The Best Food in Cartagena, Colombia
Stumped by the menu? Don’t worry, we spent several weeks figuring out what to eat in Cartagena for you! From the budget-friendly street food vendors in the walled city to the best restaurants in Cartagena and the super-hip neighborhood of Getsemani, here is your bucket list of the best food in Cartagena, Colombia.
- It seems like an odd thing to put at the top of my “what to eat in Cartagena” list, but every single time I’ve eaten soup here, it’s been the best soup I’ve EVER had. Doesn’t even matter what kind: sopa de pollo, fish soup, coconut fish stew… just spritz some sweet, coconutty green lemon on top, and it’s the best darn thing on the table, every time. I learned fast to order soup at any restaurant in Cartagena even when it was 85 degrees and I was sweating. It’s THAT good. Seriously!! After 5 months of backpacking South America, the soup in Cartagena remains our favorite.
Posta Negra Cartagena
- A classic Cartagena dish, Posta Negra is a must eat Cartagena food! Tri-tip is marinated and slow cooked in a sauce that reminded us of a dark, syrupy, spicy mole – but there is no chocolate in this dish. One recipe that we looked up said to use Coca-Cola. Another said orange juice. What we ate had just a hint of sweetness, perfectly balanced with acid, spice, and a deep, rich robustness. We loved it. Don’t leave Cartagena without ordering it at one of the best restaurants in Cartagena at least once!
- Mango Biche is Green Mango with salt, pepper, and lemon. Yes, of course you can (and should!) get fresh sweet mango from a street vendor anywhere in Cartagena or Getsemani. But the more unique street food version – and our favorite – is sliced unripe mango with salt, pepper, and a little green lemon, all mixed together in a plastic bag. It’s sort of like the appeal of salt and vinegar chips: the perfect balance of slightly sweet, tangy, and salty all at once. This was our favorite street food in Colombia, and our favorite snack food in Cartagena. You can find vendors selling this treat absolutely anywhere for 3.000 COP/$1 (even when you’re on a bus or in a car).
Fish. All of the fish.
- I know, “fish” is a little vague. But honestly I can’t actually translate most of the fish we’ve eaten, though I’ve been told that red snapper is a local favorite, and I’ve seen a lot of sea bass on the menu. We’ve had some shark, I think, and a lot of shrimp. But honestly it doesn’t matter. All of it is incredibly good, and incredibly fresh. We saw fisherman on the shores of Boquilla and Bocagrande in Cartagena hauling in nets full of fish every morning, which means that fish is the most incredibly fresh thing you can eat in Cartagena. Whether it’s a guy with a cart on the beach, or one of the best restaurants in Cartagena, just order the pescado. You can order it any which way: with fresh herbs, grilled (a la plancha), with garlic sauce or coconut sauce. All good. The fresh fish in Cartagena usually comes with tiny green lemons, green plantain, and sweet coconut rice, which are the perfect accompaniment!
- Cartagena is a hotspot for all things seafood, and this city knows its ceviche. We’ve seen everything from classic ceviche to mango ceviche on menus across the city, and I want to go back and try them all. Don’t miss out on the Colombian version of this South American foodie staple!
- What? Pizza? In Colombia? Yes, it’s true. There’s delicious pizza here, and it’s cheap. Steps away from our hostel in Getsemani, Cartagena on the Plaza de Trinidad were several rival pizza places, all offering delicious thin crust varieties. The Colombian twist, of course, is something sweet: fruit! Colombians put fruit on their pizza, and it’s so good. Colombian pizza offerings typically involve a variety of something like a thin crust Hawaiian pizza, with various local fruit and other flavors. We tried a Colombian pizza with dried plums and jalapenos, one with raisins, and one with guava jelly, and they were all delicious. The sweet fruit balances perfectly with the salty meat and cheese, all on a perfect thin crust. Pizzas that will feed two are around 18.000 COP, or $6 USD, making it a fantastic budget-friendly food in Cartagena.
- Jugos Naturales are fresh juices made with exotic Colombian tropical fruits. You can order these everywhere in Cartagena and Getsemani, so feel free to try a different flavor each time. Our favorite is maracuya/passionfruit, usually made from a sweeter variety, called granadilla. We’ve also tried tomato de arbol (sort of like a sweet cranberry), mango, tamarind, guava, lulo (also called naranjila, it’s like a citrussy rhubarb), corozo (similiar to a cherry), cherimoya (tastes like bubblegum mixed with honeysuckle, we love it), and blackberry. They go for around 4.000 COP (about $1.25 USD) so there’s really no reason not to have one every time you go out for food in Cartagena!
Colombian Shrimp Cocktail
- A Styrofoam cup filled with fresh shrimp. Finely minced onion. Bright, fresh cut herbs. Juice from a tiny green local lemon. A generous dollop of cocktail sauce. Mixed together and eaten with a packet of crackers. This is the recipe for the best shrimp cocktail I have ever had. We bought it on the shores of Bocagrande – Cartagena’s shoreline, in front of the sprawling metropolis – for $4 from a random vendor with a cart. I wasn’t prepared for how incredibly good it was: a salty, tangy flavor bomb, so fresh that when I dove into the warm waters of the Caribbean just after we finished eating, I felt a closer kinship with the sea for having eaten something so fresh. Don’t miss out on some fresh, delicious Colombian shrimp cocktail on the shores of Cartagena, Colombia. Trust us – it’s legit!
The Best Restaurants in Cartagena, Colombia
Now that you know what to eat in Cartagena, here are the best restaurants in Cartagena to eat them! These are our picks for where to eat in Cartagena as well as the neighborhood of Getsemani, where some of the best food is found. We’ve included both budget-friendly options in Cartagena and a couple of places that we think are worth the splurge!
- Ristorante 1533 was one of the first places we went to eat in the walled city of Cartagena, and proved to be one of our picks for the best restaurants in Cartagena. Our delicious meals each came with a generous portion of yummy Colombian soup, sweet coconut rice, plantain, and salad for the insanely budget friendly price of around 15.000 COP/$5. Ristorante 1533 is one of the best restaurants in Cartagena when it comes to great value!
La Cocina de Pepina
- La Cocina de Pepina, in Getsemani, Cartagena, was recommended to us by the artisanal baker we met in Minca, so we had to go – and we were not disappointed! La Cocina de Pepina is one of the best restaurants in Cartagena to sample the fusion of traditional Colombian and Carribbean cuisine that is typical of Cartagena food (and we aren’t the only ones who think so! One Hour Behind listed it as one of the best restaurants in Caratagena too)! We ordered a mind blowing fish soup and delicious Posta Negra Cartagena. We also ordered “cabeza e gato” which were little balls of mashed yucca and plantain topped with sour cream and a chili sauce – a tasty and interestingly titled appetizer! Dishes hover around 20-30.000 COP (roughly $7-$10).
La Casa de Socorro
- La Casa de Socorra is a pricier option, but it’s worth the splurge if you want to sample traditional comida costeña/coastal food at one of the best restaurants inCartagena. We had absolutely incredible fish soup (notice a trend here?) and an incredible appetizer of minced shark on top of plantain. We also tried one of the many items on the menu that were treated to a French gratin of bubbling hot cheese and garlic. As if eating shark wasn’t adventurous enough, you’ll also find snail and turtle in the menu (we didn’t try those). We recommend ordering any fish dish at La Casa de Socorro. Entrees cost about 25.000-50.000 COP, $8-$16 USD (the upper price range is all lobster)!
- Yep, Colombian pizza. Look, sometimes all you want is a good, budget-friendly pizza and an ice cold Aguila, the local cheap beer. (Yes, we like Aguila. Try it before you judge us!) Pizza Carbon hits the spot for Colombian pizza. It’s got a prime location right on the Plaza de Trinidad in Getsemani, Cartagena, where you can watch various battling dance troupes or just people watch on a warm Cartagena night. The best pizza in Cartagena comes with a sweet surprise: the Colombian pizzas all feature fruit! Our favorite was a Hawaiian pizza with jalapeno and plums. A whole Colombian pizza for 2 cost about 18.000 COP/$6. Aguila was insanely cheap, like 2.000 COP/less than $1. So worth it.
- Pizza Carbon Address: # a 144, Calle 29 #9122, Getsemani, Cartagena, on the Plaza de Trinidad in Getsemani | Facebook Page
Oh! La La
- French food isn’t something I would have immediately considered when choosing a restaurant in Cartagena, but it’s actually quite unique. The incredibly friendly owner of the cafe took the time to explain to us everything on her menu, in English, and answer all of our questions. She’s a French chef with a love of Colombian ingredients, and it shows in her food. Her pancakes were the best I’ve ever had, and the assortment of artisanal fresh made jams, jellies and syrups – all made with Colombian tropical fruits like tamarind and guava – was a fantastic included addition to our meal. The breakfasts are reasonably priced around 15.000-19.000 COP ($5-$6) and come with a huge bottle of fresh juice, coffee, tea, or hot chocolate.
EL BOLICHE CEBICHERIA
- If you’re willing to ball out, this is THE best restaurant in Cartagena for Colombian ceviche. The menu’s ceviche offerings feature insanely fresh Cartagena fish (caught locally each morning by Cartagena fisherman, of course) mixed with tropical Colombian fruits. If you’re game, try the spicy tamarind ceviche or the fresh grilled octopus!
So that’s our roundup of the best restaurants in Cartagena, Colombia for budget-friendly eating! Have you been to Cartagena, Colombia? What was your favorite food?
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