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Jan 5, 2014 12:46 PM

Nicaragua visit

Hi Chowhounders,
I was recently in Granada and Ometepe, but when I consulted this board looking for culinary advice, there didn't seem to be any recent threads. So I thought I would pass along what we discovered or wish we had known.

By far the best dining experience was at Espressonista Coffee Bar. The co-owner Andreas, a native Nicaraguan who speaks several languages knows how to make every guest feel welcome and comfortable, and his partner runs the kitchen. The menu, especially at night, is extremely limited. We had an absolutely lovely beef cheeks mole, a leek vinagrette, and a delicious roasted vegetable salad. They source local ingredients and look for the 'terroir' of Nicaragua. The desserts are a standout- we tasted a chocolate fondant cake which was crumbly, nutty, and decidedly unsweet- just the way we like it- and a refreshing yoghurt and berry kind of cheesecake. Ambience here felt very international, almost European.

We also enjoyed El Marlin. Seafood that was beautifully plated. We tried a ceviche which was a colorful layer cake, and baby lobster tails. The lobster dish looked stunning, but the lobster was a bit over cooked. This is another restaurant where the host is warm and welcoming, and goes out of his way to please his guests.

In the central district, we dined one night at Bistro Estrada. This is a more tourist-oriented place- the patio was also a reception area for a hotel. We tried their three course menu which was OK. One of our party instead ordered individual courses which were more interesting. The Nicaraguan specialty of assorted meats and sauces and fried plantains and squeaky cheese could have fed three people.

A big regret was eating at Ciudad Lounge. It is far and away the most expensive restaurant in Granada, and we were expecting something innovative or 'wow'. Instead, we had a really ho-hum meal that was three times more expensive than that at El Marlin. The best dish we had was an appetizer- a plate of some excellent homemade bread (a yeasted bread with I believe pumpkin and maybe yucca), sliced, along with spicy green olives and a couple of fingers of hard cheese. The other dishes were not so pleasing. Mahi mahi on top of carrots on top of a rum/coconut/pineapple sauce (yes it tasted like pina colada), with a GIANT mound of mashed potatoes and three browned yuccas stuck in them. Oh, and off to the side of the plate two baby courgettes, lightly steamed and kind of watery when you bit into them. It was not an integrated dish. Other plates were similarly disappointing. Nothing was awful, but nothing was great. We were surprised that one dish featured beef from Omaha. We didn't order that one. Shrimp dish was tasty, but served on top of penne pasta from a package (for $24 US?). Although the atmosphere/decoration of the restaurant was stunning, the hostess was very cool and formal, lots of missteps in service such as incorrect utensils, no filtered water was ever offered, and the bill was expensive even by American standards ($60 per person, starter and main course, with house wine but without dessert). What a waste of a meal. I wished we had just had a drink and that bread-based appetizer, then left.

On a brighter note, we had an excellent drink and plate of Ropa Vieja at Nektar, a sidewalk cafe on the main restaurant drag east of the square. Also terrific pizza at Mona Lisa, further east on the same street.

Unfortunately, we did not get out to the cemetery, where I understand there is a terrific traditional Nicaraguan restaurant for lunch. Has anyone tried it?

On the island of Ometepe, I can heartily recommend Cafe Campestre- an ex pat hang out with a great selection of dishes. Try their curries, and don't miss the banana cake with chocolate ice cream. The cake is out of this world.
On the same street in Balgue, we had the very best traditional Nicaraguan food (with a bit of a twist in the sauces) at Chiquitos. Chicken with onions tossed in a crema sauce, a really interesting salsa, rice, beans, and the best fried plantains- it was delicious. Be prepared to speak Spanish- no English spoken here.

Hope someone finds this helpful, and would welcome any feedback.

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  1. I thank you, and admire you for being the most recent trail blazer there. Sorry you stumbled on a couple spots that are picking ex-pats pockets, maybe just once. What were your impressions of that part of the lake?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Veggo

      Hi Veggo, thanks for your reply. No one forced us to eat anywhere, so I have no one to blame but myself. What do you mean, that part of the lake? Ometepe is agrarian. I was told that the famous Finca Magdalena is probably the only worker owned farm that has been successful (one of many land distributions that occurred after the revolution). Ometepe is worth a visit to explore the sustainable agriculture initiatives occurring there.

      1. re: caffey

        I have a curiosity and fascination with Lago Nicaragua. I have flown it a few times, but I don't know it from the land or underwater perspective. Thanks.

    2. Hi Caffey,
      Thanks for the tips! I really appreciate your feedback, it's nice to be warned of overpriced, over-hyped spots that can be avoided without regret.
      I am going to Nicaragua in less than a week and am planning on visiting Granada & Ometepe, as well as, Leon and San Juan del Sur. We are thinking about staying at Finca Magdalena while on Ometepe, did you get a chance to visit the farm? Also, did you eat in Managua? If so, do you have any tips for that area? This is my first time to Nicaragua, so any other tips for the region are much appreciated!
      Muchas Gracias!