we are very excited to be going to Cartagena for the first time in early May. Can you recommend good restaurants with authentic food. We dont want to fall into tourist traps and love good genuine local fare preferably not too expensive but suggestions for treats taken on board too
We were there in February for a week. I didn't post a 'food' trip report here, but I'm doing a cut & paste from my trip report on a couple of travel sites. As you can tell, we did splurge a couple of times (it was our 25th anniversary), but we also had a number of meals that were $30 or under. B/fast was included at the place where we were staying. Hope this helps.
Food in Cartagena is very good, and while it may be more expensive than other areas in the country, we didn’t find it outrageously expensive. Like other places, you can go high end and spend a lot or you can spend very little. (I should mention that my husband does not drink, so that probably helps to keep prices down!)
We celebrated our 25th anniversary on Feb 7 at 8-18, a lovely restaurant in the old city. It was a fabulous dinner. I started with a special daiquiri – I don’t know what the fruit was, but it was excellent. I ordered the seafood soup in coconut milk and John ordered the grouper carpaccio, both excellent, although I think I preferred the carpaccio. It was so fresh and tart! For my main, I ordered a risotto with blue cheese and squid. The waiter literally gave me the thumbs up on that choice and John ordered the oxtail in a red wine sauce with mashed potatoes (probably the most popular choice on the menu). Both meals were very rich, very delicious. We finished the meal with a molten chocolate cake & ice cream – definitely one of the better ones and a sambuca for me, cafe con leche for John. (They were out of 2 of the 4 desserts.) Total bill came to about $130 – pricey, but definitely not out of line for what we had.
Twice we had ceviche at El Boliche Cebecheria, a small restaurant in Getsamani (where we were staying). The ceviche was fabulous – we each ordered a separate dish and shared – the flavours were amazing and they were served with thin plantain chips. The chef makes the ceviche to order, and it’s so fresh and delicious. I can’t remember the prices, but it was very reasonable.
Twice we had dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant (Di Silvio Trattoria) that I would highly recommend. It’s in Getsamani and is located just off Plaza Trinidad. Their pizzas are amazing – super thin crisp crust and the toppings are wonderful. (Example, when we ordered a Hawaiian pizza, the pineapple was caramelized before it was put on the pizza.) We ordered a spaghetti carbonara one evening, and it was as good as the one I make (and I think I make a pretty good version of it). Desserts are served in little shot glasses – perfect size after dinner. We ordered a pasta, a pizza and a couple of drinks and it came to about $30. It’s a neighbourhood restaurant, and I wish it was in my neighbourhood!
We also had lunch twice at Crepes & Waffles, a Colombian chain. Both times, we each ordered the salad bar (which is quite a good deal with quinoa, white beans, egg, etc. as well as various vegetables) and a crepe. Prices are really reasonable (under $30 for the 2 of us). We ate in 2 different Crepes & Waffles and it seems to be entirely staffed by women (as far as we could tell) – apparently it is their policy to hire women in need.
One day, we had lunch at La Mulata, a restaurant in el centro. It was packed with locals. John ordered the seafood rice, which had my first choice, but I ended up ordering the chicken dish. Both meals came with soup. His dish was really tasty, mine was ... well, unexpected. It was a huge chicken breast, cut in half and pounded a little thinner. There were mozzarella cheese melted on it (ok), but it also came with a little bit of salad, some French fries and a hotdog (wiener). It was the wiener that seemed odd to me! I could only eat maybe ½ the meal – it was way too much food. We both ordered the limonada de coco (delicious). Again the bill was very reasonable.
Another evening, we had dinner at D’Arte, which is on the corner of our street and is owned by Edgardo Carmona, the artist responsible for many of the wonderful and amusing metal sculptures in the city. A bonus was that there was live music scheduled for later in the evening. Truth be told, I wasn’t all that hungry, but I ordered the tuna with the coconut rice. The tuna was covered with sesame seeds and was perfectly cooked, nice and pink in the centre. The rice was to die for! John had the shrimps with the same rice. Service was erratic. Our waiter reminded me of a co-worker of mine – he looks efficient and busy, but seems out of it somehow. After dinner I ordered a brandy. He came back 15 minutes later to tell me that they had no brandy. So I ordered sambuca. He brought me a glass of ice with a shot of what turned out to be vodka. Ugh. But it was still a pleasant evening and it only came to $50 for the 2 of us. The artist, btw, was present at the restaurant – very friendly guy and I wish we had gotten to talk to him. He had a couple of posters displayed of past exhibitions in France. The art in the restaurant is all music based. He also had some art that was done on tiles, some of it with metal . I wished I had $ to buy. (And room in my luggage allowance).
Another lunch was at a restaurant called Krioyo. They have a lovely patio area, but we sat inside where it was cooler. I ordered an avocado salad with shrimp & crab and John ordered a Serrano ham sandwich. My salad had too much dressing on it, but it was really delicious and definitely enough. John was thrilled with his sandwich. Interesting art on the walls, fairly good service, a nice place that I’d recommend.
When we had lunch with a couple of fellow travellers, we went to La Cevicheria, made famous by Anthony Bourdain. I found the ceviche quite expensive, especially compared to ‘our’ cevicheria in the neighbourhood. I didn’t order ceviche, but I ordered a vegetarian sandwich. I was expecting slices of grilled eggplant and peppers on pita bread, according to the description on the menu. What I got was more like baba ganoush – quite pleasant, but not what I was looking for. (Note - we did meet someone later who raved about the ceviche there.)
Our final dinner in Cartagena was at La Vitrola. The food and service were excellent. I started with a warm tomato, grilled cheese and Serrano ham appetizer. John had beef carpaccio. Both were excellent, but I’d say mine ‘won’. For our mains, John chose fish in a tamarind sauce and I chose a seafood rice. Dessert though was the highpoint – we shared a piece of coconut cake with vanilla ice cream. Sounds simple, but it was fabulous. Cost came to about $125. There was also a band playing Cuban style music – pleasant enough and not too loud. The restaurant was quite busy with locals.
Cartagena has a number of places where you can have ice cream, and one of them looks like a genuine ice cream parlour. The choices were incredible and over a couple of visits, we had zapote, tamarindo, uchuva, lolu and maracuyi ice cream. I think that uchuva was my favourite, but they were all delicious.