Surprisingly close in size to New York City, the massive Colombian city of Bogota has — culturally, artistically, and gastronomically — never felt more alive. Just as the country as a whole is shedding its past image, some exceptional Bogota dining venues are transforming the image of Colombian cuisine thanks to their superlative chefs – some of the most creative in Latin America.

Take a look here and see the delicious places in the Colombian capital that we recommend – all just for you:

1. Andrés Carne de Res: A steak house with dancing?

This legendary steakhouse provides a true Colombian experience in one of country’s most unique restaurants. Famous for both its stellar empanadas and its all-night, alcohol-fueled benders, Andres de Res combines hearty Colombian cuisine with a fiesta like none other. From the restaurant’s amazing 75-page menu, diners can thumb through pages of succulent steaks or select other classics like arepas (corn cakes) and ceviche.

Though the extensive menu can be a bit overwhelming, you can work it off during the large, lively and colorful Colombian party that lasts till morning. Pure fun — especially on Saturdays — the after-dinner festivities consist of live music, over-the-top decor, and improve-actors who create a world of their own. The restaurant is actually located in the nearby village of Chia — 45-minutes away — but well worth the short drive.

2. Leo Restaurant: A culinary celebration of culture

Named for one the country’s most celebrated chefs (Leonor Espinosa), the Leo restaurant creates high-end contemporary cuisine by employing the traditional ingredients of disenfranchised Colombian communities. As such, the restaurant’s imaginative fine dining plates reflect the local products and ancestral knowledge of campesinos, indigenous peoples, and Afro-Colombians.

The result is an extravagant 15-course tasting menu, encompassing selections such as lemongrass-scented rainforest ants, smoked rabbit, velvety cacay nut milk, and tallo leaves garnished with crunchy Andean tuber salt. Complementing these dishes are traditional indigenous wines and fermented drinks that capture the technique, flavor, history, and aesthetic vision of Colombia’s diverse cuisines – without having to step a single foot outside Bogota. Oh …did we mention that Leo is on the exclusive list of “Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants”?

3. El Chato: One of South America’s very best

Another award winner, El Chato debuted amazingly high on the list of “Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants” by working local ingredients into an array of unique dishes.

The menu is definitely local farm-to-table national dishes, but made with an international twist. These smoked, fermented, pickled, and dehydrated selections include everything from chicken hearts with sour cream t0 sweet crab with squid ink crackers; or what about a lulo dessert with powdered milk and guanábana? All of this is served in a casual and relaxed space, where the mood-filled and comfortable dining room is complemented by a passionate sommelier, and topped off with plate presentations that are stunningly gorgeous – and never gimmicky.

4. Matiz: Colombian-Catalan cuisine

Matiz has been a highlight on fine-dining scene since its doors opened more than 15 years ago. Located in Bogota’s upscale Chico neighborhood, in the posh Parque de la 93 area, this understated yet refined restaurant is set in an ivy-covered restored house.

Within this classic setting, the restaurant possesses a traditional dining room with white tablecloths, and features an indoor terrace, all adding an intimate feel to Matiz’ personalized service. The talented Catalan chef imprints his background in mostly Mediterranean cuisine to create innovative dishes such as lobster tail on toasted noodles cooked paella style, and succulent Segovia roasted pork. While never cheap, Matiz’ sophisticated dishes — combining balanced flavors, great techniques and playful textures — are always exceptional.

5. Harry Sasson: 30 years of fame

Now in its third decade, Harry Sasson is named after its chef – perhaps Colombia’s most famous. As a restaurant, it’s considered one of Latin America’s best, standing out for its unique fusion of international cuisine, as well as its exemplary service, a laid-back ambiance, and the overall quality of its ingredients.

Set up in a gorgeous, remodeled mansion, the food here is diverse yet simple in style, well prepared using traditional cooking elements like a wood-burning stove and a charcoal grill. Expect large cuts of wood-roasted meats and sides like sautéed green beans with ginger and garlic, or cinnamon-perfumed rice with lentils, as well as local favorites like empanadas. Of course, any of Harry Sasson’s dishes can be paired with wines from an exceptionally extensive menu of world labels. Whatever your selection, you won’t regret it!

6. Misia: A taste of Colombia’s Caribbean

After the successful 2014 opening of the Leo restaurant in Bogota, owner and chef Leonor Espinosa didn’t stop there. The very next year, Espinosa expanded her influence on Bogota’s culinary scene by opening the first of what are now two additional restaurants.

These are both named “Misia,” an Afro-Caribbean word that means senora, reflecting the owner’s commitment to honoring and preserving the culinary techniques of women all around Colombia. More casual restaurants, the two Misias are dedicated to the regional cuisine of Colombia’s Caribbean and Pacific coasts. The restaurants showcase these traditional Colombian cuisines on a more refined, slightly higher gourmet scale, and with more artistic visual presentations, while retaining the essence of time-honored Colombian cuisine.

7. Villanos en Bermudas

Translated into English as “The Villains in Bermudas,” this upstart Bogota restaurant combines divergent flavored pairings and minimalist aesthetics with a menu that changes daily. The dishes are packed full of surprises, though constantly playing around with sweet and savory flavors, as well as textures – think shrimp tartare with miso paste and tart lulo fruit, or chickpea mousse with passion fruit ice cream.

Situated in a converted mansion, the three-story restaurant is bursting with aromas and art (works mostly by the Argentine chef), while also housing a cocktail lounge and bar; meaning you can relax with a drink at the bar upstairs, before coming down to revel in a seven-course tasting menu. Having made it onto the list of “Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants” in its first year of operation, this award-winning Bogota restaurant takes inspiration from culinary traditions while simultaneously breaking with convention.

Though visits to Colombian were effectively restricted for years, a stay here today makes you feel like you’re crossing into one of the last frontiers of travel. Consequently, what you’ll now discover is that fine dining in Bogota exists as one of the continent’s best-kept secrets!

Alfonso Tandazo is President and CEO at Surtrek Tour Operator. Surtrek Tour Operator is a well-established firm, specializing in custom-designed luxury tours in Ecuador, the Galapagos and throughout the rest of South America.

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