The Town that Coffee Built – Salamina, Colombia

Harder to reach and less well-known than other coffee region destinations, Salamina, which is part of Colombia’s elite group of Pueblos Patrimonio, offers travelers an unexpected stand of wax palms, the weirdest breakfast in Colombia, some quirky architectural touches, and a rich coffee growing heritage.

Salamina Colombia

Central Salamina, Colombia.

Inside Salamina

Salamina, reached via a mostly-paved and always scenic secondary road from Manizales in the Caldas province of Colombia, was founded in the early 1800s by a group which included women as well as men. The town is now home to roughly 20,000 people and is known for its coffee production (the crop flourished here even before other coffee regions took off).

Plaza Salamina, Colombia

Salamina’s main plaza. The fountain came from France and was dragged over the mountains and into Salamina by mule.

Many of those pioneering coffee growers got rich enough to build city homes and many were influenced by a woodcarver named Eliceo Tangarife who developed an elaborate form of woodworking that can still be seen in distinct balconies, doorways and window frames in Salamina.

Architecture Salamina, Colombia

Wood carvers in Salamina, many inspired by carver Eliceo Tangarife, are famous for their elaborate balconies, doorways, and window frames.

We were invited into one of those traditional homes by its current owner, Fernando, who showed us his open central courtyard full of plants and wire orbs adorned with shards of glass which Fernando makes. They’re sort of DIY disco balls and Fernando says that when the moon is full he uses them to “make stars.” Fernando called Eric “maestro” and we’re pretty sure that many other elaborately carved doorways in Salamina lead into a world full of the same sorts of charm and charmers.

Devil Doorway Salamina, Colombia

Some houses in Salamaina have a devil like this carved into the frames around their front doors. If you know why, don’t keep it to yourself.

The Masons played a role in Salamina’s formation as well and we were told that masonic symbols, including the iconic Masonic triangle with an eye inside of it, can be seen in the Basilica de la Immaculada Concepcion church on the main plaza. We looked and looked but never found the symbols.

Donkey Transport Salamina, Colombia

Salamina is still the kind of town where a girl can ride her mule around on a nice afternoon.

Colombia’s weirdest breakfast

Years ago the owner of El Polo Bakery in Salamina devised a way to add eggs to his menu without buying expensive new kitchen appliances. Instead of cooking eggs in a pan on a range top (which he didn’t have), he used the milk steamer arm on his coffee machine to steam eggs in a coffee cup along with chopped hot dog and butter. The results, called huevos al vapor (steamed eggs), are still offered today (2,500 COP or about US$1.20). They’re hot, fluffy, rich and, yes, a bit weird. You can also order a side of macana which is a cup of steamed milk with butter, crumbled saltines and cinnamon.

El Polo Bakery in Salamina, Colombia

Huevos al vapor taste better than they look, though don’t expect service with a smile.

Unexpected wax palms

Everyone talks about visiting Salento to see stands of rare wax palms, the tallest palm in the world and the national tree of Colombia. You certainly can see beautiful wax palms in the Salento area (though the best wax palms in Salento aren’t where you think they are). We were surprised to learn that Salamina has some grand stands of wax palms as well.

Wax Palms Salamina Colombia

The town of Salento is famous for its stands of wax palms, the tallest in the world and Colombia’s national tree. But Salamina has impressive stands of palms nearby as well.

Seeing the wax palms near Salamina requires a two hour drive from the town up to around 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) where, suddenly, the remarkably tall palms begin to appear–a few at first, then the cattle fields are peppered with them. There are no organized trails or circuits. Just park and wander through a pasture to admire the palms.

Wax Palms Salamina Colombia

Towering wax palms near Salamina.

As we were doing just that, a local farmer pulled up on his motorcycle and invited us to his small nearby farm where he has 20 cows, some sheep, potato fields and a trout pond. When we arrive at his farm his wife greets us with hot cups of sweet Nescafe, a welcome bit of warmth in the foggy cold. We sip and talk in her stove-warmed kitchen with views of the mountains and fields. It’s the kind of kitchen that makes you want to cook and do the dishes.

Their son is urging them to open a small homestay and we hope they do it. Their farm is tranquil and atmospheric and they are the kind of generous farmers who built Salamina. We didn’t want to leave.

La Casa de Lola Garcia Boutique Hotel - Salamina, Colombia

La Casa de Lola Garcia Boutique Hotel in Salamina, Colombia.

Where to sleep in Salamina

In Salamina we stayed at La Casa de Lola Garcia Boutique Hotel which is run by Mauricio Cardona Garcia who is the great grandson of one of the town’s Masonic founders. Mauricio opened the stylish and central hotel after renovating his aunt Lola’s two-storey house. There’s an open air courtyard, an open kitchen and a back garden with a Jacuzzi (180,000 COP or about US$59 double occupancy including breakfast and use of all facilities). It’s the most stylish hotel in Salamina and Mauricio is a wealth of information.

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Top Travel Gear of the Year 2016

We’ve come to love and rely on a lot of tried and tested travel gear over the years–from Karen’s Kaikuna hoodie to Eric’s prescription Costa del Mar sunglasses to this nifty thing that lets us take booze in a backpack. Now we present our short but sweet list of top travel gear of the year 2016 including a game-changing lens, a really cool cool bag and hiking boots that were perfect straight out of the box.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

Top Travel Gear of the Year 2016

Canon-100-400mm-zoom-animals

There’s no question that the most valued new piece of travel gear in 2016 was Eric’s Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. He got a tease with this lens in the Galapagos when another passenger on our M/V Origin cruise let him use his lens. The difference in the quality of the wildlife shots was stunning, so we scraped together our pennies (more than 200,000 of them) and got one. This lens has helped Eric get great shots all year-long (a few of his favorites are above) and though it’s big and heavy and pricey it’s already proven its value time and again.  

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Three Legged Thing carbon fiber Brian evolution 3 tripod

It’s hard to find a good travel tripod which combines durability and versatility in a compact and lightweight package. After years of looking, we found one. Don’t let the goofy name of 3 Legged Thing tripods fool you. They really do rock (in more ways than one). See why in our full review of our 3 Legged Thing Evolution 3  Brian tripod.

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colombia-thermal-tote

Sometimes we need to keep snacks and leftovers cold, for example, when we have a long day on the road with no chance of a lunch stop. Enter our Columbia insulated cold bag. It stays cold, doesn’t leak or sweat, holds more than you’d think, is easy to clean, dries out fast after use, and folds up small and compact when not in use. The only bummer is that the Velcro, which holds the bag snugly folded up when it’s empty, is located on the bottom, so if you fill the tote and then put it down on the ground the Velcro picks up grit. It looks like the specific model we have has been discontinued and only the bigger and beefier Columbia PFG Perfect Cast 45L Thermal Tote is available now.

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Brinno TLC200 Pro drivelapse timelapse camera

Time-lapse video is great, unless you’re the one who has to shoot and edit it. For years Eric spent hours every month piecing together then speeding up images taken by a GoPro mounted to the dash of our truck so that we could show readers a month’s worth of driving in just a few minutes. It was such a time-consuming pain the neck that we stopped making the videos altogether and then stopped publishing our end-of-the-month driving posts. Then we heard about Brinno cameras which automatically take time-lapse footage. It was a bit tricky mounting the camera on our dashboard (you can see our workaround, above), but ever since Eric figured that out this camera has made making time-lapse video so easy that we started publishing our end of the month Where We’ve Been driving posts again, complete with Brinno footage.

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merrill

There’s a cardinal rule about hiking boots. It goes like this: ALWAYS break them in on the trail before you really, really need them. Karen ignored that rule. She had a new pair of boots from a maker she’d worn before. They seemed like good boots. They felt fine on her feet when she tried them on. She settled. Then she wore them on one simple short hike and her feet were in agony. Luckily, there are some fairly well-stocked outdoor gear stores in Cusco, Peru so we were able to find a pair of Merrell Capra Mid Sport Gore-Tex hiking boots at the same price we would have paid in the US. Karen loved them straight out of the box and they proved comfortable and rugged during the multi-day Andean treks we did in 2016.

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Curaprox 5460 Ultrasoft toothbrush

Even the lightest packers need to bring a toothbrush. In 2016 a dentist in Sao Paulo recommended that we try toothbrushes made by a Swiss company called Curaprox. She raved about how gentle yet efficient they were, so we splurged, paying about US$7 per toothbrush in Brazil. We were immediately hooked. So soft! So easy to use! So effective! So many great colors! We’ve now stocked up just in case we don’t find Curaprox in other countries. Also, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t get good medical care when traveling. These toothbrushes have been around for years but this Brazilian dentist was the first to tell us about them.

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Rubber boots El Altar Ecuador

Sometimes the most humble piece of equipment ends up being key. This was the case with our ordinary rubber boots which got us through the muddy, muddy trail to El Altar volcano in Ecuador which would have made short work of regular hiking boots.

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Where We’ve Been: January 2017 Road Trip Driving Route in Argentina

We spent much of January 2017 house-sitting in Salta, Argentina, however, we still managed to get in some miles. About 320 of them, to be precise, and they were all epic. If you like stunning landscapes you won’t want to miss our South American road trip driving route for January 2017, including drive-lapse video at the end of the post which lets you see what we saw through the windshield of our truck as we traveled.

Quebrada de las Conchas - Salta, Argentina

Where we’ve been in January 2017 in Argentina

We left Salta and did a little loop through the Andes to the wine region of Cafayate, up Argentina’s famous Route 40 (one of the longest national highways on earth) and back to Salta. See our complete short but sweet road trip driving route on the map below.

From Salta we drove to the wine region of Cafayate through the red rock landscapes of the Quebrada de las Conchas. After consuming a fair amount of delicious wine and visiting the wineries of El Esteco Winery and Vineyards and Piattelli Vineyards we continued north on Argentina’s famous RN-40 through the Calchaquí Valley.

A few hours north of Cafayate we were sidelined for three hours while we waited for a dangerously swollen river to subside enough to cross. We then drove through the spectacular Quebrada de Las Flechas to the town of Molinos. From there we got even more remote to reach the Bodega Colomé Winery

Next, we continued to the town of Cachi (where we finally saw pavement again) and crossed Cardones National Park nd its forests of cactus, eventually dropping down to Salta and the Valle de Lerma via the Cuesta del Obispo.

Quebrada de las Flechas - Salta, Argentina

See what we saw out there on the road in our drive-lapse video, below, which was shot by our Brinno camera attached to our dashboard.

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Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2016 – Best Food & Beverages

Crunchy ceviche in Peru, a chart-topping steal in Brazil, an epic Bloody Mary in Ecuador, a big surprise burger in Bolivia and more! Welcome to Part 3 of our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2016 series–our guide to the Best Food & Beverages of the year. Part 1 covers the Top Travel Adventures of 2016, Part 2 covers the Best Hotels of the year and Part 4 tells you all about our Travel Gear of the Year. But now, in no particular order, here’s our guide to the…

Best food and beverages of 2016

Casa do Porco Sao Paulo San Ze pig

Chopped pork and sides at A Casa do Porco in Sao Paulo, Brazil – our chart-topping steal of the year.

Best chart-topping steal

Casa Do Porco restaurant Sao Paulo Brazil

Chef Jefferson Rueda with some of the porky goodness at his A Casa do Porco restaurant in Sao Paulo.

A Casa do Porco in downtown Sao Paulo, Brazil debuted on the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2016 at number 24. There’s a reason for that remarkably high entry: chef Jefferson Rueda (pictured above) cooks a pig (porco in Portuguese) like no one else and his nose-to-tail dishes are inventive yet never overworked. He’s not a meddler. Pork sushi roll with raw pork (top right), pig foot soup, his take on steamed pork buns, meaty deep-fried chicharron cubes (top left) which he tops with guava pepper jelly and micro greens, succulent whole-roasted pig served chopped with grilled greens, polenta, and creamy beans. We could go on and on.

Prices are remarkably affordable (on par with many ho-hum eateries in Sao Paulo) which is why there’s usually a line out the door at this no reservations place. Insider tips: go for lunch in the late afternoon for the best chance of getting a table (A Casa do Porco does not close in the afternoon like many restaurants do). And even if you’re really on a budget, grab a fantastic pork sandwich on a homemade ciabatta roll from the restaurant’s to-go window on the street. At R$15 (about US$4.50), it’s the biggest sandwich bargain in the city–perhaps the whole country.

Best reinvention of a beloved classic

Ceviche crocante - Restaurante Bilbao Tumbes, Peru

Crunchy ceviche. Repeat. Crunchy ceviche.

Peru is the land of ceviche and if you ask a Peruvian, no one else does it right. At Restaurante Bilbao in Tumbes, Peru, Spanish chef David Saez has daringly put his own twist on the classic. To make his award-winning ceviche crocante (crunchy ceviche) he prepares classic Peruvian ceviche with fish, crab and shrimp. Here comes the twist. He dices up the seafood and squeezes out as much liquid as possible. Then he makes balls out of the seafood mixture, mixes it with egg and panko, then flash fries the balls. The result is a citrusy take on a crab cake.

Best bartender

Leonardo Massonni bartender Acougue Central restaurant Sao Paulo

Açougue bartender Leonardo Massoni and some of his meat-friendly cocktail creations.

Leonardo Massoni (pictured above) is just 28-years-old but he’s already caught the eye of Brazilian star chef Alex Atala whose Sao Paulo restaurant  D.O.M. is  #3 on the 2016 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. Atala installed Massoni behind the bar at his newest restaurant, Açougue Central which opened in the city’s Vila Madalena neighborhood in 2016. Açougue means butcher in Portuguese and the restaurant is all about using all parts of the animal, including cuts that are usually considered inferior.

Massoni has taken that mission to heart, invading the kitchen frequently to consult with chef Alejandro Peyrou about ingredients and flavor profiles which he then incorporates into his bar work to create cocktails that compliment the food like wine. For example, ossobucco infused vodka which Massoni uses to make a splendidly meaty Bloody Mary. There’s a classic robo de galo and a cachaça and tonic and so much more including a fantastic glassware collection.

The creative tide flows both ways too. The crispy pig ears (pictured top right), which the kitchen produces by simmered pig ears for hours in water flavored with onion and spices, then pressing them before deep-frying, are the best bar snack of the year.

Best burger

Baracus Burger - Santa Cruz, Bolivia

A great burger in Bolivia.

We were only in Bolivia for eight days in 2016, but that was enough time to find something delicious to eat. There are only four burgers on the menu at Baracus Burger in central Santa Cruz, Bolivia (from around Bs42, or about US$6). We went for the classic cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato. The patty was hefty, tasty, and not over cooked. The bun had sesame seeds on it. And all burgers come with fresh-cut, skin on fries which were crispy and moist (if over salted). Our runner-up burger of the year: Hamburgueria do Barão in Uberlandia, Brazil which has the added benefit of having a selection of Brazilian craft beers to choose from.

Best business card

Cerveza Zenith - Cusco, Peru

Cerveza Zenith in Cusco, Peru is making great craft beer and handing out clever bottle-shaped business cards.

We really, really liked the craft beer being made by Cerveza Zenith in Cusco, Peru. We also liked the owner’s business card. Tip: On most Friday and Saturday nights Aussie founder Zac Lanham opens the brewery as an informal bar. Stop by and check out the beers. He might even give you a card.

Best way to play with your food

Jambu Restaurant Brasillia

A really playful palette cleanser in Brazil.

Young Brazilian chef Leandro Nunes, who is Cordon Bleu trained and worked at Noma, serves a very playful palette cleanser at his Jambu Restaurante in Brasilia, Brazil. First, you pop a fresh, bright yellow jambu flower in your mouth and chew the Amazonian herb until your mouth starts to water and gets all tingly like a low volt electrical current (in a good way). Then you pop in a piece of Brazil nut wrapped in pear leather and let the oil from the nut and the sugar from the fruit cancel out the effects of the jambu. Then pop in a crunchy, completely natural, and totally untreated ant which burst with lemongrass flavor. It’s so much fun.

Best cocktail as a meal

Bloody Mary @ Zfood Pescaderia - Quito, Ecuador

Zfood combines a Bloody Mary with a seafood cocktail in Quito, Ecuador.

It’s a Bloody Mary. It’s a seafood cocktail. It’s both! Just order one (US$15) at Zfood Pescaderia in Quito, Ecuador. 

Best chef on a mission

chef Palmiro Ocampo 1087 Bistro - Lima Peru

Keep your eye on Peruvian Chef Palmiro Ocampo.

At 1087 Bistro in Lima, owner and chef Palmiro Ocampo practices what he preaches about using the whole ingredient to reduce food waste and alleviate hunger using “culinary recycling” techniques (learn more in our story about Ocampo’s mission for Good magazine). Dishes like cartilage grilled chicken (yes, made using cartilage that would normally be thrown away) are elegant, unexpected, and delicious. He can even make plantain peels taste great. That’s why Ocampo was in charge of Peru’s famous Mistura food festival in 2016. Keep your eye on this rising star.

Best wine bar

Ovo e Uva wine bar - Sao Paulo, Brazil

Get serious about wine in a casual atmosphere at Ovo e Uva in Sao Paulo.

Ovo e Uva, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, is a relaxed place that’s serious about wine. The wine list runs to nearly 200 bottles coming from all over the world including the usual suspects plus Greece, Hungary, Lebanon, Uruguay and, of course, Brazil. More than 20 bottles are offered by the glass (R$19 to R$38 per glass or about US$6 to US$11) and Ovo e Uva has a large wine-preservation system to keep all those open bottles fresh. There’s also a menu of wine-friendly food like a charcuterie plate and grilled octopus over risotto. The restaurant also hosts monthly themed wine get togethers for a maximum of 15 people and it’s also a wine store. Pick up a bottle to take away and get 10% off the price.

Best Italian food

Chef Massimo Ristorante Trastavere - Cuenca, Ecuador

Chef Massimo brings Roman food traditions to Cuenca, Ecuador.

Chef Massimo, who was born in Rome, opened Ristorante Trastavere in Cuenca, Ecuador in 2015. He makes homemade pasta, gnocchi, bread, and sauces. He makes his own mozzarella, smokes his own fish, and cures his own meats too. The food, served on red and white checked tablecloths in a small dining room above his even smaller open kitchen, is extraordinary as is Massimo’s passion for what he does. Rumor has it he’s opening a pizza joint in Cuenca too.

Best old man bar

Juanito Bodgea Bar - Barranco neighborhood of Lima

Time stands still in Juanito Bodega Bar in Lima.

You know what an old man bar is, right? It’s a place that’s been around forever, probably always owned by the same family, and certainly frequented by the same patrons (and their offspring). Old man bars are usually short on ambiance but long on history and some intangible something that makes up for the iffy bathroom and mostly non-existent service. Prices and tolerance for BS are both low.

Beloved by starving artists and politicians alike, Juanito Bodgea Bar in the Barranco neighborhood of Lima, Peru is a quintessential old man bar. Opened in 1937, it’s still owned by the same family, albeit next door to the original location where an exact replica of the original bar was re-created. The ceiling is high, the lights are bright, the insect zapper works overtime.

Drink prices are, by far, the cheapest in the area. There are, of course, pisco sours but we prefer chilcanos (pisco and ginger ale) which can be had for as little as PEN7 (about US$2) depending on which pisco you choose, and there are many to choose from. And if you get hungry, don’t worry. Juanito’s (as everyone calls it) is also know for its sandwiches. 

Best extreme dessert

King Kong - Lambayeque, Peru

One of many shops around Lembayeque, Peru selling the beloved King Kong dessert.

A King Kong, made mainly in and around the city of Lambayeque in northern Peru, is a regional treat comprised of rectangular sheets of a crisp and moist cake/cookie hybrid layered with a gooey spread called manjarblanco, which is similar to dulce de leche, and fruit paste. This beloved sugar bomb has been made since the early 1900s and was first baked as a more elaborate and much larger version of an alfajor. It was so large that appreciative customers nicknamed the dessert King Kong.

Best brew pub

Cervezeria del Valle - Valle Sagrada, Peru

Peru is having a beer moment with lots and lots of quality craft brews across the country. Cervezeria del Valle in the Sacred Valley is a relatively young operating but is already one of the country’s most awarded and most ambitious breweries. Big bonus: they have a simple and inviting brew pub next to a river where beers are poured, food is cooked, and good music is played.

Best fried bread on the street

Yuquitas Martin - Barranoc, Lima

Peru’s most famous chef loves these fried breads and we did too.

Every year Lima hosts the massive Mistura food festival. During that festival, Peruvian food both high and low is prepared, eaten, and judged. This includes the humble yuquita which is a beloved fried bread made with yuca flour. Think of yuquitas a longer, lighter doughnut s. In the Barranco neighborhood of Lima you will find a cart emblazoned with the name Yuquitas Martin (it’s usually on Grau Street across from a store called DeliFrance). Here, for PEN1.50 (about US$0.50), you get a bag of five fresh, light, delicious yuquitas. Martin’s humble fried bread on the street has won awards at Mistura (as noted on his cart) and Peruvian superstar chef Gaston Acurio endorses them (also noted). Martin usually sells out by 11am, so be quick. We suggest getting two bags. 

Best bar on a budget

Boteco Paramount bar - Sao Paulo, Brazil

Barman Neto with his daughter on the business end of his new budget bar Boteca Paramount in Sao Paulo.

Jose Francisco Neto (whose business card awesomely says “Barman Neto”) opened Boteco Paramount in 2016 on the edge of the Pinieros neighborhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil. His idea was to make high quality, handcrafted cocktails at a fraction of the cost most city bars charge. He has accomplished just that. In his tiny, basic bar (it still looks pretty much like the simple tienda it no doubt previously was) you can get a classic caprinha for R$10 (about US$3) or splurge and get an artesenal caprinha, made with fresh chili peppers or muddled tangerine, for example, for R$14 (about US$4.30). All the standard cocktails are also on offer at similarly bargain prices. Whatever you order, enjoy while listening to Jose’s eclectic playlist (Paula Abdul, Led Zeppelin, Kate Bush). If you’re lucky, Jose’s daughter Beatriz will be around drawing pictures and generally being adorable.

Best cure for what ails you

Leche de Tigre @ Al Toke Pez - Lima, Peru

Get the cure for what ails you at this hole-in-the-wall in Lima.

You could easily drive right past Al Toke Pez which is a closet-sized establishment on a busy street in Lima. Sandwiched between auto part stores, this six stool eatery dishes up amazing leche de tigre with sliced onions and a bit of fresh ceviche and a fried fish strip or two on top. It comes to you in a Styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon and they do a roaring take away business (probably because it only has six stools) (PEN3 to PEN5 or about US$0.90 to US$1.50). It’s zippy and energizing and the guy on the stool next to us assured us it’s also full of vitamins and pure protein. Many say its the best hangover cure in the city.

Best food with rules

Tiesto's - Cuenca, Ecuador

Diners at Tiesto’s in Cuenca, Ecuador need to be ready to play with flavors and follow a few rules.

Juan Carlos Solano, owner and chef at Tiesto’s in Cuenca, Ecuador, knows what’s best. While there is a menu at his restaurant, the self-taught chef is just as likely to tell you what you’re having for dinner and then leave it to the well-trained waiters at this Cuenca institution to tell you how to eat it. House made condiments on the table are meant to be eaten in a specific order and in specific combinations, for example. No willy nilly dipping of bread allowed. That’s because Solano is all about playing with flavors and whether he’s cooking prawns or pork, at his restaurant the flavor game has rules.

Best pizza

Bassano Italian Pizzeria - Huncahco, Peru

At Bassano Italian Pizzeria in Huanchaco, a small beach town in Northern Peru, they make pizza in a wood-fired oven and it shows. The thin crust is crunchy and chewy with just enough salt and wood char. A wide range of toppings are offered including cherry tomatoes and arugula the owners grow themselves. Prices are reasonable too–from PEN25 to PEN38 or about US$7.50 to US$11 (depending on toppings) for a large, 14” pie that yields eights slices. Personal size pizzas are also available. Plus it’s BYOB. Hours are unpredictable, so send a message through the pizzeria’s Facebook page before arriving.

Best unexpected star

chef Samuel Ortega. Shamuico Espai Gastronomic - Saraguro, Ecuado

Chef Samuel Ortega has brought skills learned in Europe back home to Saraguro, Ecuador.

We did not expect to find remarkable food in  Saraguro, Ecuador a small remote town an hour from Loja. Then we walked into Shamuico Espai Gastronomic run by local chef Samuel Ortega. Ortega moved to Spain with his family when he was 12 and honed his kitchen skills in Europe including time working at Il Bulli.

When Ortega was 24 he returned to Saraguro and opened his own place in a 160 year old building on the square that he restored with his architect sister. Ortega says 90% of the ingredients he uses come from the rich agricultural area around Saraguro or from his own small kitchen garden. His sometimes unorthodox needs have even inspired local farmers to experiment with different crops. Grab a table inside a modern dining room with skylights and a view into the open kitchen or outdoors in the traditional central courtyard and enjoy drinks, snacks, or polished full plates at incredibly reasonable prices. We did.

Best original cocktail

La Chalupa restaurant - Cuenca, Ecuador,

You can taste the wildness in this cocktail inspired by Cajas National Park near Cuenca, Ecuador.

Bernardo, the bartender at La Chalupa restaurant in Cuenca, Ecuador, wanted to create a cocktail that embodies the wild earthiness of nearby Cajas National Park. His Cajas Spirit cocktail is made with rum or tequila that he infuses with herbs harvested from the park plus tonic water, lime juice, and Angostura bitters (around US$5). It’s bracing and refreshing, just like a hike in its namesake park.

Best tasting menu

Central Restaurant Lima

You can believe the hype about Central in Lima.

Few restaurants or chefs have generated more hype in the past couple of years than Virgilio Martinez and his Lima restaurant Central. Central is #1 on the 2016  list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants for the third year in a row and #4 on the 2016 list of The World’s Best Restaurants. You can’t talk about top restaurants without mentioning Central and Martinez just released another book. Luckily, you get served more than hype and book reviews at Central.

We sat down to face the 12 course Mater Ecosystems tasting menu and for the next three hours we got schooled in just how good cuisine can be when skill and vision meet. In Martinez’s case, his vision is to celebrate and explore Peruvian ingredients from all altitudes and geographic locations, honoring their provenance. His skill is in being able to re-invent them as well. At one point we were eating bark and clay. And loving it.

Best sushi

Tsuri Peixaria Sushi Bar - Sao Paulo, Brazil

Fresh fish is king and the chef knows it at Tsuri in Sao Paulo.

Brazil has the largest population of citizens of Japanese descent of any country outside Japan and Brazil is full of Japanese restaurants, including in the city of Sao Paulo. Tsuri Peixaria Sushi Bar, opened in 2016 by the same family behind the wildly popular Aragón Mediterranean restaurant, could have been just one more, but it’s not. More than just sushi, the inventive menu also includes edamame with truffle oil, scallops with foi gras, tempura, and more. But sushi is where Tsuri really excels, in part because Japanese Brazilian chef Sergio Kubo knows that his real job doesn’t start until the restaurant closes for the night. That’s when, fortified with saki, he heads to the city’s fish market to find the best products for the following day. And all that saki? Chef Kubo says it helps him pick the best fish because it enables him to see the freshest ones winking at him.

Best dream-come-true meal

Osso Carniceria & Salumeria - Lima, Peru

Finally.

We’ve been dreaming about eating at Osso Carniceria & Salumeria in Lima, Peru ever since we read this amazing story about its creator, Renzo Garibaldi (pictured below). In 2016 we sat down with Garibaldi for a long lunch that included amazing tartare and small bites of exquisitely aged and sliced beef. Even better, Garibaldi told us about his latest projects (read our piece about Garibaldi’s two new restaurants in Lima for NewWorlder.com), so now we’re dreaming about eating there too. Good thing we’re returning to Lima later this year…

Renzo Garibaldi Osso restaurant - Lima, Peru

 

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