Cartagena, alongside the capital city of Bogota, is the culinary powerhouse of Colombia. Not only is this tourist city known for its stunning old town and Caribbean ambience but is also recognized for its vibrant and competitive gastronomic offering.
Cartagena offers a broad mix of culinary delights, including both Colombian dishes and international cuisine. Local delicacies include arepas (fried corn patties), patacones (fried plantains) and empanadas of different varieties.
Thanks to its coastal backset, the city boasts great seafood. In Cartagena you can find local fried fish, often served with coconut rice. If that’s not your thing, fret not as there is an abundance of ceviche and sushi-serving restaurants.
Cartagena has long attracted visitors from all corners of the globe and this is reflected within its diverse gastronomic offering. Packed within the 5 square miles of the UNESCO Old City are an impressively large number of gourmet, high-end restaurants. Whether it’s Italian, Mediterranean, Asian, Peruvian, Mexican or even a fusion of the above, you will be able to find it in this charming part of Cartagena.
This is a city brimming with tourists and therefore expect the tourist traps. Among the many restaurants are gems but beware that a lot of the service falls short of the mark.
If that all seems a bit overwhelming for you, you’ve come to the right place! Here we have curated a list of the top 5 places to eat in Cartagena, Colombia.
(1) La Cevichería
No list would be respectable without including La Cevichería, a modest seafood restaurant that became famous after featuring on Anthony Bourdain’s television series, “No Reservations” in 2008.
Contrary to the name of Bourdain’s show, you’ll actually want to make a reservation as this place can get very busy.
La Cervichería caught the attention of Bourdain for its eclectic integration of Afro-Caribbean, indigenous and Spanish flavours. The head chef, who was featured on the show, Jorge Escandón, pioneered new and exciting dishes capitalizing on the diversity of Cartagenas people and cuisines. Chief among them is his delicious ceviche marinated in citrus juices and spices.
On offer are a variety of ceviche options, including the classic ceviche with fish, shrimp and octopus. The restaurant purports to prepare each plate using nothing less than high-quality ingredients and are widely praised for combining sweet, sour and spice.
Rest assured that La Cevicheria is not just complacently piggybacking off the fame of its TV appearance. as it continues to serves thousands of customers, month-to-month.
It’s not just the edgy food however that makes La Cevichería such a magnet for tourists and locals alike. It is located in the heart of the old town and so possesses the inherent charm and elegance that comes with it. Much like the streets that surround it, La Cevichería is highly Instagrammable thanks to all its color and old Spanish architecture.
(2) La Vitrola
Address: Cra. 2 #33-66
Keeping La Cevicheria on its feet is this fantastic and renowned contender, La Vitrola. It is another famous restaurant in Cartagena thanks to its festive atmosphere and local cuisine which specializes in both Caribbean and sea food.
The menu is extensive but never strays from its traditional roots. What does that entail? Ceviche, coconut rice, egg arepas, red snapper…
La Vitrola has served many thousands of customers that have heard great things about the restaurant and seems to meet their high expectations. La Vitrola has been reviewed over 700 times on Google and receives a 4.5 star rating.
Look aside from the food for just one second though and you’ll discover that La Vitrola is far more than its menu. In fact, what makes it such a staple for Cartagena’s many visitors isn’t the food but rather the vibrant culture of the Carribbean. The restaurant is brimming with vintage decorations that’ll take you back in time to the peak years of Caribbean salsa. There is a vibrant and authentic atmosphere here that alone deserves a visit. Bring a date or a couple of friends and a good night is what you’re bound to have, especially if there’s live music, which is typically Carribean salsa or vallenato (all true to the region).
Make sure to try one of the many Cuban cocktails, including a mojito which we promise is excellent!
Like La Cevichería, we recommend that you make a reservation ahead of your visit, especially if visiting on a weekend.
(3) Persepolis Gastrobar
Address: Carrera 2 9 161 Bocagrande Av. San Martín
This restaurant is unlike any other on the list in that it serves Persian food. Being of Iranian heritage myself, it is amazing that such quality, exotic food exists here in Cartagena. It is a testament to how exciting and diverse the culinary scene is. You won’t find anything like this in Medellin.
Persian food, especially when cooked in a family/intimidate kitchen, is simply excellent and it is very impressive to see it done properly in Cartagena.
Persepolis Gastrobar makes it on this top 5 list of places to eat in Cartagena because of its focus on customer satisfaction – making sure that each customer walks out with a memorable and personable experience. Out of 836 places to eat in Cartagena listed on TripAdvisor, this place is ranked #11 – that’s the highest out of any restaurant on this list.
With a 5* rating on TripAdvisor, it is the passion and attention to detail executed by the team that allows this place to contend with such fierce competition.
So what kind of food do you find here? Persian food of course… That includes everything from chicken and lamb kebabs to ancient stews such bademjan (made with tomato and eggplant).
You’ll also find some less authentically Persian dishes such as hummus and kibbe. That’s to be expected though as this appeals to a wider palette.
The average price of a plate of kebab is around 50,000 COP while rice will set you back 15,000 COP. They also serve a wide range of highly rated cocktails for 38,000 COP.
We recommend you check out the amazing feedback of this place on TripAdvisor.
(4) Niku Cartagena
Niku is a restaurant chain serving up a fusion of Peruvian and Japanese food. So yes, that means the menu (as is often the case in Cartagena) includes a variety of ceviche, sushi and seafood plates.
Call it serendipity, but my friends and I stumbled across this unsuspecting place when taking our first stroll through the Old City. Hungry and intent on eating anywhere, as long as it was somewhere, we stepped inside.
This was midday and so we were surprised to see it so empty but as we walked into the courtyard… wow! This restaurant is stunning. We were given the option of sitting where we liked and chose wisely under this massive tree in the middle of the courtyard. As we ordered our food and were waiting for it to arrive under the comfortable shade of a natural canopy, we were all in awe as to how stunning and picturesque everything was. We may have been the only customers but we were sharing the space with passing squirrels and exotic parrots.
I had ordered seaweed and tuna ceviche (which I believe cost around 55,000 COP) and was told everything was made in-house – including the black pepper seaweed.
All I can say is that it was exquisite and I recall a really delicious, fragrant meal. My friends were eager to spend more on their meal and ordered a flaming prawn dish which was not only a spectacle, but a source of envy. Next time, I’ll know not to hold back.
I highly recommend this inconspicuous place; it truly feels like you’re dining in paradise, or an oasis of some sort. Although quiet, we noted a DJ set in the courtyard so we can imagine things can pick up during weekends.
(5) Carmen Restaurant, Cartagena
Address: Troncal del Caribe #71-435 a 71-375
If you’re looking for contemporary Colombian food with an international and elevated twist, look no further…
Carmen has chalked up quite the reputation, making it the most expensive restaurant on this list. If you can stomach a hefty bill in exchange for quality to match, this is one not to miss. There’s a reason everybody raves about this place.
Carmen positions itself on the market as a high-end establishment; fine dining of excellent food paired with first-rate service. The menu is elaborate with an option to pick something a la carte or indulge in the 7 (yes seven!) – course tasting menu.
Carmen Restaurant has been held to scrutiny by over 3,000 customers on TripAdvisor and has fared very well with a 4.5* rating. It is, by far, the most reviewed restaurant on this list.
These are the favourite dishes:
- Pez Negro (black fish) – Fish of the day served with a crème Fraiche and Andean potato and black truffle ravioli.
- No Me Llames Cazuella (don’t call me casserole) – poached prawns, shrimp, clams and chorizo in Carrabbean vindaloo.
- Cerdo 2 Veces (pig x2) – pork belly and milk-braised tenderloin in a tamarind glaze.
Finally, it should go without saying that a place of this caliber and popularity requires a booking in advance of arrival. You can do so on their website (link above).
There we have it – the top 5 places to eat in Cartagena. As we mentioned, Cartagena has a spectacular gastronomic offering for its visitors. There are some truly incredible restaurants but nestled among them are places that fall off the mark. With the city annually serving 100,000s of tourists, the lure of easy foreign money means that it’s easy to end up disappointed.
If you want to play it safe and eat somewhere you know has been well-verified, we advise you to stick to the list. Do you know of any top restaurants in the area worth sharing?
Oh, and we really must mention that the street food in Cartagena is well worth exploring. It is an integral part of the city’s food – with many locals consuming some form of it regularly. We’re talking about everything from fruit, snacks to breakfast, lunch and dinner. While not all street stalls are so good, there are many which bring to the city their own stories and character. Generally speaking, the street food in Cartagena is cheap, cheerful and abundant (if not so healthy).
We recommend you try:
- Arepa de huevo (egg stuffed arepas) – this is a staple snack of the area and while quite greasy, very delicious.
Carimañola – fried yucca fritters. They are a good choice for either breakfast, lunch or as a snack. Crunchy on the outside and nice and gooey on the inside. And yes, the street food is almost all deep-fried.
Fruit – Do NOT miss out on the fruit here. Does the image of ripe mango and sweet pineapple not cross your mind when thinking of the Caribbean? Because that’s exactly what you’ll find dotted throughout Cartagena’s streets – and it won’t disappoint.
Finally, here is a recap of our top 5 places to eat in Cartagena:
- La Cevichería
- La Vitrola
- Persepolis Gastrobar
- Niku Cartagena
- Carmen Restaurant.
If you have any questions or know of anywhere excellent to eat in Cartagena, get in touch!