UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2005, Popayán, capital of the Cauca region in Colombia, is full of intriguing culinary specialties. Top-notch restaurants are supplemented by street vendors and hole-in-the-wall diners offering fresh juices and regional specialties, from corn tamales to empanadas de Pipián. We list 10 of the best eats here.
Situated slap-bang in the center of town, La Cosecha Parrillada can be counted on to curb all your meat-eating urges. Huge beef cuts are cooked on an open-air grill before being served to diners spread about red-checkered tables waited on by staff in smart white shirts and dickie bow ties. With both international and local eats on the menu, the place has an old-fashioned air and Club Colombia beer on tap, making it a reliably inviting dining option.
Overlooking Popayán’s public park, Balcón de los Santos will appeal to those who enjoy a good view with their evening meal. The interiors take on a typical Colombian charm, with their thick stonewalls painted white and red, shuttered windows and dark mahogany tables. The food is equally traditional and each dish given a religious epithet such as Pollo a la Magdenlena and La Lengua de Judas that eludes to the restaurant’s name, ‘Balcony of the Saints.’
Balcón de los Santos, Carrera 7 #5-06, Popayán, Colombia, +57 2 832 0050
Don’t leave town before sampling the local empanadas de Pipián; a speciality of Popayán that can be described as South America’s answer to the meat pasty, filled with potatoes and garnished with a delicious aji de mani, peanut salsa. La Fresa is not much more than a few plastic tables and some paper serviettes, but its addictive empanadas are locally renowned.
La Fresa, Calle 5 No. 8-89, Popayán, Colombia, +57 2 822 0696
This miniature-sized joint is one of the best places to try some of Popayán’s traditional bites, including champús, salpicón, and payanese. Dishes are served on tapas-sized small plates, and the fresh juices made with exotic local fruits are so thick you can drink them with a spoon. Attracting travelers from far and wide, Mora’s intimate, convivial feel means it’s easy to pass an indulgent afternoon here.
Mora de Castilla, Cl. 2 #4-44, Popayán, Cauca, Colombia, +57 2 824 1513
Prepare to rub shoulders with your fellow diners in this family-run grill, which is open all hours. Both locals and travelers swarm in for the generous portions of meaty fare prepared on a large barbecue in the dining room. Choose between 10 different cuts of beef as well as chicken, fish and a few salads. The set menu del día is economical and will definitely curb your appetite for a good few hours.
This legendary little pastry shop is run by veteran baker Doña Chepa who has been rolling dough and dolling out buns for some 70 years. Her namesake is synonymous with the finest of aplanchados, an oven-baked flat pastry and mandatory eat for anyone visiting town. Over the years, little has changed here neither in the method of the baking nor in the look of the place, and the magic of leaving filled with delicious sweets and a sense of nostalgia will be an unbeatable experience.
Doña Chepa, Calle 2 No. 4-46, Popayán, Cauca, Colombia, +57 2 824 0071
Swing through the saloon doors and you’ll find this colorful little nook to be a great place for flavorful Italian food, particularly its sizable pizzas. Dishes are often given a Colombian twist, but all the classics are there to enjoy, including lasagna, spaghetti and fresh bread. The welcoming Swiss owners make sure it’s always an inviting place to dine.