cloth and cooked over the fire, ‘al trapo’), Brave Piglet (pork tenderloin served with a balsamic blueberry and plum reduction), and cocktails that go by the names of Speedy Gonzalez and Chilindrina.