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- Nicaraguan Arts & Crafts
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- Down the Río San Juan
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- Managua’s Revolutionary Driving Tour
León is slowly shedding its reputation for uninspired cuisine and lackluster restaurants. Though most Leónese eateries cater to the student crowd—i.e., típica (traditional), burgers, and pizza—new restaurants are starting to diversify the city’s menu.
Fritanga and Comida Típica
The best finger-lickin’ fritanga in town is El Buen Gusto (a couple blocks east of the cathedral’s south side, less than $4 a plate); mix and match from their sidewalk smorgasbord and hubcap grill between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m.; it’s closed Sundays.
The carne asada at the Estación offers strong competition for León’s best fritanga crown; there you'll find several large grills serving mountains of gallo pinto, plantains, and fried cheese to an appreciative crowd. When in doubt—or on a Sunday evening when everything else is closed—head to the food grills behind the main cathedral.
Comedor Lucía (across from Vía Vía) specializes in the usual, but it’s well done: solid traditional Nica dishes for about $3.
Half a block west of the northwest corner of the central plaza, Cafe La Rosita (in front of ENITEL, open 7 a.m.–9 p.m. Mon.–Fri.) is an excellent spot for espresso drinks, baked goods, sandwiches, and fast food. They also have Wi-Fi and beer.
Around the corner, headed north are several more tranquil, low-key places, including Puerto Café Benjamin Linder (Barrio Zaragoza, two blocks north of ENITEL, tel. 505/2311-0548, open 7 a.m.–3 p.m.), a coffee shop, juice bar, and Internet café; profits from the blind massage service help support local children with disabilities. The shop’s name is a tribute to the only U.S. citizen killed in the Contra war.
Inside Bigfoot Hostel, the Pure Earth Café (tel. 505/8443-7516, open 7:30 a.m.–10 p.m., $3–5) is a cozy, all-vegetarian eatery serving fresh, healthy meals, juices, smoothies, and organic coffee. The name references the owner’s Pure Earth Project, which promotes reforestation and a gardens-in-schools program. If you’re sick of gallo pinto, the breakfast menu includes oatmeal, French toast, bagels, granola, and omelets; for lunch and dinner, think veggie burgers, quiches, panini, pasta, organic salads, and more.
To escape the León heat in a tropical, fruit-filled retreat, head just east of the Casa de Cultura to Delicias Tropicales (tel. 505/2311-2818, open 7 a.m.–6 p.m. Mon.–Sat.). They use all-natural ingredients for their refreshing smoothies and juices and prepare filling sandwiches to order.
Il Capriccio (tel. 505/2311-6339, open daily 9 a.m.–12:30 p.m. and 2–7 p.m.), located across from Quetzal Trekkers, offers some of the best Italian desserts and Nicaraguan coffee in town, plus a menu of sandwiches, salads, and pasta.
Pizza and Ice Cream
Enjoy pizza pies—and authentic Lebanese dishes—at Restaurante Italian Pizza (half a block north of the cathedral, tel. 505/2311-0857 delivery, open 9 a.m.–9 p.m. daily), about $10 for a large pie.
The pizza at Hollywood Pizza (located in the movie theater complex, tel. 505/2311-0636, open 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m. Mon.–Fri., later on weekends) is less exciting but the air-conditioning provides a good respite. Both deliver.
León is hot, so ice cream takes on new significance. Start with any Eskimo outlet (or bicycle cart) in town for popsicles and cones; for something a little different, head to Heladeria La Michoacana (located half a block east of Hotel Los Balcones), the first Nica distributor of the world-famous La Michoacana natural fruit pops (paletas heladas), which come in some incredible tropical flavors. Look for their street carts selling icepops and slushies (granizados).
Upscale Nica and International
Restaurante Taquezal (half a block west of the central park’s southern end) has a pleasant atmosphere, a varied menu, and receives positive reviews from readers; typical dishes cost $5–9. Try the Nicaccino: cappuccino with a shot of Nicaraguan rum.
On the other end of the block, you’ll find Bar Baro (one block west of the southwest corner of main plaza, tel. 505/2315-2901 or 8820-4000, open 8 a.m. to midnight daily, till 2 a.m. on weekends), a remarkable restaurant with old wooden beams, ceiling fans, and three different-themed dining areas in which to eat and lounge. The name comes from the common Nica expression “¡Qué bárbaro!” which means (more or less) “How awesome!” The menu is amibitious, offering both Nica and international comfort food with a flair, like steak and chicken dishes, burgers, bar appetizers, and pizza. Prices are reasonable from $6–15 per plate, and the drink menu of coffees and cocktails is the longest in the city.
The restaurant and coffee shop at CocinArte (across from the north side of La Iglesia el Laborío, tel. 505/8854-6928, 11 a.m.–10 p.m., $6–8) has an incredibly varied and creative menu, including Indian and mideastern dishes found nowhere else in Nicaragua, plus a small selection of chicken and traditional dishes for your carnivorous friends; most meals about $6. The reading and lounging space boasts chess boards and tasteful art as well.
The Mediterraneo (half a block north of the Iglesia Guadelupe, open at 4 p.m. Tues.–Fri., at 11 a.m. weekends) is perhaps the best option for Italian dishes and pizza. Enjoy the pleasant green patio, nice art, and good service.
© Randall Wood & Joshua Berman from Moon Nicaragua, 4th Edition