If you’re looking for a taste of deliciously authentic Colombian food, Villa de Leyva and the surrounding area play host to a plentiful array. While there are upscale restaurants in the area, sticking to the same path the locals tread gives you a chance to immerse yourself in the experience, and it’s far easier on your wallet.
The Albahaca Restaurante-Bar Viejoteca (Cra. 8A No. 13-46, cell tel. 313/844-6613, 10am-9pm daily) is a favorite for visitors for two reasons: the lovely ambience, especially in the evening, and for its non-outrageous prices! Their top dishes include cuchuco de trigo con espinazo de cerdo (buckwheat soup with pork back, COP$17,000) and grilled trout in uchuva (Peruvian groundcherry) sauce (COP$18,000). Ask for a table in the garden or by the fireplace. The word viejoteca is in the name because the owners like oldies music.
Every region has their own distinct type of arepa, and every Colombian believes that theirs is superior to the rest.MiCocina (Cl. 13 No. 8-45, tel. 8/732-1676, noon-10pm daily, COP$25,000), where there is a cooking school within the restaurant, has earned a name for itself as an ever-so-slightly upscale restaurant serving the best of Colombian cuisine. After a calentado bogotano, a beloved hangover cure made with fried eggs and potatoes, save room for the cheese ice cream from Paipa. It’s mostly Colombian meat-based dishes here, but they offer a few vegetarian plates.
Locals tend to steer clear of the overpriced restaurants on the Plaza Mayor. When it comes to comida, it’s got to be buena, mucha, y barrata (good, plentiful, and cheap). Close to the Terminal de Transportes, but not too close, Los Kioscos de los Caciques (Cra. 9 No. 9-05, cell tel. 311/475-8681, noon-3pm and 6pm-8pm daily, COP$6,000) specializes in filling local dishes such as mazamorra chiquita (beef stew with potatoes, corn, and other vegetables) and cuchuco con espinazo (stew with a base of pork spine and potatoes). You can also order from the menu. It’s an atmospheric place, where you dine in thatched kiosks.
At the Saturday market, those in the know go to Donde Salvador (between Clls. 12-13 and Cras. 5-6, Plaza de Mercado) for mute rostro de cordero, a hearty corn-based soup with lamb. You can also, of course, pick up plenty of cheap and fresh fruit. La Parilla (Cra. 9 No. 9-17, 7am-9pm daily, set lunch COP$5,000) is an everyman kind of place. At the plaza, Estar de la Villa (Cl. 13 No. 8-58, tel. 8/732-0251, 10am-9pm daily, COP$8,000) is always packed, often with employees from some of the fancier restaurants nearby.
Traveling Taste Buds
Forget about counting calories as you try these local specialties near Villa de Leyva.
Villa de Leyva is one of a handful of areas in Colombia where wine is produced. Take a tour of Viñedo Aim Karim (Km. 10 Vía Santa Sofía, cell tel. 317/518-2746, 10am-5pm, COP$5,000) and try their Marqués de la Villa wine. Their sauvignon blanc won an award in Brussels in 2011.
About 25 kilometers west of Villa de Leyva, the town of Sutamarchán is famous for its spicy longaniza sausage. The best place to sample this is at La Fogata (tel. 8/725-1249). It’s on the main road on the left as you go toward Ráquira.
Most visitors to Colombia develop a love or hate relationship with arepas, corn-based pancakes that accompany just about every meal. Every region has their own distinct type of arepa, and every Colombian believes that theirs is superior to the rest. It would be hard to find anyone who could resist the famed arepa quesuda from the town of Tinjacá about 18 kilometers southwest of Villa de Leyva. Meaning “sweating arepa,” arepa quesudas are two small arepas with sweet, melted cheese in the middle. They’re a big mess to eat, but they’re so good.
Tinjacá is also known for its delicious jams made by El Robledal (Vereda Santa Bárbara, cell tel. 310/226-5299). Check out their exotic fruit jams such as uchuva, lulo, and rhubarb. Their products can also be found in Villa de Leyva at the Savia restaurant in the Casa Quintero on the Plaza Mayor.
Sáchica is an orderly, quiet town just outside of Villa de Leyva on the way toward Tunja. Here, the local specialty is broiled hen. Try it at La Candelaria (Cl. 3 No. 2-48, cell tel. 311/845-7786).
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Colombia.