If you already read our Complete Guide to Cartagena, then you already know that this touristy, coastal city can easily break your budget. Eating out is no exception. The city’s cobblestone streets are filled with costly, fine dining, options that I’m sure are undoubtedly worth it. However, coming from small-town Colombia on a English teacher’s budget meant the chilled salad forks would have to wait. Below we have compiled a list of the best fare in Cartagena and where to get it.
Being situated on the Caribbean coast, it should be no surprise that our first suggestion is to eat your fill of seafood. Lobster, prawns, octopus, eel, and fish of the day- served any way you can imagine. The ceviche, grilled fish o’ the day, and seafood soups are not to be missed!
Ceviche– the refreshing dish of uncooked seafood cured with citrus and chili peppers is a Caribbean staple. We chose to visit La Cevicheria as it had great reviews, and more importantly, Anthony Bourdain had filmed there! Anthony Bourdain is our travel deity and we routinely visit restaurants where he has dined. However, at La Cevicheria we received a very mediocre lobster ceviche and our first Bourdain disappointment. Couple that with the small portion size, long wait, order mix-up, and hefty bill and we were left feeling very unsatisfied. Do yourself a favor and skip La Cevicheria, it doesn’t live up to the hype. Instead, we would suggest:
El Boliche is the premiere cevicheria in Cartagena and it is worth the splurge. El Boliche works with artisanal fisherman, meaning your meal supports locals and sustainable fishing. Try to make a reservation or expect a wait.
Want something cheaper? Look no further than La Laguna Azul. Located in a mall in the Getsemaní neighborhood, this restaurant offers up incredible ceviche for around $5-8 USD. The hunt is totally worth it to find this hidden gem.
Sopa Caribe– Colombians love their “sopa” and so will you. Fresh catch, slow cooked with chilis and simmered in coconut milk. You can’t go wrong.
Fish o’ the Day– If you find yourself wandering off the beaten path in Cartagena, you’ll find most local restaurants serving up fresh catch. The fish is served grilled and completely whole, usually with a side of rice, beans, and avocado.
La Mulata is one of the restaurants that will come up again and again on your Google search and for good reason. Amongst the high end restaurants, this gem will get you fantastic seafood at a fair price-point. We ordered the grilled octopus, mixed seafood platter, and fresh juice. It was revitalizing to enjoy seafood without having heart palpitations when the check arrives.
As touristy as Cartagena is, we were surprised to see regional fare from lesser travelled parts of Colombia.
Posta Negra– Colombian-style black beef slow cooked in cola, garlic, and brown sugar. It’s so tender that it starts falling apart just looking at it. Served with rice, plantains, and avocado- it can’t be beat. Its SO good.
Mote de Queso– molten chunks of, local, Costeño cheese and soft yam, topped with seared eggplant. This soup is traditional to Monteria. As you probably won’t be making it to Monteria (there are zero tourists there), do yourself a favor and try something you won’t get anywhere else in the world!
La Cocina de Pepina is a small restaurant serving up delicious soups and other regional dishes. Don’t leave Cartagena without visiting, but keep in mind the size of the restaurant usually leads to at least a 15 minute wait.
Monterian chicken stew with coconut rice
Mote de Queso
Streetfood– My suggestion to you is to walk around the Getsemaní neighborhood and do a sampling tour of Cartagena street food. Arepas, the maize dough flatbread is everywhere in Colombia and Cartagena is no exception. Try the arepa de huevo, deditos de queso (fried cheese sticks), and a chunk of chicharon (fried pork belly).
Menu del Dia
During the work day, most Colombians take a two hour break for lunch and a siesta. Because of this, lunch is usually a leisurely and hefty meal. Local restaurants will have a menu of the day, or menu del dia. This meal usually consists of soup, meat or fish entrée, rice, beans, avocado, plantain, salad, and juice.
AtRestaurante Coroncoro, you can get stuff your face with their menu del dia for less than $5 USD. Afterwards, we highly advise a nap. Boom, you’re now a converted lunchtime Colombian.
Coming from rural Colombia, we were eager to have cuisine we can’t find while living in Monteria.
Sushi– After raving about the seafood earlier, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how crazy good the sushi is (for Colombia, anyway). I’m a fiend for sushi so we wandered into Masaki Sushi Wok on a hot, sleepy afternoon and had our taste buds blown away. We ordered a regular and a special roll and left without room for another bite of ginger in our stomachs. The staff are friendly, the food is fantastic, and the price is reasonable.
Pizza– I know. I KNOW. Pizza in Cartagena? Really, guys? We don’t have an opportunity to eat quality, wood fired pizza very often so we indulged ourselves at Basilica Pizzeria. Dining in their outdoor courtyard, we ordered wine and listened to street musicians while waiting for our pizza, which turned out to be quite enjoyable. (You need to remember you’re not in Naples or Chicago.)
Mexican– I was really craving a margarita so we stumbled upon El Pique Mexicano in the Manga neighborhood where we were staying. Tequila is expensive in Colombia so finding an affordable 2-for-1 margarita deal made me happy. Add some delicious shrimp and carnitas tacos and we were in heaven!
Giant sushi roll at Masaki
Shrimp and carne tacos at El Pique Mexicano
Ambiance and wine at Basilica Pizzeria
Did I mention how blazing hot it can be in Cartagena? Oppressively high temperatures and equatorial sun means you deserve something cool and sweet.
Sweet tooth- visit one of Cartagena’s markets or fruit vendors and sample the sweet, local delicacies. Or grab a fresh juice, jugo, to cool you off. Our favorite local fruits are mango, guanabana, maracuya, and guava.
Sweeter tooth- Stop by La Paletteria and try their popsicles. With flavors ranging from papaya to dark chocolate you might just need one for each hand. One flavor to try is arequipe, a Colombian caramel made of sweetened condensed milk. And you’ll be getting your fix for 5,000 COP ($1.75 USD)!!