Twenty years ago, if someone had said that Medellin would become a foodie destination, no one would have believed it. In fact, no one would have counted on much tourism at all in Colombia. That has all changed, and Medellin has become a destination that more and more international visitors are discovering – and one of the reasons is its food scene. During the 2 weeks that Henk and I visited, I can honestly say that we had no shortage of restaurant choices or cuisines, because here you can find everything from top-tier restaurants specializing in molecular gastronomy to humble storefronts dishing out delicious arepas.
Whether your taste is for international cuisine or local Colombian specialties, here are 9 restaurant recommendations for where to eat in Medellin:
Sunday brunch seems to be a popular meal in El Poblado, perhaps because of the influx of North American visitors who stay here, or maybe as a ‘morning after’ cure for the crowds who spend Saturday nights bar-hopping into the wee hours. Henk and I found plenty of restaurants serving brunch, and Querido was a cute local cafe that offered a more modern take on the traditional Colombian ‘bandeja paisa’ local breakfast. Normally a massive quantity of heavy-duty comfort food of rice, beans, sausage, egg, plantain and arepa, Querido’s take on this breakfast tradition was considerably lighter but no less satisfying. And the casual, modern cafe with its outdoor patio and fresh interior was the perfect place to enjoy a Sunday morning in Medellin.
Brunch/Lunch: Ganso y Castor
And speaking of brunch, I have Rich Holman, the owner of First American Realty to thank for this suggestion, as we received several restaurant recommendations as part of a welcome package sent to us after renting an apartment through them. True to what Holman said, Ganso y Castor served up a very grownup Sunday brunch with the most authentic eggs benny I had in Medellin. The upscale-but-unpretentious atmosphere is inspired by French bistro decor, their location in Manila became one of my favourite neighbourhoods, and there is plenty of seating so we weren’t waiting on a few tiny tables to empty out. And if you aren’t feeling for eggs, Ganso y Castor also offers great lunch entrées as well.
TIP: There’s are 3 Ganso y Castor locations in Medellin, including one in the new Museum of Modern Art, making it a great lunch spot after touring the galleries.
Lunch/Snacks: Calle 9Okay, so before you go Googling “Calle 9 Restaurant”, you should know that this ISN’T a restaurant, it’s a street in the heart of the El Poblado neighbourhood. After noticing several little storefront snack shops here and seeing the sheer number of locals munching on these empanadas and arepas around lunchtime, I figured all those people must be onto a good thing.
I was right, and even though the presentation was ‘take-out chic’, I highly recommend going here for a crispy empanada, or an ooey-gooey cheese or chocolate arepa. (And don’t forget the butter and sweet icing drizzled on the top!)
Whether it’s for a pre or post-nightclub snack, a quick lunch on the run, or just to satisfy a snack craving, Calle 9 is a great place to go if you’re in the neighbourhood for Colombian ‘fast food’.
Fine Dining: Carmen
Consistently ranking as one of the best restaurants in Medellin, Carmen did not disappoint. Owned by the Cordon Bleu-trained husband and wife team of Carmen Angel and Rob Pevitts, Carmen’s dishes are creative, modern and international in appeal. Henk and I were able to book a reservation on a Friday night, thanks to the concierge at our hotel, and we were grateful for his assistance: on weekends especially, this place gets very busy, but not so busy as to neglect either the service or the food preparation. Both were excellent and neither Henk nor I left so much as a droplet of sauce on our plates.
We started with the salad garnished with corn-crusted fried pear, cheese, pine nuts, and house-cured bacon. My main was a perfectly-cooked beef tenderloin with Andean potatoes, burnt herbs and mushrooms, and Henk had the rib eye which was mouth-wateringly tender AND surprisingly generous in size (no ‘nouvelle cuisine’ portions here!). Both were stellar and more than enough to satisfy our appetites, but we couldn’t resist sharing a ‘chocolate-5-ways’ dessert plate to top it all off.
TIP: Don’t get too attached to any one dish, since the menu at Carmen changes seasonally to take advantage of local ingredients. Instead, just come with an appetite and see what’s new on the menu for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
Casual Fare: Burdo
We stumbled on this restaurant the first night we landed in Medellin when we were looking for a drink and an appetizer before crashing for the night, and Burdo offered the perfect introduction to Medellin with its funky atmosphere and great food. And since it was a Monday night, the place wasn’t crazy busy. (In fact, there were a few locals with their computers doing some after-work work.)
I fell in love with the noisettes appetizer (decadent little cheese balls drizzled with tasty sauce, bacon bits and green onions) and both Henk and I loved the feel of the place enough to come back a week or so later for a full meal. We had fish tacos and a burger, both of which were very good.
TIP: Keep in mind that Burdo, like most restaurants in El Poblado, gets busy on weekends with the pre-nightclub crowd, so you might want to secure a spot with a reservation if you’re coming on a Friday or Saturday.
Pizza: Cafe Zorba
For the traveller who likes a funky, local hideaway with affordable, tasty thin-crust pizza and where even the staff seem to love their work, you’re going to love Cafe Zorba.
Hidden in a relatively deserted corner of El Poblado on Calle 8, Cafe Zorba feels like what it is: a hodge-podge of indoor and outdoor ‘rooms’ in an ex-industrial building. Thanks largely to word-of-mouth, Zorba has evolved into a popular choice for visitors and locals alike, but despite this increased popularity, Cafe Zorba hasn’t lost any of its ‘startup charm’ and the local appeal that keeps it real.
Burgers: Barbacoa Burger ‘n’ Beer
Barbacoa has a reputation as one of the best burger places in Medellin, and I have to admit, the burgers definitely lived up to the hype – and they are as huge as they are tasty. I opted for the sliders, which gave me 3 different tastes in toppings, while Henk went for the good old fashioned cheeseburger. Both were exactly what was needed to satisfy our burger fix. And the good news is that there is no need to hike out to the Envigado neighbourhood to enjoy one of these beefy babies (the original Barbacoa location), because now there are 4 locations, including a restaurant in trendy Manila, making it much closer to home if you are staying there or in the adjacent El Poblado ‘hood.
Dessert or Afternoon Delight: Ice Cream!
We can’t talk food without dessert. However, I believe dessert is best enjoyed mid-afternoon just as you start feeling a little peckish, when you can really appreciate the reward for your sweet surrender.
If you’re planning on doing a city tour in downtown Medellin, you will definitely want to check out the Centro Commercial Palacio Nacional (the former National Palace) – not just for its interesting architecture, but for an ice cream kiosk in its central courtyard that is worth patronizing. It’s a great excuse to take a breather while enjoying a decadent break, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much ice cream 7,000 Colombian pesos ($3 CDN) will buy you. You’ll be even more surprised at how easily you can polish off these enormous ice cream dishes!
Anytime: Me Late Chocolate
Anytime is “chocolate o’clock” as far as I’m concerned. And when I heard “locally-sourced ingredients crafted into artisinal chocolate confections”, that was all I needed to sell me on the Me Late cafe. This little gem offered a delicious excuse to spend an hour or so avoiding a rare Medellin cloudburst and Henk and I spent that time indulging in lava cake and chocolate crepes (quality chocolate time.) But even if the weather is perfect, this Poblado shop needs no excuse for you to visit. All you need is a craving for chocolate.
Although 9 recommendations barely scratches the surface of where to eat in Medellin, it’s a place to start, especially if you happen to be staying in El Poblado or Manila, which many visitors do. But there are dozens more places, if not hundreds, to tempt your palate here and in other neighbourhoods like Provenza, Laureles, and Envigado. In Medellin, there truly is no shortage of dining options – it’s just a question of how much time you have to discover them.
TIP: El Poblado is Medelln’s most expensive neighbourhood, but with the exchange on the Colombian peso/Canadian dollar, even our priciest meal at Carmen’s was extremely affordable by North American standards. Which means you can indulge your inner foodie more often in Medellin – and for less!