Everybody loves Medellín. The reasons for this love? The perfect climate (set in a valley at 4,500 feet, it never gets too hot, nor too cold) doesn’t hurt. It’s also modern and ordered with a famous nightlife that draws out arguably Colombia’s most beautiful people. It might also be the traditional Paisa food (referring to the northwest of Colombia), simple, tasty and abundant; and the murmurs of a foodie boom in Medellin’s most famous district – El Poblado. Come with us as we check it out, and perhaps, fall in love.
Set in the rather manic old center, this restaurant is a little outside the obvious El Poblado tourist route, but well worth the visit. For more than 20 years, Hacienda has been serving up some of the best traditional Antioquean dishes and is particularly well known for their bandeja paisa (pictured). It’s a beast of a dish with chicharron, sausages (including their typical spiced blood sausage), finely ground beef, and of course, fried plantain, beans, egg, and arepa. It’s even bigger than it looks. Come in a group, with hunger, and don’t miss out on their bean stew and their grilled meats.
La Niña Juani, Cra 33 # 8A - 05, +57 (4) 444 8852
A tiny gem in the Poblado neighborhood, La Niña Juani is an ode by owner Anna María Morillo to her Costeño grandmother and the power of food to keep your roots alive. Morillo’s family is from Barranquillo in the north, but she spent much of her life in Venezuela, and her primary contact with home was the flavors of her grandmother’s cuisine. Now in Medellín, she offers these memories on a plate for those hankering for flavors of the Caribbean coast.
Stop in for breakfast to get the best arepa de huevo in town (made with freshly ground corn) and homemade suero costeño, an acidic local crème fraiche. For lunch try the Posta Negra, beef slow cooked with a sweet local soda and served with coconut rice.
Before getting lost in the bright lights of El Poblado, it’s well worth exploring the periphery a bit more. That’s where you’ll find Delicias del Tolima. Family-run, this basic restaurant (with three salons and often a live band) has become a neighborhood favorite for its offering of nearby department, Tolima’s most famous dish – whole roast suckling pig stuffed with rice and yellow split peas.
Portions are huge, cheap, and come served as a small mountain of pulled pork with a fine chunk of crackling balanced on top. Also try the equally oversized Tamal Tolimense, which comes with the same pork, and just in case you are really hungry, with bacon and chicken.
One of the coolest spots to eat in Medellín, Ocio gives a nod to the paisa love for hearty, meat-centered dishes, but gives them a refined touch. The focus of their short menu is on slow-cooked meats (usually simmering in their own juices for 12 hours). Go for the short ribs with caramelized chili and lime and a side of sticky rice. And plenty of the dishes have Asian touches, thanks to chef Laura Londoño’s stint in Australia after working her away on the typical European Michelin starred route. While the meat’s the star, the starters put on quite a show –including rocoto glazed shrimp on crispy quinoa or octopus in achiote butter with beans, smoked bacon, and sweet corn puree.
There’s no leaving Medellín without visiting this café – not only the best place in the city to try Colombian café, but also just a cool spot to people watch for an hour or two.
Although it seems perpetually packed, try and poach a seat at one of the outdoor tables. Then head over to the bar and chat through the coffees available that day with the extremely knowledgeable baristas and let them pick the best method of preparation. The coffee is expertly and responsibly sourced by the company and roasted in-house, Go with time so you can try coffees from a couple of different departments – 22 of Colombia’s 32 departments produce coffee and each has a distinct flavor profile. Bonus: they have great cakes and the reasonably priced bags of coffee beans make a perfect gift to take back home.
The best place to stay in town, the stylish boutique hotel The Charlee also happens to put on quite a party. On the 17th floor, their rooftop bar, Envy, offers panoramic views of the city and some quality cocktails to soak it all up with. Go for sunset to best enjoy the views and a chilled atmosphere. If you’re up for the party, the beautiful people arrive late, and a live DJ will see you through till the early hours. (A reservation is advised.) And if you’re feeling like Italian, the hotel’s ground floor restaurant, Lucia, is excellent, with top quality hand-made pasta backed up by a solid wine selection.