When we spent one month living in Medellin we drank a lot of Colombian coffee and stuffed our bellies eating a lot of Paisa food (Paisa is what they call people from Medellin and the Antioquia region). In Colombia, the dollar goes far here. We were able to live on a pretty nominal budget, explore the city, and still eat like kings. From comida colombiana (Colombian food) to street food, here’s my tasty guide to what and where to eat when you visit Medellin.
The bandeja paisa is the most popular dish in Colombia, an old “poor man’s meal” popularized by peasant workers because it filled them up for a whole day’s work. It’s now the national dish of Colombia with each region having its own variations. In Medellin it is usually a choice of meat like traditional chicharrón (fried pork belly) or carne molida (ground beef), fried egg, avocado slices, sweet fried plantains, and arepa (corn pancake).
Where to try it: this is a classic so you’ll find it at nearly every local Colombian restaurant.
Menu del Dia
Breakfast and lunch tend to be the main meals of the day, which means real happy hour in Colombia is between 12-3pm. This is when restaurants offer up filling daily lunch specials. For only a fixed price, you get a food coma on a platter that typically includes your choice of meat such as pork, chicken or steak along with three sides, a soup and freshly made juice. The most popular juice in Colombia is guarapo, similar to lemonade and made from pressed sugarcane.
We lived off eating menu del dia everyday. It’s really the best way to eat well and eat cheap while living in Medellin.
Many restaurants offer a menu del dia but where they differ is their homemade juices and soups.
Where to try it:
Santa Melonas – The creamy sweet yuca soup and salad with pico de gallo salsa on top is delicious. Daily menu 9,500 COP (about $3 USD). Cash only. We ate here at least three times a week.
El Pilon – The frijoles bean soup and homemade lemonade are excellent. Daily menu 13,000 COP (about $4 USD).
El Aguacate – located in the lovely backdrop of Parque Lineal La Presidenta. Try the guava juice and cream of chicken soup. Daily menu 12,900 COP (about $4 USD).
A warm, hearty sopa (soup) is a staple on Colombian dining tables and there are four traditional ones you should try. The most typical Paisa soup is sancocho, a stew-like dish that combines potatoes, yuca, corn, plantains and different meat like chicken or sausage. If you’re brave, mondongo (tripe soup) is also typical of the Antioquia region.
We absolutely loved ajiacos, a shredded chicken soup with three varieties of potato and corn but my favourite was frijoles bean soup. It’s thick and smokey in flavour, often with bits of chicharrón or pork.
Where to try it: Ajiacos y Mondongos is famous for its soup and comida tipica (typical cuisine).
Buñuelo is a sweet and warm doughy goodness, deep fried and rolled into a perfectly round, bite-size ball. Nuff said.
Where to try it: Buñuelo Supremo. This hole-in-the-wall factory rolls out delicious donut balls for 500 pesos each (0.20 cents).
This is the ultimate sweet street food snack. Arepas are crispy corn pancakes, buttered and fried on a griddle until golden brown. You can choose arepas de choclo which is topped with a thick chunk of sheep cheese or arepas de queso with fresh mozzarella and sweetened condensed milk.
Where to try it: Las Chachas
While you can find empanadas all over Latin America, Colombian-style empanadas are deep fried and crispy typically stuffed with meat, chicken or cheese. The traditional way to eat them is with a squeeze of lime or picante salsa.
Where to try it: El Machetico is hands-down the best place for Colombian-style empanadas.
Fresh Fruit Juice & Smoothies
Colombia is home to tropical fruit crops like guava, papaya, coconut, kiwi, avocado, pineapple, and banana. Fruits are one of their biggest exports so there is no better place to taste them at their freshest. My favourite fruit stand was the one by our house sit in El Poblado, a regular stop for me after my morning yoga class.
For 2,000 COP (about $1 USD) you get a large cup, your choice of fruits, blended together or freshly squeezed, made with either water or leche.
Where to try it: from this man at the corner of Calle 7 & 36
Medellin is a strong expat hub so there’s lots of options for other international food, in case you want a break from eating Colombian food.
Tacos Criminales is the most delicious place for Mexican burritos and tacos. Especially on Tuesdays when it’s Taco Tuesday and all the tacos are $1! So you can stuff your face without worrying about the tab. It’s a fun, open-air atmosphere with a few street-side tables or sit at the sidewalk bar. On the menu: steak, chicken, agua chile, chorizo, al pastor, or chicharron served up in a wrapper that reads “Mo Money Mo Tacos”.
Mu Restaurant. This is a business that makes their money from just one thing, two times a week. Ribs. It’s the only thing you will find on the menu. That’s it. Choose from small or large order of ribs for 70,000 COP (about $20 USD) for two people. It comes with a hefty side of fries as well as corn tortilla chips and guacamole while you wait. It’s only open Fridays and Saturdays from 6-10pm but you should get there as soon as it opens or they will run out of ribs. We’ve been here more than once and each time the crowds flock in like herds. Cash only.
Chabuca serves up traditional Peruvian stews with creamy sauces over chicken or steak, and well-portioned sandwiches using their own in-house made bread. Most items are 19,800 to 28,000 COP each (about $6-9 USD).
Growing up Italian, I am picky when it comes to Italian food like pizza and pasta. We tasted some really awful pizza in Medellin and we nearly gave up on our search for a good pie, but on our last night we discovered an excellent thin-crust from Casa di Mazza. Cafe Zorba and Ammazza are also well-known for their Italian-style pizza.
If you’re planning a trip to Medellin, print or save this guide and pack in your back pocket so you know what and where to eat when you visit Medellin.