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.
I love their pizza and veal marsala. I don’t mind that I have to pay a little more when I eat here either.
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.
Do you mind commenting on the price of restaurant food in Medellin? I know its cheap to eat empanadas on the street, but in my experience restaurants in MDE are only marginally cheaper than that of a comparably-sized city in the USA.
Really? I find the mid to high-end restaurants to be a great bargain here in Medellin (and Colombia). You can eat at some of the city’s best restaurants for under $50/person (including tax and tip).
Go to lunch or dinner at El Cielo or Carmen to see what I mean. I’ve had tasting menus at both restaurants, dinners I’d expect to cost double or even triple what I paid here if I’d been in the USA.
Not trying to be disrespecful, just trying to get a grip on prices. But, $50 for mid priced restaurant, I would consider high.
i think you have a point esteban. i guess the best comparison would be chicago…second city, about the same size as medellin (although much larger when you add the suburbs). but i think it depends on where you go. there are good deals all over medellin. you just have to know where to find them
I have just been seeing prices for meals in Medellin and I think they are rising to almost 1st world prices. Medellin has 2 million people but 85% live in poverty. I guess its the tourism the brings the prices up.
I deleted my original response because I couldn’t get that 85% figure you quoted out of my head. I’m guessing you’re pulling that out of a hat?
According to this 2012 article on Colombia Reports, “With a poverty rate of 34.1% Colombia has approximately 15.2 million people living in poverty.”
As the Colombian economy continues to grow, so too does car ownership as well as disposable income. There’s a growing middle class, and I’m sure that’s part of why you may be seeing higher prices in the nicer restaurants of Poblado, Envigado and Laureles.
Grown in tourism and business travel is surely contributing as well, but go to any restaurant and you’re still going to see more Colombians than foreigners.
Colombia does still have an extreme rate of income inequality, so I can understand why it appears black and white. People here seen as either rich or poor, but I think to say that, you’re overlooking the entire middle class.
Step away from the Western-style and international restaurants, and you’ll still find plenty of “comida tipica” restaurants serving set lunches for as little as a few dollars. They’re in every neighborhood, regardless of strata.
Check out this visual map of the income stratas of Medellin by neighborhood and you’ll see Poblado is the only 6 (wealthiest), but if you include 4 and 5 (let’s call them middle class), that covers half the city’s area.
That map doesn’t tell the whole story. According to the Medellin government stats found in Perfil socioeconomica por comunas in 2011, 50% of Medellin’s population lives in Estrato 1 or 2 neighborhoods. While only 3.9% lives in Estrato 6 neighborhoods. They rank Estrato 3, 4 and 5 as Medio (Medium) and Estrato 6 as Alto (High) and Estrato 1 and 2 as Bajo (low). 46.4% of the population of Medellin lives in Estrato 3, 4, or 5 neighborhoods.
That 85% poverty number quoted by Esteban is completely wrong. According to poverty statistics from DANE, the national statistics agency, poverty in all of Colombia was 32.7% in 2012. Poverty in urban areas in Colombia was 28.4%. The departments (states) of Cundinamarca, Santander, Risaralda and Antioquia are the least afflicted by poverty, while Choco, Cauca, Cordoba, Magdalena and La Guajira had the worst poverty. Rural areas of Colombia are significantly poorer than urban areas. In 2011, Antioquia’s poverty rate was 29.3% – they didn’t break out a number for just Medellin but it should be lower than Antioquia state.
Thanks for chiming in Jeff. I was also talking to Adriaan at Colombia Reports about this to get a better grip on the breakdown. He noted, as I was thinking, that the wealthier take up more space than the poor, which explains the map of the stratas I referenced in a prior comment.
According to another CR article from last year, about the increasing middle class, the breakdown is:
3% = upper class
30% – middle class
31% = lower class
36% = below poverty line
So that puts 33% in the mid-to-upper class, or one third of the city’s population.
My point in bringing all this up is to say the growing middle class will help to drive up the cost of food in the nicer restaurants, along with the increase in tourism (and I suspect, business travel).
I justed called this place Pomo d’Oro, Calle 42 and they said they don’t have a movie night!
never said pomo d’oro has a movie night. i said zeppelin cafe does. read more carefully…
Perhaps the article might be better entitled, “Restaurants in Laureles!”
(BTW. I needed Sage for my Thanksgiving Stuffing and SaludPan was the only place in Medellin I could find American style Sage. They have quite a few number of items that can only be found in their store that I miss from the US. )
My top five “hidden restaurants:”
1. No Poblado or Laureles
2. Not mentioned previously
1. El Llanerito – Robledo…… $12.000COP for a plate of carne a la leña, yuca, papas. It is a fun place because it is in a horse stable and the horses are pranced right through the restaurant while you eat! (They also have locations on the way to Santa Fe de Antioquia, Guadalupe, Guatape and Rionegro)
2. Crunch BBQ – Sabaneta….problably around $20-30.000COP. BBQ is ok, but ambiance is nice.
3. Ernesto’s Tacos – Envigado…..$10.050 for 4 “street style tacos”….best tacos I have had in medellin.
4. Mayorista – Itagui – Picada de cerdo, morcilla y chorizo grilled up right in front of you……big serving for only $6.000COP you eat with a toothpick!! Friday, Saturday and Sunday only until 2PMish. Really fun place to visit, especially the Fruit Market. It is also where I buy my almonds and spices wholesale in bulk.
5. Mazza – la 80 — Better Italian without a doubt in Poblado y Laureles, I like it for lunch as the entire menu is 40% off before 6PM, much like the parque lleras restaurants……it is a bit slow, so if other people are there without food I leave! Cesar Salad with Chicken, Brushetta appetizer, Pepperoni Calzone $12,500COP
1. La llañera – Guatape — On the other side of the bridge leaving town towards San Rafael Great ribs. $20.000COP …Only open Sat, Sun and Festivos.
2. Caldo de Res – Jose Maria Cordova Airport – Last store/restaurant in the Domestic Flights Wing. I don’t remember the name and I can’t tell you about the rest of the food, but the Caldo de Res was excellent. Each time I fly VivaColombia domestically I have a bowl.
Thanks for sharing your favorites Gary. I’ll admit, I haven’t heard of any of the places you mentioned. I can already see Ryan heading to Ernesto’s Tacos as we type.
mazza was ok for me. maybe i should try it again.
i know crunch BBQ. not a big fan.
but i will try ernesto’s tacos, as dave said.
and laureles has lots of great places that qualify. i’ll probably rule them out next time around, because it’ll be too popular by then
I agree, Laureles has many good places, as does Poblado, that I do think would be considered “off the beaten path” for visitors, (basically anything outside of Trip Advisor and Parque Lleras) but probably not for those who live here.
However, Envigado has alot of good places that may qualify as “hidden” even for those who live here. There is the entire restaurant scene in the San Marcos Area, La Frontera/Sao Paulo area, The Container Complex on Las Vegas Ave. (Chef Burger, Italian and Mexican Restaurants (very good Enchiladas and they serve Horchata) and the new little area that just opened up before you get to San Marcos featuring a Classic American Diner, an Argentinian and American Steakhouse and a couple of bars/grills. I tried the T-Bone Steak and it was OK, nothing to write home about, but a fun place to go because of the setting.
I have been to Ernesto’s many times and I have never tried anything else but the “3 Amigos”……4 soft shell street style tacos…….I always ask for them like I used to get them in the states…….Carne de Res, Cilantro y Limon and Ernesto’s Greeen Hot Sauce……..I think you will like them. After trying them out, if you have eaten better tacos elsewhere in Medelin, PLEASE let me know, as I am a big fan of tacos and will head right over!
those places all sound great gary, and i will let you know if i find better tacos. thanks for the tips, as always 🙂
Well I realize that this thread is 3 years old but that is part of my comment. I co-owned a restuarant in Antioquia [Jerioco] from 2011–2015 and the inflation for food ingredient costs for our more expensive items such as chicken, beef, pork, cheese escalated 24% on average [not an exagerration] in less than two years 2013-2014. Even after the economy cooled the costs did not recede, not a penny. This coincided with declining sales as disponsable income declined as oil prices crashed and cafe [coffee] prices went flat and thus less income for the Colombian government to dole out jobs on new projects in regards to the oil situation. I punched out and left as the costs increase for many things in Colombia had removed much of the luster from when I found Colombia as an investment opportunity in 2011. But as the article above says, if you know some locals you can often find good cheap food but don’t expect any amentities like a decent bathroom, a solid chair or a nice ambiance….cheap always means the owners don’t care what it looks like in my general experience in Latin America. There are always exceptions of course. Not trying to offend but this is an important point in my experience in Colombia. Often any and I mean any type of restaurant that has decent ambiance and decent furnishing, decoration etc… the cost is always more even if the food is no better than anywhere nearby. There is a real opportunity for some entrepreneur to take note of this….nice ambiance, decent quality decorations, no insects, clean modern restrooms, etc. and rock solid attractive price on great quality meal. That is a rare combination in Colombia.