This post is part of Everything to Know Before Visiting Medellin, a collection of no-B.S., unique guides to an unforgettable stay in Colombia.
Before we go any further, we have a confession to make:
We can't tell you what the best restaurants in Medellin are.
We did eat at A LOT of Medellin restaurants during the six months we lived there, but we didn't come close to trying every dish at every one.
Plus we're not professional food critics. Not even close. A year ago Chris couldn't tell you the difference between parsley and cilantro.
But we can recommend you some of the best Medellin restaurants for specific occasions so, whatever your budget or craving, you'll find a restaurant here that hits the spot.
The 20 Best Medellin Restaurants for 20 Different Occasions
Don't leave before saving these restaurants' locations to Google Maps on your phone with our free treasure map, below.
1. If you're starving and want the best bandeja Paisa in the world:
La Gloria de Gloria
Location: Envigado, about a seven-minute walk from the main square
La Gloria de Gloria (Gloria's Glory) is the number one place we recommend for travelers looking for an unforgettable authentic Colombian food orgy.
Ask any local in Medellin about La Gloria and they'll respond with the same gesture: They'll grab their elbow and wag their forearm. Why? Because that's how big the chicharron (fried pork belly, or mega bacon) that Gloria serves is.
And it's not just chicharron. La Gloria's bandeja Paisa comes with morcilla (traditional blood sausage), the best arepas we had in Medellin (which isn't saying much because they normally taste like dish detergent), pork hoof bean soup, ground beef, avocado, rice, fries, and egg.
But wait, there's more!
Gloria is almost always around to pour out a welcome shot or two of aguardiente.
2. If you want to go for a meal with friends before a night out in El Poblado:
Location: Just off Parque Presidenta in lower El Poblado
We don't know why Café Zorba has "café" in its name.
It's not a café. It's a pizzeria. A vegetarian pizzeria.
The quality of the pizzas is debatable—some of our friends live and die for their stone oven-baked thin crust, we think they're nothing special (their "grape" pizza had like five grape halves on it)—but there's no debate it's a cool spot always full of cool kids grabbing some 'za before a night out.
Plus it's not that expensive. It's about 25,000 COP ($9 USD) for a pizza big enough to fill the average belly.
Get a seat outside in the open back patio if you can.
3. If you're tired of Colombian food and want the best Latin American cuisine:
Location: Envigado, near Calle de la Buena Mesa
Sorry Colombians, but Mexican food is way better.
(Come to think of it, that might explain why there are so few Mexicans in Colombia.)
And if you start thinking to yourself that Colombian food gets a bad rap and is underrated in the global food scene, it's about time you go to Zacatecas. Their fantastic Mexican food will set you straight.
The restaurants's never that busy because most people order delivery from them and it's not centrally located. But it's totally worth the cost of a taxi or Uber for their real Mexican flavors.
Also, while Masala may have the spiciest hot peppers, Zacatecas has by far the best hot sauces in Medellin. We'd go there just to buy cups of it from them to take home.
4. If you can't wait to get to Peru and want some Peruvian food:
Locations: One in Envigado and one in Laureles. The Envigado location's nicer.
We went to Chiclayo's Envigado location for a date night and Kim liked it so much she took her family when they came to visit for Christmas. Her Japanese mom, who is picky when it comes to fish, loved it. That means a lot.
The ceviche was as excellent as you'd hope it to be, but the surprise hit is the Ahi a la Gallina. We can't really explain what it is other than describe it as a gooey, cheesy, chickeny, goodness.
5. If you want to get high and/or eat really good gelato:
Location: Between la 70 and Primer Parque in Laureles
Nuovo Fiore's gelato is "illegally good."
- It's tasty, and
- All the flavors with "Maria" in their name are marijuana-infused.
According to the owner, they've been getting away with serving weed gelato for years because when the cops come by they get free scoops. They like it too.
Unless you dress up in a uniform, your scoops won't be free, but they're super inexpensive anyway (6,000 COP with weed, 4,000 COP without).
6. If you're hankering for a creative, casual, and colorful vegetarian lunch:
Location: Belen, a 13-minute walk straight south from Segundo Parque in Laureles
For 13,000 COP ($4.50 USD) the variety and quality of the food you get at Espiritu Libre is incredible.
It's one of the few casual restaurants in Medellin that take full advantage of the cornucopia of exotic and colorful plants and vegetables that come from Colombia.
For a more detailed review and more photos, check out Chris' list of his favorite lunch specials in Medellin.
7. If you're in need of a pick-me-up after doing the backdoor Parque Arvi hike:
Cable a Tierra
Location: Parque Arvi, a short walk from the Metrocable station
And at the top, you get to have lunch at Cable a Tierra.
Cable a Tierra's owners have a few farms around Antioquia, including the one that surrounds the restaurant. From these farms, they get the bulk of the ingredients they use to create inventive, healthy, and hearty meals.
And the hot tea they serve with their daily lunch special is a perfect pick-me-up in the cooler temperatures up high in the park.
8. If you need a rest, refresh, and refuelling in Mercado Minorista:
Aquí Paró Lucho
Location: Downstairs in the middle of downtown's Mercado Minorista
Aquí Paró Lucho is Spanish for, "Here's Where Lucho Stopped."
Who knows why he decided to stop smack-dab in the middle of Medellin's busy Mercado Minorista produce market to put his sit-down restaurant there, but who cares.
It's a (relatively) peaceful spot to rest, refresh, and refuel amidst the bustling chaos that surrounds it.
Warning: The Mercado Minorista is safe to explore, but the area it is located in is not. Don't walk there. Even though it's close to other downtown attractions, take an Uber or taxi to get there and to leave.
9. If you're tired of meat and want to have some seafood:
Location: Itagüi, halfway between Envigado and El Poblado on the west side of the Medellin River
Medellin is up high in the mountains, so it's not exactly seafood central, but if you want to eat fish you can get as close to the source as possible by going to Buena Mar.
Buena Mar is pretty much in the middle of nowhere from a tourism perspective. It's south of town on the other side of the Medellin river, a couple blocks from Medellin's enormous wholesale produce market (…which isn't worth visiting. Go to Mercado Minorista instead).
The benefit of being so close to the market is the fish you'll get is as fresh as you can find in Medellin. And because it's in the middle of nowhere, it's affordable and authentic.
10. If you want to go to (or witness) a traditional Sunday family get-together:
Location: One in the heart of Laureles just off La 70 and one in the heart of El Poblado just off Calle 10.
Mondongos is somewhat overpriced, but that doesn't stop Paisas from lining up to eat there with their families and friends, especially on Sundays.
It's their tradition.
Also traditional is the food on the menu. For a family-friendly Colombian dining experience, and for the best service we had anywhere in the country, Mondongos is the place to go.
11. If you want to try some exotic Colombian food you never knew existed:
Location: Provenza in El Poblado
The chef at La Chagra ventures deep into the Colombian Amazon, finds the craziest fruits, vegetables, and animals, figures out how to make them taste good, then serves them up at his restaurant.
Because of the extreme level of difficulty in getting these ingredients, it's expensive. It can also be hit-and-miss because it's so out-there and experimental.
But it's guaranteed to be something you've never tried before and will never have the chance to try again.
12. If you're on the go and looking for a quick bite:
Empanadas El Machetico
Location: Half a block up Calle 9 from Parque El Poblado
There is always a huddle of taxi drivers, cops, and office workers enjoying a quick snack of sizzling hot fried empanadas in front of Empanadas El Machetico.
If you're looking for a quick snack, get in there, order a couple, squeeze a few limes and some sauce on top, devour them, then get on with your day.
13. If you want to have a surefire awesome menu del dia lunch special:
Location: Laureles, a few blocks northwest of Primer Parque
Both the vegetarian and non-veggie lunch specials from Café Cliché are fantastic. They're just really good. Perhaps the best in Medellin.
We don't know what else to say. See our menu del dia guide if you want more info, photos of their food, and to see a sample menu.
14. If you're downtown looking for a refuge from the chaos and a nice meal:
Location: Downtown on the 10th floor
Credenza is better known locally as Café Colombo. We sadly never got around to dining there, but quite a few of our friends recommended it to us and we trust their tastes enough to pass that recommendation on to you.
At the very least, you get to enjoy an elegant but not too expensive dining experience up on the tenth floor of a building in downtown Medellin.
15. If you want to catch your own lunch (or not):
Location: Near Parque El Salado in Envigado
Go on the weekend when it's packed with families who go there to catch some fish in the trout pond, then eat it in the restaurant. (You can skip the fishing and go straight to ordering if you'd like.)
The food's nothing fantastic, but it's a worthy cultural experience.
16. If you want to impress your partner with a romantic picnic in the park:
Location: In Medellin's Botanical Garden, right off Universidad metro station north of downtown
You probably don't need to go to Medellin's Jardin Botanico if you're only visiting for a few days (unless you're a botanist). But if you're spending a longer time in town, you should.
It's a peaceful escape from the noise, traffic, and pollution of the city. Plus it's free to enter and easy to get to by metro.
Right in the middle of the gardens is In Situ. It's a higher-end restaurant that's a perfect spot to take a date on a romantic walk then lunch.
Better yet, you can contact them in advance (here) to arrange for them to pack the food into a picnic basket along with a blanket.
17. If you're looking to go for a casual, romantic meal and a delicious steak:
Pedacito de Amor
Location: El Dorado neighborhood of Envigado, a 14-minute walk from Envigado's main square
Pedacito de Amor's name in itself is enough to earn you brownie points on a date. (It's Spanish for, "a little piece of love.")
But even if you could care less about earning the love (or lust) of another, if you love meat it's worth dining there. Their yuca fries are awesome too.
The small restaurant is located in the cozy (and super safe) neighborhood of El Dorado in Envigado.
Few tourists go there, aside from students at the nearby Columbia Immersion Spanish school (which organizes an excellent Friday evening language exchange you should check out). But you should, because their grilled meats are excellent and the prices are about half what the same thing would cost in El Poblado or Laureles.
18. If you want Colombian with a modern, adventurous, and delicious twist:
Location: Through a "secret door" up on the third floor just off Calle 10 in El Poblado
Alambique was probably our favorite restaurant in Medellin.
The dishes are big and reasonably priced (which Chris likes).
The food and interior is stylishly designed (which Kim likes).
And the small menu is full of creative creations (which everybody likes). You'll want to come back to try them all.
19. If you're tired of bland Colombian food and want something really spicy:
Location: On Calle 10 in El Poblado
Masala is like the hot peppers they serve: From the outside it doesn't look like much, but if you give it a try you'll be surprised.
The lunch menu at this centrally-located but oft-overlooked Indian/Nepalese is one of Chris' favorites. (See his huge list of his favorite Medellin menu del dias here).
Many of the ingredients come fresh from the owner's farm a few hours from town. And whatever he can't grow in Colombia he gets friends from India to ship over. The food's fresh, authentic, and spicy.
Speaking of spicy, if you ask the owner Shakti for heat, he'll make sure the meal packs a wallop. In a land where ground peppercorns are considered too "picante" for most, the spicy food at Masala is a welcome challenge if that's what you're looking for.
20. If you want a good ol' juicy hamburger:
Location: Just down the street from the Exito in El Poblado
Lardón is mostly known for its BBQ pork, hence the name, but we recommend them for their hamburgers.
During Medellin's one-week Burger Master event, in which over forty restaurants around the city competed for the best burger in town, we (well, mostly Chris) went burger crazy. Chris had up to three different burgers a day all week long.
Easily the best one was Lardón's.
Where to Rest and Digest?
Our guide to where to stay in Medellin will help you find the best neighborhood by ranking the top spots on important criteria like safety, conveniences, cafés, and, of course, food.