I celebrated my birthday in Colombia last month. I’m celebrating my anniversary living in the country this month.
On Sept. 4 of last year, I moved to Medellín, not sure about what would happen. I acted sure about everything. When I told friends and family about my plans, I sounded as certain as a superhero.
As I waited in line at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, to check my luggage, I was nervous. The time has come, I thought. I’m actually doing this.
Well here we are, a year later. I can’t say I have everything figured out but I know I love this place, that I never thought I would find a city I love more than New York until I moved here, that I enjoy sharing my experiences through this blog in hopes of helping any other travelers or newcomers navigate this city and country.
Let’s build on that, the help I hope I am providing. Starting this month, one of my posts will be a “Best of” entry about Medellín and the surrounding area. Categories will include clubs, day trips, restaurants, even hotels if I can convince some of them to let me take a peek. I’ll include websites for places that have them.
This first post will focus on snacks and refreshments, those little pick-me-ups that bridge the gap between meals or, in some cases, provide just enough around dinner because you had a big, late lunch.
Maybe you’ve heard of some of these places. I’d be willing to bet you haven’t heard of all of them. Whatever the case, give them a try.
Disclaimer alert: in a city of almost 3 million, and a metro area of almost 4 million, I know I’ve missed a lot of places. Please share any you know. Then everyone wins.
Writer’s note: Originally, I didn’t rank these. But I decided I had to, no matter how difficult it is to choose between ice cream and empanadas.
1. Frutas con helado
The no-name kiosk about 50 meters from the southwest entrance to the fútbol stadium, Estadio
Some places don’t need a name. You just know them.
This is one of those places.
Maybe we can come up with a name for it, a place that can make you feel good about eating ice cream. I mean, the fact that it’s on top of a cup of fresh fruit — 2,000 pesos (about $1.10) for a small, 3,500 pesos (about $1.85) for a large — has to count for doing something healthy. If you just want a cup of fruit, you can do that too. But then you’d really be cheating yourself.
That’s it. Maybe I’d call it: “Don’t Cheat. Eat.” Now that I say it aloud, it sounds kinda stupid. But I’ll tell you what’s smart: making a quick detour here whenever you get on/off the Estadio metro.
Empanadas con Guacamole
Carrera 73 Circular 4-14, Laureles
This was an accidental discovery, a quick stop on the way to the metro as my buddy and I needed a quick bite before getting to the Desfile a Caballo, the horse parade at La Feria de las Flores.
I had no idea I would find something other than the usual chicken or steak pastels. The one I decided on had not only steak, but cheese and mushrooms too. Another offers chicken and bacon. Both are less than 3,000 pesos.
While I prefer an Argentine empanada because it’s baked, I’ll take the deep-fried pastel at Empanadas con Guacamole. Sometimes, tasty is more important than healthy.
Carrera 40 #10-67, Parque Lleras
[Editor’s Note: We’ve been informed Mr. Arepa has been replaced by a pizza place.]
Near the Zona Rosa in El Poblado, the restaurant is still easy to miss because it’s not on the park, not even on Calle 10, and it’s less than a block from El Cielo, the fancy molecular gastronomy restaurant that could capture your attention more easily.
Mr. Arepa might do the same, if you give it a chance. There are 26 different arepas on the menu, 21 of them stuffed, five of them with the dressings on top.
You can choose a pollo y champiñones (chicken and mushroom) arepa, jamón y queso (ham and cheese), or ethnically themed options such as Hawaiiana and Italiana, Colombiana and Mexicana. They range from 6,400 pesos (about $3.50) to 11,300 (about $6).
You can’t go wrong.
4. Croquetas de jamón
Calle 9 #39-25, Parque Lleras
A friend of mine once wrote, after living in Miami, that croquetas de jamón “are about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.” I wouldn’t go that far, but they are damn good.
It’s tender ham, breaded and fried with other ingredients. They look like mozzarella sticks, but they’re sooo much better.
Mi Habana is a great place to get them. You get a view of Parque Lleras too, a preview into what kind of rumba you might encounter that night.
Circular 5ta #70-138, Laureles
I noticed the restaurant on Carrera 65D, just east of the Unicentro and north Calle 33, as I was passing by in a taxi, then later found the location closer to where I live now, on Circular 5. (There’s also one near Parque Poblado, the only one I have not tried, unless there are others, which I could not find online.)
I really wanted to try their tacos and found four options: one with chicken and bacon, others with steak or pork. One taco will cost 4,000 pesos (a little over $2). But it’s hard to eat just one. They’re that good.
In fact, all of the food here is so good, you’ll be reading more about it in a future post.
Calle 52 #50-27-1, El Centro
A friend of a friend swears by this place, says it has the best ceviche in Medellín. It’s not the best, but it’s pretty good, and for 10,000 pesos or less (just over $5 or less), it’s very good.
I had the combinado con ostras, which was shrimp, onion and oysters in that ceviche broth that tastes so good. I paid 9,700 pesos for a nice little appetizer, maybe 25 to 30 shrimp and oysters altogether, more than enough to hold me over until lunch.
You also have the option to get crab with it, for just 300 pesos more. I’ll try that next time.
Carrera 49 #53-39, El Centro
A former roommate, someone from Argentina had told me time and time again how much better the empanadas are in her country compared to Colombia.
I found this to be true when I went to Argentina earlier this year. Like the Colombian version, Argentina’s is filled with ground beef and mashed potatoes. But the Argentine version — baked, not deep fried — is more to my liking.
Versalles gives me this option. This two-story place on the Pasaje Junin near Parque Bolivar has the beef dishes the country is famous for as well, but that’s a full meal. For a snack, an empanada will do just fine.
8. Buñuelos y café con leche
Calle 30 #78-37, Belén
I used to live just a few blocks from this place and I’m happy I did. It might be the best place to have a mid-afternoon snack.
Buñuelos (fried dough balls) and café con leche are a great combination but it’s not your only option here. You can get pan de queso (bread with cheese in the middle) instead. Or, if you’re a little more hungry, a pastel de pollo con verduras (a baked pastry stuffed with chicken and vegetables, usually peas and carrots).
I prefer the deep-fried pastels, as you’ll read later, but I still love the flaky baked ones at Panadería Legiseth. It’s a nice change of pace.
Of course, that’s if I go for the pastel over the buñuelo. Or the pan de queso.
Calle 32B #66C-6, Belén
These chips of fried green banana aren’t on the menu. I noticed Carlos, the owner/head chef, eating them one day and making them for some of his friends. I had gotten to know Carlos pretty well at this point, so I decided to order them.
The first time I tried them was at lunch at a little Puerto Rican restaurant on Palm Beach Boulevard in Fort Myers, because they came with my lunch, and I have loved them ever since.
Come to think of it, I haven’t had them in a while. Carlos, I’ll see you soon.
The kiosk on the northwest corner of Calle 24 and Carrera 43G, Barrio Colombia
We were here one afternoon, the day after Super Bowl Sunday, because my friend left his car to avoid drinking and driving. But it wouldn’t start. As we tried to tinker with things — and when I say “we” I mean “he” because I only “supervised” — we got thirsty.
February is the dry season in Medellín, hotter than most times of the year.
That’s when I bought some of the fresh raspberry juice from the kiosk next to us. Simply put, it might be the best fruit juice drink I’ve ever had. And 3,000 pesos (about $1.60) got me almost three cups!