One of the cool things about Medellin, Colombia is that crops just grow so easily there. Nicknamed “the land of eternal spring” because of it’s perfect year-round weather, it’s pretty easy to shop and eat locally-grown food no matter what time of year you visit.
Although Colombia is actually a very advanced country, there are no certifications for organically-grown goods the way we have the USDA here in the States (at least, none that I could find). Some farms who export to the U.S. are certified, but that’s not required to use the term for selling in Colombia. So when you’re buying “organic” food, you’re kind of just trusting the word of the farmer, restaurant, or market from whom you’re getting it.
Still, it’s exciting to be in a country where the avocados not only aren’t imported, but come in such a large size! So put away your guilt and prepare to eat well.
(Ps. Don’t miss our guide to the best Fair Trade, local coffee shops in Medellin!)
The most typical Colombian dishes include rice, egg, avocado, beans, arepas (which is kind of like a scrumptious corn pancake), plantain, and sausage. Several times, my host tried to get me to try a type of very common type of sausage that translates to “blood sausage.” Even though I usually accept food and drinks offers from locals (it’s pretty rude not to in their culture), I had built enough of a relationship with our host that I replied with a “No, gracias” each time.
Next to the American fast food staples like KFC and Domino’s, you’ll find tons of tiny, family-owned restaurants, bakeries, and to-go boutique shops and street vendors (Colombia has the highest number of self-employed people in the world) that will sell you dinner for about USD $2, albeit likely stuff with carne or “meat.” All-in-all, there is a variety of really great food in Medellin—from artisanal pizzas to soothing bowls to handmade pasta. And if you know where to look, it’s not too difficult to find restaurants serving fresh, healthy, and sustainably-sourced dishes. Here are the best places to check out.
At Seré, you can choose from a typical Colombian breakfast, or one of their more creative dishes—they’ve got all kinds of different bowls, pastries, and sandwiches. With some good coffee and tea options, it’s a good place to get some work done in the afternoon as well. It’s located in the trendy neighborhood of Poblado, one of the most popular ones for tourists and expats.
El Palo is a small, casual, and inexpensive vegetarian restaurant with a few vegan options. It gets crowded around lunchtime, so get there early. It’s located right off the B train in the Villa Nueva neighborhood.
As its name implies, Crepes & Waffles has a large menu of sweet and savory options. Recommended by the team at Noa Trade, the restaurant employs single moms and uses high quality and organic ingredients. They have multiple locations throughout Medellin and South America.
(Oh, and if you want to do some authentic artisan and local shopping, here’s our guide to that, too.)
Also located in Poblado, Natto is a really cute open air restaurant that’s great for lunch. They have healthy juices, homemade sodas, and yummy bowls, all made from natural ingredients that are grown “without chemicals.” They have a lot of vegetarian options available too.
Right down the street from Natto, Verdeo is supposedly one of the best restaurants in the city. It’s a seasonal, outdoor vegetarian restaurant with a lot of delicious food and some great vegan and gluten free options. It’s got great vibes and is a good place for co-working as well.
Justo is a beautiful vegan restaurant recommended to us by sustainability blogger, Mariana Matija. All of their ingredients are grown locally at their own organic farm where they care for the mental health of the farmers and employees. All of the servers receive more than minimum wage too. Whether you’re vegan or not, their dishes are really yummy and the overall environment is vibrant and welcoming.
Café Zorba is a great dinner spot that has an insane vegetarian pizza rivaling Roberta’s in NYC. There is usually a wait, but it’s totally worth it. It’s located in Poblado and is a great place to meet up with friends.
With a dynamic aesthetic and fresh, balanced menu, Shanti has something for everyone. They have vegan, vegetarian, and gluten free choices alongside a few fish and meat options and a large menu of natural juices, smoothies, teas, and sodas.
Also located in Poblado, Mundo Verde is a great place for healthy bowls, wraps, sandwiches, and smoothies.
Olivia quickly became a favorite of ours. They make fresh, organic, pizza with a light and crispy artisanal crust. They have some really great bowls and salads too, with lots of vegetarian options. They source local, organic ingredients whenever possible and take a conscious approach to the entire process of sourcing, making, and serving their food. They also serve fresh craft cocktails and kombucha and have several locations throughout the city.
One of the most well-known restaurants in the city, this one helped put Medellin on the culinary map. El Cielo employs former soldiers and features farm-to-table ingredients served in a huge variety of beautifully presented dishes for a sensory dining experience. Featuring a lush, forest-filled lounge setting that includes leather chairs—like a men’s hunting lodge that’s been taken over by the jungle–it’s one of the sexiest food places to find yourself while in Colombia. I had a dish that included traditional local fish served with quinoa under a round leaf. We did the a la cart option, which was wonderful, but make sure you block out about three and a half hours if you want the whole experience!
La Chagra is a must visit. This restaurant sources directly from Amazonian tribes to provide you with an educational and delicious food experience. There are three tasting menus to choose from, plus “Shamanic” cocktail infusions. We got the longest and most expensive tasting, at about $65 USD per person. It lasted for four hours, with artfully plated oddities, such as caterpillars stuffed with shrimp, spicy sauce made from ants, aphrodisiac shooters, and finally ending with a ceremony involving coca powder and rape blown into our noses. Completely unforgettable!
If you’re in the mood for Italian, Parmessano is a great choice. They use natural and sustainably-sourced ingredients and they made their pasta fresh, by hand, every day. They have great vegan and vegetarian options.
Salud Pan is in the Laureles neighborhood, which is a bit more upscale than Poblado and has a mix of local Colombians and expats. This restaurant offers raw, vegan, and minimally-processed food without chemicals or preservatives. They partner with small, family-run organic farms and non-profit organizations and have also implemented various recycling, low-waste, and compost initiatives.
With herbs as the backbone, Herbario chef Rodrigo Isaza, created a unique menu that combines flavors from cultures all around the world. The restaurant also has a small shop where you can buy some of their fresh and jarred herbs for yourself. It’s located in an old winery in the Manila neighborhood.
If you’re looking for classic Colombian cuisine, visit one of Restaurante Hacienda’s four locations. It’s not healthy or sustainable at all, but if you want to get a real taste of typical dishes, this is your place.
Cere is a specialty market that has it all. It connects to Justo and hosts a cold-pressed juice and smoothie shop on the upper side. The juice bar (with kombucha!) is known as a refreshing and healthy stopover for those cruising the Lleras neighborhood.
Also recommended by the team at Noa Trade, Mercado del Rio is a really cool experience that’s more than just a meal. Mercado del Rio literally means “river market,” and it was created in 2015 as a gastronomic market that “offers an unforgettable culinary experience” for locals and tourists. You will find a variety of food, wine, cocktails, coffee, live music, and plenty of seating. It’s a great place to go with friends on a weekend night to enjoy a lively atmosphere.
Mercado Campesinos is located in Parque la Presidenta, Poblado, every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. It offers everything from snacks to essentials, jams to jewelry, potted plants to special lotions. Those who come early get the choice selections of hand-picked and ready-to-eat raspberries, strawberries, pineapples, mangos, coconut, granadilla (passion fruit) and papaya. Try the platanitos, miniature bananas, or help yourself to a fresh-squeezed juice medley. Have you ever tried a mango and coconut smoothie with freshly shaved coconut stirred in? All are sugar-free, 100% juice delights.
You can also get your hands on small-batches of arepas. The quinoa and cranberry combo is a real hit, as are the garlic yucca and quesito flavors. These tasty flatbreads share a stall with the cheese and chorizo vendors. This setup allows you to pick out your favorite hearty toppings in a convenient fashion. There are numerous condiments, tapenades, jams and local honeys available as well. Before you leave, grab a primo cup of Colombian coffee and stroll amongst the pastries. The best part of the farmer’s market is that it’s located just off the Ciclovia.
Del Huerto Gourmet uses fresh and organic ingredients, mostly from their own garden. Located in the La Candelaria neighborhood, north of the city’s center, it’s a good option for vegetarians.