Colombian food is evolving fast as chefs take the land’s generous bounty and tasty customs to exciting culinary heights. Still, Colombians are traditionalists at heart, so you can count on the classics—like arepas, buñuelos, and ajiaco—being around for good.
And since the capital draws transplants from all over the country, some of the tastiest versions can be found in Bogotá. Here are five dishes you won’t want to miss and the best place to chow down on each.
The crispy, cornmeal snacks are a point of national pride, so it’s no surprise restaurants have popped up that are entirely devoted to the snack food. Three that top every local’s list are Empanadas el Paisa, which graduated from food cart to brick-and-mortar a few years ago; Empanadas de Las Buenas, where cooks use less fillers and more meat, and the small-but mighty ones at century-old Las Margaritas.
You can find folks noshing on the corn or flour patties known as arepas with any meal. They vary regionally—from the sweet arepas de choclo (a native corn) that are popular in the Andes, to the stuffed arepas de huevo from the coast, to the white, thin, crispy variety common in Bogotá households—but all styles exist in the capital.
People line up for the street cart versions found on Calle 48 and Carrera 27—where Doña Lucia makes a choclo arepa baked in a wood oven propped on a tricycle)—and Don Leo’s classics, which he and his wife prepare from scratch every night and cook up on Calle 84 and Carrera 14 each morning.
Nothing beats a chilly day in Bogotá like a bowl of ajiaco—a rich chicken and potato soup flavored with a Colombian herb called guascas and thickened with heavy cream. Although plenty of restaurants make it well, there’s no debate about who leads the pack: La Puerta Falsa.
The oldest restaurant in the country remains relevant for its commitment to using fresh ingredients and its secret recipes that make its ajiaco (as well as other traditional fare) simply the best.
This term is used in Antioquia and the Eje Cafetero regions to refer to any of the basic baked goods that make up most breakfasts (and some mid-morning and afternoon snacks) around the country.
The staples—almojábana, pandebono, pan de yuca, and buñuelos— are similar, but vary in the amounts of cheese, yuca, and grain used. They’re all tasty though, so you can’t go wrong. Panadería Kuty is so sought after for all of these and more, that its bike messengers are seen delivering fresh-baked goodness all over town.
Vegetarians and vegans should skip the meat-heavy bandeja paisa, but carnivores will be in heaven. (Photo: Getty)
The bandeja paisa originated in Medellín (widely considered to be a friendly rival to the capital) as a marketing ploy in the 1960s, but has become one of the nation’s most emblematic dishes.
Luckily, there are plenty of places serving up legit versions in the city. The hearty medley of beans, rice, chicharrón, plantains, avocado, arepa, and usually an egg and another meat or two (yes, really!) is best tackled during brunch at a place like El Envigadeño or Comedorcito Paisa.
No road trip or party night is complete without a fritanga (a.k.a. picada)—a meat-centric plate stacked with bite-size pieces of pig and cow specialties (think: chorizo, chicharrón, morcilla, longaniza).
At Andrés Carne de Res, named and known for its first-rate beef, the combo also comes with arepa de choclo, papas criollas, and tostones to soak up the grease (and booze that usually accompanies these gatherings).