Best Italian Restaurants in Medellín

Caciucco napoletano
Spaghetti mare e monti (source: Il Massimo)
Spaghetti mare e monti (source: Il Massimo)

Writer’s note: This is the third story in a monthly series on the “best of” Medellín and the surrounding area. To read the second story, click here

This post was updated on Aug. 28, 2013. 

The criticism left no doubt about their feelings.

Il Forno, two readers insisted, does not serve good Italian food.

Catalina: Have to disagree. Il Forno is terrible. Most of the dishes smell like vomit. I’m going to assume you are British. And by the way they have at least 7 locations in Medellin.

Alexander: I prefer real Italian food. In Medellin I definitely recommend Opera (Calle 42, 70-22, Medellin, Colombia )

I responded politely to both and got a good chuckle out of the first one, which, maybe, deserved a response more like this:

No, the dishes don’t smell like vomit; that’s hyperbole. And no, I’m not British; I’m from Hawaii.

Another reader left a comment in support of Il Forno, so I didn’t feel like a total idiot.

Doug: I’ll put in a good word for Il Forno, I love it too. Great (super economical) place to go get a bite to eat. 

Maybe I’m not as discriminating as Catalina. Maybe I’m just too nice sometimes. But I never said Il Forno was the best Italian food ever, just that it is pretty decent and you can’t complain about the price.

That said, Il Forno did not make the list of the best Italian restaurants in Medellín. The places that did were a mix of pricey and economical, but none of them disappointed. Here they are…

1. Il Massimo

I saw Il Massimo one day when I was walking around in Laureles, because I like to walk around in Laureles.

The owner, Massimo, happened to be sitting outside so we talked for a little bit. I found out he is from Napoli, Italy, and he opened the restaurant almost a year ago. I told him I’d come by sometime to try the food. I waited until my sister came to visit because I had a feeling the food would be delicious.

It is.

Jen got the scampi massimo, a shrimp scampi that came with linguini for 35,000 pesos (about $20). It was tasty, from what I could tell after taking a bite. But I could eat only one bite because I had to save room for my huge entree.

I had the caciucco napoletano, a stew with shrimp, scallops, mussels, calamari, sea bass and lobster. The bowl had a cover — of baked bread. The waiter cut the top open for me, to reveal the meal.

The seafood was bathing in pomodoro, a tomato-based broth, and it was full of flavor. I broke pieces of the bread cover from time to time and dipped them in the stew before putting them in my mouth. I couldn’t finish all the bread but I finished all of the stew. For 45,000 pesos (about $25), I hoped it would live up to the hype and it exceeded my expectations.

The food is just one part of a great overall dining experience at Il Massimo.

The atmosphere was amazing too, with art on the walls and big front windows, and the service was superb. Massimo came by not only my table, but everyone’s tables to chat with them. I love when restaurant owners or head chefs do that.

He later sent us a dessert on the house, the panna cotta, kind of like flan, except it was white, had more of a creamy taste instead of a custard taste, and it came with raspberries on top. I was already full, but it was really good.

I have only one regret.

My friend Giuseppe — who’s from Napoli, but was working in Colombia for six months — came to visit me this past summer in Medellín after we met in Bogotá. I had yet to find out about Il Massimo so I couldn’t bring him there.

He would have liked it.

2. Restaurante Toscano Trattoria e Pizzeria Pomo d’oro

The cannelloni here is different. Good different.

Normally the popular pasta wraps stuffed with anything from cheese to chicken to vegetables (or all three) comes in some kind of a tomato sauce. Not at Pomo d’oro.

I was pleasantly surprised to get my cannelloni de pollo con vegetales (cannelloni with chicken and vegetables) in a light alfredo sauce, topped with just enough mozzarella cheese to make the two wraps a filling lunch. The three pieces of garlic bread on the side helped do that too.

I paid 15,000 pesos (about $8.25) and wished only that my cannelloni had a little spinach accompanying the onions and red peppers. Not to worry, though. You can build a combination cannelloni of your choosing, and it costs only 2,000 pesos (about a $1) more.

Truth be told, I almost didn’t stop here. I had passed it a couple of times, noticed the sign and wondered about the place. I liked the look of it. A tiny hole-in-the-wall. I favor those restaurants.

I stepped inside to find contemporary art on the walls, for sale. The painting next to my table featured wine bottles with partially filled glasses in front of them, and the colors were beautiful. I suppose they had better be in a painting that costs more than 1 million pesos (more than $550).

Thank goodness I can afford to eat the food. I love it.

I love the pizza, and everything else, at Toscano.
I love the pizza, and everything else, at Toscano Trattoria e Pizzeria.

3. Il Castello Restaurante Toscano Trattoria e Pizzeria, Calle 8A #34-20, Parque Lleras

My friends and I stumbled upon this place after failing to find Naan, an Indian restaurant I wanted to try that Dave later reviewed.

No worries, though, because Restaurante Toscano offered great food at a great price. I was surprised, not with the quality of the food because the place is very nice, but with the price. It’s just up the hill from the popular Parque Lleras.

I was in the mood for lasagna, and my friends ordered dishes ranging from pasta to salad, everything in the range of 15,000 pesos (about $8.25) to 25,000 pesos (about $14), and everyone was satisfied.

Like at Il Massimo, the owner here stopped by the table to make sure we enjoyed ourselves. We let him know how much we did and he told us to come back soon.

We haven’t yet, and it’s been six months. Shame on us.

4. Pomo d’oro Il Castello, Carrera 40 #10A-14, Parque Lleras

The fancy cars parked outside suggested I’d get a good meal here, the ambience supported that, the food proved it.

The restaurant is apparently quite the mainstay in Medellín, a place that’s been here 13 years and, after eating here, I’m certain it will be around at least 13 more.

I had the le penne marinera, a dish that mixed the sauce and pasta named in the title. The best part: not only did the sauce have shrimp, but octopus too. I love octopus!

Everything was cooked perfectly, the shrimp and octopus soft, not chewy, the marinara sauce with the perfect blend of spices, enough for the flavor to make fireworks in your mouth, not to overwhelm you like dynamite.

I paid 36,900 (about $20).

My friend Dusty had the ternera a la milanesa, something I ate a couple of times when I was in Argentina. I apparently never ate at the right place. Dusty let me try a piece of his and it was far superior to anything I had farther south. It came with penne, like my dish, in a delicious carbonara sauce.

It cost less than my dish, 27,000 pesos (about $15), but I liked it better.

I’ll have that next time.

I can't wait to have the veal marsala again.
I can’t wait to have the veal marsala again.

5. Opera Pizza El Graspo de Uva

I would have liked to have kept Opera Pizza in the Top 5, but El Graspo de Uva changed my mind.

El Graspo has better pizza, the staple of Opera, and better everything else. I really enjoyed the veal marsala. Cooked right, perfect blend of sauce and spices, I understand why it cost 39,000 pesos (about $21), the most expensive meal on the menu.

The only downside is it’s not easy to find. It’s down Calle 9, down the hill from Parque Poblado, and most people don’t notice it because it’s in a small white building covered in vegetation. But maybe this post will help. At least I hope it does, for your sake.

What’s your pick for the best Italian restaurant in Medellin?

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  1. I disagree about this top 5. In my humble opinion I consider the best as follows: 1. Crispino; 2. Palazzeto de Italia; 3. Podestá. 4. Opera. 5. Il Forno or whatever you want.
    The reason? Because at Crispino and Palazzeto, the pasta is home made. And they are really traditional recipes.

    • Thanks for sharing your suggestions. I haven’t eaten at most of the places you mention, but have some of my own preferences, including Romero Cocina Artesenal and Lucia at the Charlee Hotel.

  2. Il Forno definitely not one of my favorites. I think their pizza is just awful. In their defense they just changed their menu recently and has a few decent items.

    • I ate at Il Forno in Parque Llaureles last weekend. Both of our pastas were very good. The meats (chicken, pork) had a mushy texture like they been cooked, frozen, and microwaved – very bad.

  3. Hello, my name is Monica and I’m interested in throwing a 50th birthday party on May 1, 2015 for about 20 people, I will like to know what is the choice of menu, prices and prices on drinks.
    Cakes?, etc.

    I appreciate it very much if you can reply as soon as possible.