This post was updated on Dec. 8, 2013.
By now you might know that the United States qualified for the World Cup with its win over Mexico, and Floyd Mayweather easily outpointed Mexican star Saul “Canelo” Alvarez in one of boxing’s biggest fights this year.
I continued the trend of “Americans battling Mexicans” this week by finishing my version of Man vs (Mexican) Food to find out what Medellín restaurant serves the best south-of-the-border cuisine, which, if you’re reading this on Sept. 16, coincides with Independence Day in the big country known for its beautiful beaches, conquistadors and Mayan history.
As I tried different restaurants, I favored the places that reminded me of my favorite experiences with Mexican food:
1. Homemade pulled pork with beans, rice and salad during my tour to Chichen Itza to see the amazing Mayan temples, the only trip to Mexico I’ve ever made.
2. Homemade fajitas with beans, rice and salad at the home of a Mexican family in Reno, friends of one of my good friends.
3. Tortilleria La Rancherita. The tiny locale in Bonita Springs, Fla., in the city’s predominantly Latino neighborhood, is the best restaurant experience I’ve ever had for Mexican food, and the owners — a Massachusetts gringo who went to culinary school at Johnson & Wales and a Mexican woman who picked tomatoes when she first came to the states — have such a cute story about meeting at a Naples nightclub then falling in love and getting married.
4. El Conquistador. In the heart of Echo Park, one of Los Angeles’s biggest Latino communities, it serves the best chicken mole I’ve ever had.
So what do these places have in common?
They use family recipes, they stay true to the fact that Mexican food should be affordable (or free when you’re invited to someone’s house), and they give you a portion big enough to fill you up but make you want to come back for more at a future date.
Hard to say if the restaurants below use family recipes, but I know they use the right ingredients, mainly because I know how to prepare pretty good Mexican food myself.
So based on my culinary experiences, both cooking and dining, here they are, my Top 5 for the best Mexican food in Medellín, and as always, your feedback is welcome.
Editor’s Note: Sabor a Mexico is no longer in business. We’ll be replacing it in this post shortly.
Sabor A Mexico (Closed)
My friend Quinn reacted this way:
“It’s the best Mexican food I’ve had here, in Medellin.”
I didn’t agree with him at first, but after several trips back, and learning that the owner, Marcelo, is from Mexico, I bumped it up to No. 1, especially after doing more research and hearing that it is the only Mexican restaurant in Medellin owned by a Mexican.
We both ordered the combinacion mexicana, which came the choice of two items — taco, tamal, enchilada or burrito — as well as rice and beans, guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo.
I went with the taco and burrito, Quinn the taco and enchilada. The taco was a crunchy shell, which I don’t think is authentic, but it was still a good taco.
For just under 20,000 pesos (about $11) per plate, overall it was great. Quinn couldn’t finish his plate, maybe because complimentary tortilla chips came as a starter, with two great salsas, the spicy one the best.
We asked for more of the salsa, so we could put it on our entrees. It was a great touch.
There are three locations, the best one in Laureles.
This place has my favorite tacos, nachos and flautas in the city, and the burritos and quesadillas are damn good too, enough to stake a claim to the No. 2 spot, because aren’t those the staples of Mexican food?
But let’s talk about the nachos.
You get a bowl of chips, and then a bowl with a mix of cheese, black beans and guacamole. I’ve never had nachos like this and I’ve realized I like them better like this, better than having everything on top of the chips and having to rush to eat them before much of them get soggy.
Another great thing is the price. The nachos cost only 10,000 pesos (about $5.25), one of the most expensive things on the menu. If you want something smaller, get a taco. They’re only 4,000 pesos (about $2).
You can order some pretty decent hot sauce here too, a special treat because salsa picante with a kick is hard to find in Colombia, where spicy food is not popular.
At Orale!, you can get everything you want.
It’s definitely a great platter for sharing.
It’s definitely a hole in the wall, but it’s not as affordable as most, probably because it’s in the Sao Paulo Plaza at the Poblado/Envigado border, one of the city’s wealthiest enclaves.
The food is good, though, and you can make it somewhat affordable if you get one of the large platters intended for four people.
Our platter had enough chips, tacos, quesadillas, mini burritos and flautas to barely fill us up, even though there were only three of us, my old roommate Jorge and good friend Maria joining me.
But it was lunch, the biggest meal of the day in Colombia, so I suppose the platter would suffice for four at dinnertime, when people usually eat less.
I guess the only real complaint would be that the pulled pork in the flautas were a bit overcooked, so a little harder to chew. But the flavor was right, for everything. I’d eat there again.
The first time I went, I ate the tacos. The second time, the burrito. Both times, I enjoyed their variety of sauces, from sweet to medium to spicy.
I guess I needed a second trip there to validate my experience, but I’m happy I did it.
The staff is so friendly, and the burrito is really good. I liked it better than the tacos.
I’m wondering now if I’ll like something else better, something like the solomito mole, or another entree. I might find out someday.
Once occupied by Green Hot Chili Pepper, some strong reader comments convinced me to finally try Ernesto’s Taco Shop, and the experience led me to include the restaurant in the No. 5 spot.
I want to be on top of things, and if that means admitting I was wrong, so be it.
The shame fades away when you’re enjoying the tacos at Ernesto’s. I figured I should order them since it’s part of the name.
I got a plate called tres amigos, although maybe it should be cuatro amigos because it came with four tacos. I got two with chicken, two with steak, and on the side there were a few tortilla chips, even though I got a complimentary bowl of chips and salsa to start my meal.
My favorite part of the meal was the steak tacos, how the meat wasn’t overcooked to the point that it was chewy. All of it was tender, and that alone might have been enough to make me happy I spent 11,000 pesos (about $5.75) on dinner that night.
Throw in the other parts of the meal and it’s a great deal.