Chefs at some of the best restaurants in Bogotá use avant-garde techniques, while others are celebrated for their history and tradition.
In recent years, Bogotá's burgeoning restaurant scene has drawn international attention to the Colombian capital.
I first visited Bogotá in January 2009 as my 14-month trip around the world was coming to an end.
During subsequent years, I lived in nearby Medellín; however, I did my best to avoid the capital, which has a higher altitude (8,675 feet) and colder weather.
When I went, it was in transit to apply for a new passport at the US Embassy and get a Colombian business visa.
In 2017, Bogotá hosted the awards ceremony for Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants. That was it. I had to go back!
And I did, dedicating a week to dining there in 2018 and making the most of a night at the end of my February 2019 trip to Colombia.
In 2017, chef Leonor Espinosa was recognized as Latin America's Best Chef by The World's 50 Best Restaurants.
At Leo, her flagship restaurant in central Bogotá, chef Espinosa offers the Ciclo-Biome menu featuring native ingredients from Colombia.
During my lunch at Leo, unique dishes included:
- Albacore with Santander ants
- Caiman (a small type of crocodile)
- Pirarucú (Amazonian river fish)
- Capybara (the world's largest rodent)
My drink pairing included exotic fruit blends, infusions, and coffee. This is Colombia, of course!
Prefer wine pairings? You're in good hands with chef Espinosa's daughter, sommelier Laura Hernández-Espinosa.
Leo is currently ranked the 27th best restaurant in Latin America and 49th best in the world.
2. Harry Sasson
Like Leo, Harry Sasson is another top Bogotá restaurant named after its chef-owner.
Housed in a 106-year-old red-brick mansion in the Zona G food district, Harry Sasson is dedicated to live-fire cooking.
Steak, seafood, and Japanese-style robata are the focus; however, you'll also find pizza, pasta, and paella on the menu.
The original house offers warm, intimate dining rooms, while the spacious rear patio and bar are covered by a spectacular steel and glass atrium.
Harry Sasson is currently ranked #25 on the list of Latin America's best restaurants.
3. André Carne de Res / Andrés DC
Colombia's most famous restaurant is Andre Carne de Res, a sprawling establishment that morphs into a nightclub on Friday and Saturday nights.
The original Andre Carne de Res opened in 1982 and is located in Chía, about an hour's drive or bus ride north of central Bogotá.
It's the kind of place that draws Colombians from all walks of life -- students, the working-class, the wealthy, and celebrities.
A more convenient 4-story location, Andrés DC, can be found in El Retiro Shopping Center in Zona T, a buzzing Bogotá nightlife district.
When I went to Andrés DC for dinner with a date, we took an elevator to the top floor and were seated at a communal table.
If you prefer your own table for dinner, make a reservation.
The menu I'm holding in the photo above was a thick book filled with dozens (possibly hundreds) of common Colombian dishes. It was overwhelming!
As "res" means beef in Spanish, a safe bet is ordering one of the steaks, which is exactly what I did.
I can't say I was too impressed, I've certainly had better steaks elsewhere in Colombia, but you go to Andres for the lively atmosphere as much, if not more, than the food.
4. El Cielo
Returning to fine dining, I must share the amazing El Cielo restaurant by chef Juan Manuel Barrientos Valencia.
The original El Cielo opened in Medellín in 2006, a block from Parque Lleras in El Poblado.
I still recall my first dinner in 2010, a tasting menu I enjoyed with one of my readers, who also happened to be a chef.
It was a memorable introduction to molecular gastronomy.
I invited friends to join me again in 2011, and more recently, I went for a solo lunch in 2018. The quality and creativity have remained consistently high throughout the years.
Chef Barrientos opened El Cielo Bogotá in 2011 in the Zona G neighborhood. It was included in Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants from 2013-15.
El Cielo Miami followed in 2015, followed by Washington, DC in January 2020.
The latter received a Michelin star in April 2021, the first Colombian restaurant to be awarded one!
Chef Jorge Rausch trained and worked in the UK before returning to Colombia and opening his first restaurant, Criterion, in 2004.
Criterion was one of the first restaurants in Colombia to offer diners the option of a tasting menu.
Today, they offer two options: a classic menu with signature dishes from the last 16 years and a seasonal menu.
Plus, you can order a la carte, as I did during my dinner experience.
Chef Jorge Rausch has also appeared in many TV shows, including MasterChef Colombia, Chile, Ecuador.
His brother, Mark Rausch, trained in Canada and is an accomplished pastry chef.
Together, the Rausch Brothers run 10 restaurants throughout Colombia, and operate a catering business, too!
Criterion was listed as one of Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants from 2013-16.
6. Villanos en Bermudas
Villanos en Bermudas was my kind of restaurant for so many reasons.
My experience at this multi-level restaurant in the Chapinero Central district was based on dinner in 2018 when the original chef-owners still worked there.
Chef Nicolás López from Argentina and Sergio Meza from Mexico trained in European restaurants and brought those skills and experience back to Latin America.
At Villanos, they came up with a new weekly menu based on fresh and seasonal ingredients.
They also cooked in an open kitchen on the restaurant's third floor, providing plenty of diners opportunities to interact with them.
From 2017 to 2018, Villanos en Bermudas jumped up from #40 to #15 on Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants list.
Update: In July 2020, the restaurant closed permanently due to the pandemic.
7. El Chato
Another restaurant that made a big leap up in the restaurant rankings recently is El Chato, which moved from #21 in 2018 to #7 in Latin America in 2019.
In 2017, he opened El Chato, a contemporary bistro in the Zona G / Chapinero Alto district.
Chef Clavijo proudly works with local suppliers to present creative dishes using seasonal ingredients.
I had the pleasure of dining here on my last night in Colombia in February 2019.
The interior is intimately lit and romantic, perfect for a date night experience.
The food was wonderful, though I would've liked a little more ambient light with which to fully enjoy it.
Tabula restaurant is a mere block and a half north of Leo, on the other side of the Museo Nacional de Colombia.
I learned of Tabula when it was featured on the Colombia episode of Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain.
Forever following in the footsteps of my culinary hero, I ordered the ossobuco just like he did.
As pictured above, it was an incredible meat presentation, complete with juicy bone marrow (another food Bourdain introduced me to through his early work).
Update: Tabula closed as a result of the pandemic as well.
9. La Puerta Falsa
Follow Calle 11 east of Plaza Bolívar in downtown Bogotá, and you'll see a row of small restaurants serving classic Bogotano food, including ajiaco (chicken and potato) soup, hot chocolate and cheese, and fresh tamales.
Established in 1816, La Puerta Falsa ("The False Door") is the oldest restaurant in Bogotá.
There's often a wait to enter this small historic establishment, and there's not much room to sit, but it's a worthy experience.
Every time I come to Bogotá, I try to grab a meal here. It's delicious Colombian comfort food.
Despite their rise in popularity, the prices are for Colombians, so it's a bargain for us international travelers.
Every time I visit, I order the hot chocolate and cheese, a combo I first discovered on this street during my first trip to Colombia.
Anthony Bourdain fans will also appreciate that he ate here and featured La Puerta Falsa in his Parts Unknown Colombia episode.
There you have it, my take on the best restaurants in Bogotá, Colombia's sprawling capital city.
Since I first published this list, two of the nine restaurants have closed. For their past contributions to Colombian dining, I'll continue to recognize them here.
These are three of the Bogotá restaurants on my list for a future visit:
- Local by the Rausch brothers uses traditional Colombian ingredients in new ways.
- Osk Peru is a part of an international chain of nikkei restaurants. I included the flagship location on my list of the best restaurants in Lima.
- Mini Mal showcases Colombia's biodiversity in a sustainable and ethical way
When I can get back to Bogotá, I'll update this list accordingly. Buen provecho!