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Best Restaurants in Cartagena, Colombia (For All Budgets)

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In recent years, Cartagena’s popularity has exploded. We’ve seen direct flights to countless U.S. cities, new glamorous boutique hotels opening and a strong focus on creating a safe environment in the city’s tourist centre.

It’s no surprise that Cartagena has seen a major dining renaissance. Today, Cartagena’s UNESCO-recognized Old Town is famous for innovative restaurants which reinvent the indigenous flavors of Colombia – often in an refurbished colonial courtyard. Foodies are spoiled for choice here, with numerous high-quality restaurants and even better cooking classes.

We’ve rounded up the best restaurants in Cartagena, Colombia right now. Your Cartagena hotel will most likely include breakfast, so we’ve focused on lunch or dinner dining. In saying that, if you are looking for a breakfast option – or to learn more about Cartagena’s coffee culture – don’t miss our guide to the best 4 cafes in Cartagena, Colombia. And if you’re looking to kick on after dinner, we’ve got you covered with our top 4 bars in Cartagena.

balconies in cartagena old town colombia

We know that Cartagena attracts all types of tourists: backpackers, honeymooners, families and everything in between. With that in mind, we’ve organized our dining recommendations by budget.

Budget: street food

If you’re traveling on a budget, or simply keen to try Colombian street food, Cartagena’s old town is a dream. Throughout the streets you’ll find small stalls selling arepas, fresh fruit and every fried good you can imagine.

On Calle Segunda de Badillo, in front of the Members Only Bar (or thereabouts), you’ll find a small and extremely popular stand selling ‘fritos’. This is my favorite spot in Cartagena for carimañolas (mashed yuca stuffed with cheese and deep-fried).

Mid-range restaurants

Colombitalia Arepas

I’m a little torn whether to include this restaurant as I ultimately did not eat here. Before coming to Cartagena, countless friends told me to stop past Colombitalia, a fusion Italian-Colombian fast food restaurant. With a long menu of pizzas and, more importantly, artisanal arepas, I thought this was exactly my type of restaurant.

After taking a seat, I ordered a caprese arepa: stuffed with fresh tomato and basil and buffalo mozzarella. Unfortunately for me, after a one-hour wait, I simply gave up. If you’ve eaten an arepa before, you’ll know they rarely take more than a few minutes to prepare. Given what an institution this restaurant is, I’m hesitant to completely write it off. I won’t be giving Colombitalia another chance, but you might have better luck than me.

Pezetarian

A self-styled Colombian, Japanese, Peruvian fusion, Pezetarian offer high-quality sushi and ceviche in the heart of Cartagena’s Old Town. Don’t be put off by the fast-food décor; this is high-quality dining at mid-range prices.

I particularly love this restaurant for its fresh flavors. It’s not every day you can try a sushi taco (with tempura seaweed), and let me tell you: this is something you didn’t know you needed on your culinary bucket list. Another star on the menu is the sushi pizza with combined salmon and tuna tartare, all served with a generous dose of Colombian avocado. Vegetarians are well catered for here, with dedicated menu items and vegetable-only sushi rolls.

High-end dining

I strongly recommend reserving your fine-dining restaurants well in advance if you are visiting Cartagena during the high season (December – February).

Carmen

It’s no secret that Cartagena is home to excellent, world-class restaurants. While some are perhaps a little overhyped, Carmen is a true gem and offers the best of Colombian cuisine. In many ways, Carmen encapsulates my favorite type of restaurant: reinventing local flavors in an innovative, forward-thinking environment.

The Carmen experience begins with a star palate-cleansing starter, a Cali-style fried plantain mixed with local cheese and a starfruit relish. As you are visiting Cartagena, I strongly recommend focusing on the seafood options. The ceviche is a real gem, served with fresh cassava tostadas, while the mushroom tartare is poignant and zesty and was a real highlight.

From the mains, my favorite is easily the Pez y Platano. This innovative dish involves the fish of the day crusted in mung bean and sesame, served with a side of agnolotti (Colombian ravioli), stuffed with plantain and coffee from Colombia’s Zona Cafeteria. Your waiter will then cover the dish in a brown butter dashi sauce, truly a masterpiece of Cartagena dining.

You’ll have the option to sit in the magnificent colonial-era courtyard, or the (more comfortable) air-conditioned interior. If you are visiting during the more humid summer months, make sure to specify if you want to sit indoors!

Celele

No list of the best restaurants in Cartagena is complete without this gem. Celele is easily the most famous restaurant in Cartagena and you’ll need to book a table well in advance. With countless accolades to their name, including a regular feature on the list of 50 best restaurants in Latin America, Celele is a true dining experience.

Before eating here, it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t an ordinary restaurant. Ultimately, the beautiful pieces of art that arrive on the table don’t exactly match the creatively named and described dishes on the menu.

arepa fine dining best restaurants cartagena, colombia solele best50

The highlight dish is easily the appetizer from San Bernardo archipelago, which features mashed sweet pepper, boiled egg yolk folk and egg white pearls (which have a remarkable tapioca-like texture). This masterpiece is all served with the most gourmet arepa you’ll find in Colombia. Celele is a culinary journey in the truest sense. And best of all, almost every dish draws from locally sourced plants, fruits and produce.

Vegetarians and vegans are well catered for at Solele. With many of the main dishes replacing crab or even mussels for similar plant-based options.

La Cevichería

We’re calling it now: Cartagena has perfected the art of ceviche. Before this article gets too controversial, yes, I’m aware that nowhere can compare with Lima. However, outside of Peru you’ll be hard pressed to find ceviche as fresh and expertly prepared as in Cartagena.

La Cevichería is easily the most famous of Cartagena’s ceviche shops. Made famous by the one-and-only Anthony Bourdain, it can often be difficult to get a table here. I’ve always taken a slightly reluctant approach with Bourdain’s recommendations (after one less-than-impressive suggestion in Beirut). However, La Cevichería truly does meet the hype.

Unsurprisingly, you’ll find countless options for ceviche, including a very popular peanut sauce. I’m a big fan of the coconut tigers milk, coriander and mint concoction – all topped with freshly grated coconut. The ceviche bowls come in three sizes, making them ideal for sharing between friends.

The staff at La Cevichería are certainly prepared for indecisive tourists.

If you’re a ceviche novice, or simply unsure where to begin, don’t be afraid to let them guide you through the menu. It’s an experience and should be treated as such.

The restaurant itself leans heavily into the nautical theme, with decorations that wouldn’t be out of place in a casual fish and chips restaurant. However, in case it isn’t clear yet, this casual décor is home to one of the best restaurants in Cartagena. If the weather isn’t too hot or humid, I’d recommend sitting outside to admire the eternally magnificent streets of Cartagena.


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