We are falling into December, the best month of the year in Medellín, a time when friends and family gather to celebrate the holidays.
That means lots of parties, whether it be building a fire in the middle of the street where you cook a huge pot of sancocho, going out to the bars and clubs, or having a nice dinner at one of the city’s many restaurants.
I wrote about the best bars and clubs last year, a post I’ve since revised to do my best to ensure everything is up to date for your holiday fun this year.
The post you’re reading about right now focuses on cafes and restaurants. But not just any cafes and restaurants, the places that are not easily found or seen but places you absolutely must try. These spots are usually good for a date too.
There are some rules to qualify for my Top 10, though:
- It cannot be in Trip Advisor’s Top 50 at the time I write this.
- It cannot be in or next to a major hotel, shopping center or tourist attraction.
- It cannot be visible from a major thoroughfare. Think Avenida Nutibara or Avenida Poblado, Calle 10 or Carrera 80, Las Palmas or La 70.
- It cannot be in the general vicinity of Parque Lleras or La Milla de Oro in Poblado — the two trendiest areas of the city — or in the Zona Gastronómica in Envigado — an area full of great restaurants that is rapidly growing in popularity.
- It cannot be in a dangerous neighborhood. Not saying there’s anything wrong with a restaurant in a rough area — I’ve eaten at a handful of them and I’ve enjoyed most of them. I just don’t want the blame or the guilt if someone were to go somewhere I recommend and then something bad happens.
- It must be the only location. No chains, no franchises, no matter if there is only one other restaurant and that location is in a different city.
So we clear on the rules? Good.
Here’s the Top 10, Letterman style…
10. El Graspo de Uva, Calle 9, #43B-55, Poblado
This Italian place is not the easiest to find because it’s not near Parque Lleras. It’s not far either, but far enough, and in an area remote enough, that this is not the restaurant many people think of when they want to eat Italian food.
Maybe they should. It’s really good.
Almost anyone who tries it would probably agree.
9. Ernesto’s Taco Shop, Calle 43A #32 sur-15, Envigado
Salud Pan used to be No. 9, but they’re not hidden, not with how full they are everyday, even though they meet all the criteria I mentioned above.
Instead I’m going tell you about Ernesto’s Taco Shop, a place I went recently and to which I would like to return.
I could go into more detail here, but you can find out more in this story, in which I tell you about my favorite Mexican restaurants in Medellín.
Ernesto’s is a new addition to that list too.
8. Pomo d’Oro, Calle 42 #71-24, Laureles
Like El Graspo de Uva, it’s a hidden Italian place, only located in Laureles, and it’s easy to feel comfortable here.
It’s got an artsy feel to it, with paintings for sale on the walls, and a bookshelf full of literature.
The pizza, with homemade bread a little different from Italian and New York-style pizza, is a welcome deviation, something you won’t find in most places.
I should come here someday to get some work done. It’s like being in a nice café.
7. Cafe Zeppelin, Transversal 39 #76-12, Laureles
Every now and then I feel like working at a cafe, having a coffee as I type away.
This is one of the places I go.
I love the tinto and brownie con helado (black coffee and brownie topped with ice cream) for 5,500 pesos, and that on Monday nights they show a free foreign film in the big courtyard at the back of the place.
The sandwiches are good too, but a little pricey, and last I ate there, they didn’t come with chips or fries.
That might change someday, if enough people make a suggestion. If it doesn’t it’s still a great place.
6. Mahalo Action Sports Café, Calle 36D sur #23-70, Envigado
I say the same thing about this place: only distance keeps me away. It’s all the way up in the hills of eastern Envigado, in Loma del Escodero.
Once I get there, though, I’m happy I went. I ended up deciding it is my favorite sports bar in the Medellin metropolitan area.
The surf décor reminds me of a beach bar in Hawaii, something with which I’m a little familiar, and the food is exactly what I want when I’m watching a game.
Maybe I’ll make it a New Years Resolution to spend more time there.
5. Java Bean Cafe, Carrera 80 #32EE-41, Belén
So we’ve arrived in the Top 5 and I want to tell you about a new place, a place where you can buy some of the best desserts you’ll ever have, and we’re entering a big holiday month here in Medellín so you have to know about Java Bean Café.
The couple that opened it is from Miami, Jesse a native Floridian and the son of Ecuadorian parents, Vanessa a descendent of paisas who has spent most of her life between Florida and New York.
You know you’ll be having family dinners during this festive month so don’t forget the sweets.
I recommend the flan.
4. La Bodeguita Havanera, Transversal 39 #75-10, Laureles
My original post about La Bodeguita Havanera made clear my love for Cuban food so I don’t think it’s a surprise that this place is on the list.
It’s easy to miss this place because the restaurants in the area that get the most attention are on Circular 74B, just west of Avenida Nutibara, or on the Nutibara itself. But walk north on Transversal 39, past the Parque Laureles on the roundabout, and you’ll find all kinds of great places.
La Bodeguita is the best of them.
3. Sushi House, Calle 35 #80A-09, Laureles
This is the only place I’ll eat sushi in Medellin. It’s the best.
Dave and I disagreed in a story we did earlier this year, but I recently found some support.
I met three travelers, one of them a sushi aficionado who definitely knows about raw fish after living all her life in the trendy restaurant hub of Washington, DC.
She loved Sushi House.
And if you want dessert when you’re done, Java Bean Cafe, No. 5 on this list, is just a couple of blocks away.
2. Buena Mar, Carrera 48 #85-198, Itagui
Consider this an introduction to the restaurant with the best seafood in all of Colombia. A much more detailed story is coming soon, that’s how amazing this place is.
I have been to both of Colombia’s coasts and eaten seafood caught that day, everything from fish to lobster to oysters, but Buena Mar tops all of it.
A friend brought me. The restaurant is on a little side street, about a block north of the Plaza Mayorista farmers market, and it’s hard to tell there’s a restaurant upstairs because downstairs it is a seafood market, so thank you, Mariano, because I never would have found it without you.
As I ate the cazuela de mariscos, I got goose bumps. That’s how good this seafood soup was.
Then I had my main course, a plate with fish (although I can’t remember what kind), coconut rice, patacones and a big salad. I couldn’t finish it all, but I enjoyed the rest for dinner the next day.
I can’t wait to go back.
1. Uchuva Lounge, Corregimiento de Santa Elena, Vereda el Placer
You can’t be more hidden than Uchuva Lounge, and I’d argue that you can’t top the quality of the food either.
I have never fallen in love with a restaurant like I have with this little place along the road that takes you from Parque Arvi to Santa Elena, a good reason to get on the blue bus that heads south instead of getting back on the Metrocable and going straight back to the city.
You enter a charming countryside home and walk down the stairs to an indoor dining area with art all over the walls and various literature available for your pleasure as you await your food.
I wouldn’t sit inside, though.
The patio outside has a gorgeous view of the green space dotted with a random home here and there, and if you’re there at sunset it’s a real treat.
Ok, finally, I can talk about the food.
It’s kind of a French/Italian fusion, I guess. I don’t know how to really describe it, other than to say it’s some of the most delicious cuisine I’ve had in my life. Prices are great too: you won’t spend more than 23,000 pesos (about $12) for an entrée.
I recommend the solomito de siete sabores, or seven-flavor tenderloin, which comes with real mashed potatoes, a rarity in Colombia.
If you prefer white meat, get the chicken. It’s topped with a chutney made from uchuva, a tangy, tiny orange fruit that flourishes in Colombia and gives the restaurant its name.
I’m getting hungry just thinking about it. I gotta go. I think I’m gonna take the Metrocable to Parque Arvi.