If you read my post, Eating my way through the streets of Cartagena, you may have mistakenly thought that Cartagena was all about street food. Definitely not the case. In contrast, the swanky restaurant scene is on fire in El Centro and demand far outweighs supply.
Cartagena, unexpectedly to me, is home to lots of upscale restaurants that would fare well in New York or Miami, many of which actually have a sister location in one of those cities. These restaurants are mostly fueled by tourists and tables book up in advance. For example, I made a reservation at Don Juan two weeks in advance, and I barely got in! I also tried to make a reservation at the revered Carmen three days early and was promptly turned down. Be advised. If you plan to eat at a fancy restaurant in Cartagena, especially in El Centro, make a reservation and confirm it before you leave home. Most of the places I researched had an easy-to-use online booking system (similar to Open Table) or an email address that was monitored by someone who speaks English.
If you get really stuck and are visiting another city in Colombia after Cartagena, check whether your choice restaurant has a location there. For example, our friend tried to book a table at Carmen, was turned down in Cartagena, but got a seat in its Medellin location just one day in advance.
In other restaurant tips, as Cartagena is set on the Caribbean coast, many menus focus on seafood. If you or someone in your party does not eat seafood, be sure to confirm that another option is offered. For example, at the recommended Mulata (below), the only option was seafood. Also, it makes sense for men to pack a pair of slacks and at least a polo shirt for nicer dinners. Women will be fine in a sundress, but feel free to dress-up more if that’s your style. You will not be the only one.
In any case, here are some of my favorite eats in Cartagena, Colombia!
My Favorite Dinner Eats!
Don Juan is a well-known Cartagenan restaurant serving modern Colombian and international food. Don Juan is very hip and the interior is impeccably decorated. You will certainly want to look your best when dining here.
Don Juan is pretty small and reservations are essential. I emailed Don Juan two weeks prior for a reservation and barely got one. They also followed up via email and a telephone call to my hotel about 5 separate times. I would not miss a reservation here. However, they were nice enough to expand my reservation from two to four people at the last minute!
In terms of food, everything was very good, but, as is often the case, I much preferred the apps and desserts to the main course. Since there were three of us, we got to try a lot of dishes! For starters, we split jamon Iberico (Dan’s favorite black-footed pig), fried red snapper and something else that I cannot remember. The jamon Iberico was by far the best (and probably my favorite dish all night…but I am partial to those delicious little black-footed pigs…).
In terms of mains, I went Caribbean and ordered the shrimp and coconut rice. The dish was a quality meal, but not nearly as exciting as my appetizers.
I highly recommend La Mulata. I think it was Dan and my favorite meal in Cartagena! La Mulata is a casual restaurant located just past outside El Centro’s city walls in the Getsemati neighborhood. Our Street Food Tour tour guide, Kristy, recommended it. The menu is small and typically features fresh seafood. When we visited, we started with plantain chips, a mojito and then each had a fresh fish dish with coconut rice! We tried to order dessert, but the only option was store-bought ice cream, so we skipped! Here are some pictures of our food:
Note that while La Mulata is outside of El Centro, it is juuuuust outside of the city walls in a safe area. The restaurant has limited seating, so you should call ahead and reserve a table. We asked our host to call and reserve a spot for us and she gave us a huge smile and said that we made an excellent choice! Nothing better than a local endorsement.
Another restaurant located outside of El Centro, this one a little further afield than La Mulata (still in the Getsemati, a 10 minute walk from El Centro), located just down the street from the famous Cafe Havana night club. Demente does a hip Colombian take on tapas. The menu is a good mix of Colombian/international fusion and has options for those who are tired of Colombian food or seafood, and those who don’t eat meat and/or seafood. Demente is pretty trendy and attracted a lot of young, upscale locals. I recommending calling a day ahead to reserve a table or arriving right when it opens to ensure a table for dinner (the kitchen closes on the early side but the establishment stays open late as a bar). After dinner, plan to stroll down to Cafe Havana for some dancing and music!
In terms of food, we split pretty much everything on the menu between four of us….#noshame. I forgot to take pictures, but the artichoke pizza stands out in my mind!
My Favorite Lunch Eats!
By far, my favorite lunch spot! Visited by Anthony Bourdain and a number of other travel writers, La Cevicheria is very popular. The restaurant does not take reservations and there is typically a decent wait. If you don’t want to wait an hour, I recommend showing up right when it opens at 10:00 a.m. The menu is solely seafood and completely delicious. They also make an excellent hot sauce. Buy some to bring home. When we visited, we split three ceviches and a black risotto between 4 people. La Cevicheria was so delicious that it got its own post here!
Crepes & Waffles
Crepes & Waffles is a Colombian chain restaurant that serves sit down breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu is pretty robust for a restaurant called Crepes & Waffles and in addition to crepes and waffles, serves salads, sandwiches other other meals, as well as fancy drinks. Crepes & Waffles is prevalent in Bogota and Medellin, too. While I would not say this was the stand out meal of my trip, it is a good place for a sweet lunch or dinner! Plus, I always love visiting foreign chain restaurants without a location in the US (although I think there is now an outpost in Miami!). On my visit, Dan and I split a sweet cappuccino, a savory ham crepe and a sweet chocolate and banana crepe. All was good, but again, nothing stood out. This is a good option for children and/or picky eaters.
My Favorite Snack Eats!
La Peletteria is a small shop in El Centro selling home made ice cream pops in a variety of crazy flavors! In my mind, la Paletteria is to Cartagena as gelato is to any Italian city! I tried a sea salt caramel, but there must be 30 flavors (see on cover photo). Definitely make time for this stop on your trip! Another good option for kids, but note that the pops melt very fast in the heat!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Don Juan – Calle del Colegio # 34-60 Local 1, Centro histórico, Cartagena de Indias. T. +57 (317) 501 14 15 / +57 (5) 664 38 57 / +57 (5) 664 36 78. E. firstname.lastname@example.org. Open Monday – Friday 12:30 – 3:00 and 7:30 – 11:00 and Saturday 7:30 – 11:00. Closed Sunday. Reservations essential. Email for reservations two weeks in advance during busy season.
La Mulata – No website. Calle Quero 9 58 Sandiego, Cartagena De Indias (Distrito Turístico Y Cultural), Bolívar, Colombia. T. +57 5 6646222. Open Monday – Saturday 11:30 – 10:00. Closed Sunday. Reservations not essential, but I recommend calling a day or so before and making a reservations.
Demente – No website. Plaza de la Trinidad, No. 10-19, Getsemani, Cartagena, Colombia. T. 576604226. Open everyday 6:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m. Kitchen closes on the earlier side. Reservations not essential, but I recommend calling a day or so in advance to ensure a table. Its a bit of a walk from El Centro do not have a guaranteed table.
La Cevicheria – Calle Stuart 714, Cartagena de Indias. T. [+57] 5 660 1492 – 5 579 5552. E.
email@example.com. Open daily 10:00 a.m. – 10:30 p.m. Expect an hour wait.
Crepes and Waffles – There is a website, but it does not work. Av. San Martin, Boca grande, KR 2 No. 8-250, Cartagena 057 5 6657258, Colombia. T. 6604291. Open Sunday 8:30 – 10:00. Open Monday – Saturday 12:00 – 11:30 p.m.
La Paletteria – Local 2, Cl. 35 #03-86, Cartagena, Bolívar, Colombia. T.+57 5 6661579. Open daily 11:00 – 11:00. Take-away shop. Reservations not necessary.