Tucked into the curves and folds of a dramatic high-altitude canyon, La Paz, Bolivia offers Aymara culture, traditional and modern art, and cuisine that’s proudly (and deliciously) Bolivian. This vibrant city has so much going for it that we couldn’t cover it all in just one post, so welcome to our 3-part La Paz city travel guide series! Part 2 clues you in about bars and restaurants in La Paz where excellent options abound including vegan cuisine, market sandwiches, craft cocktails, twists on traditions, and acclaimed tasting menus.
New heights in La Paz, Bolivia
As you descend from the high, flat altiplano city of El Alto into the city of Nuestra Señora de La Paz (which everyone just calls La Paz), it can feel like you’re stepping off the edge of the earth. The road snakes steeply down and your first glimpse of the metropolis below might seem like some sort of mirage. Sprawling between 12,500 feet (3,810 meters) and 10,500 feet (3,200 meters), La Paz fills a rugged canyon that no sane urban planner would choose as the site for a major city. Picture Bryce Canyon in the US, but with more than 800,000 people living in it.
La Paz started small when gold was discovered in the river that runs through the canyon. The city grew from there, becoming the highest administrative capital in the world (Sucre is the capital of Bolivia, but all government offices are in La Paz as is the Presidential Palace).
Modern La Paz has a surprisingly young energy plus a growing food scene, art of all sorts, an innovative cable car system, and a newly empowered and proud indigenous culture that’s a joy to see. Rely on our La Paz travel guide series of posts to cut through what may look like chaos so you can discover the pleasures of La Paz.
Restaurants in La Paz, Bolivia
Your first meal in La Paz should be at Restaurant Gustu. The most celebrated restaurant in Bolivia, and the first (and, so far, only) Bolivian restaurant to enter the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, is committed to using 100% Bolivian ingredients (including wine, spirits, and beer) to create memorable dishes and immersive tasting menus inspired by Bolivia’s culture, ingredients, traditions, people, and techniques. Gustu was founded under as part of an NGO started by Claus Meyer who is considered to be the creator of the New Nordic Cuisine philosophy and is a founding partner in arguably the best restaurant in the world, Noma in Copenhagen. Over the years, Gustu has been a valuable training ground for many young chefs who have gone on to create many other outstanding restaurants in La Paz including man in this post. Insider tip: the 3-course set lunch at Gustu is an incredible value for money at just 105BS (about US$15). Add a glass of surprisingly good Bolivian wine or a Bolivian craft beer for 20BS (about US$3).
Bolivian favorites with inventive twists are the calling card of Popular Cocina Boliviana where young Bolivian chefs and Gustu alumni Juan Pablo Reyes and Diego Rodas (this is their first restaurant) offer dishes like lechon (young pig), which is a rustic dish often served by street vendors. At Popular, however, the lechon is a luscious chunk of succulent pork belly playfully served in a basket inside a clear plastic bag (ala how you’d get it on the street) along with a spicy sauce, creamy and light sweet potato croquettes, and tiny Andean potatoes. Popular does not take reservations and you’ll have to wait for a table unless you arrive near noon. Set lunch options (appetizer, entree, juice, dessert) change weekly.
Located in the ground-level central courtyard of the same small complex that’s home to Popular, Berlusca is the place for homemade pasta and legit Italian dishes at very affordable prices. The cafe vibe and garden setting keep things relaxed and well-riced dishes to not disappoint. You can often see staff making the pasta in the cafe’s small kitchen.
Vegan or not, dining at elegant, award-winning Ali Pacha (which means Plant Universe in the language of the Aymara indigenous group) is a satisfying experience. Le Cordon Bleu-trained Bolivian chef Sebastián Quiroga (who also worked at Gustu) turned vegan, then he got to work figuring out how to turn the principles of plant-based eating into strengths, not constraints. Uncompromising dishes include smoked beet ceviche, French radishes in walnut sauce, and so much more in a very classy dining room.
Lunch at Paladar Cozhina Brazileira is a beloved tradition with locals who come back again and again for authentic family recipes brought from Brazil and fine-tuned to work best with Bolivian ingredients and the altitude in La Paz. Order classic dishes like addictive feijoada (a typical Brazilian meat-and-bean stew), and light-as-clouds coxhinas (mashed potato balls filled with chicken), and much more (including vegetarian options too) from the ala carte menu (70 to 125 BS or US$10 to $19). David cooks while Mariana greets guests and oversees the dining room. Their set lunch which changes daily but always includes dessert and coffee is a bargain at 45BS (US$7). Cocktails are also stellar here too.
Bolivian Chef Gabriella Prudencio cooked at Gustu before training at the Culinary Institute of America and in the kitchens of Mario Batali’s restaurants. Back home in La Paz, she opened Propiedad Publica where she shows off homemade pastas and sauces, fresh focaccia, inventive vegetable dishes, and other Italian classics. She’s also got a good selection of wines featuring many selections from Bolivia including the fruity and earthy Marquez de la Viña Bonarda which is made in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
There is some debate, but for our money, the best burger we had in La Paz was at Crafted Burgers & Beers. Top grade ground beef is served grilled or smashed on brioche buns with all the usual toppings and condiments and then some. The beer is cold and the fries are not.
The most stylish bistro in the city is Ludo Cocina a la Vista where exposed metal beams, muted colors, sexy lighting, an open kitchen, and a lively bar create the scene. French chef Ludo has been cooking in Bolivia for years with a focus on classics from his homeland. Starters, around 45BS (about US$7), include excellent steak tartare with plump capers and a hint of citrus (pictured above) and a generous, colorful, and fresh palm salad dressed in a simple vinaigrette. Main dishes, around 90BS (about US$14), include homemade mushroom ravioli on a bed of wilted spinach and topped with parmesan foam and succulent trout almandine on a bed of super creamy mashed potatoes. This place is closed on weekends but is open on Mondays when many other restaurants in La Paz are closed. Reservations a must.
Eclectic Efimera pizzeria gets the crust right (not easy at this altitude) and then gets creative with the toppings. Don’t miss the pizza that’s topped with charqay (dried llama) and huacataya (a beloved pungent herb).
On the top floor of the Lanza Market next to the San Francisco Church, you’ll find a line of people waiting for a sausage sandwich (choripan in Spanish) from an unassuming woman named Doña Elvira. She is a graduate of the street food program that Gustu restaurant ran to provide hygiene and customer service training to people making the city’s best street food. Elvira needed no help with her recipe. Her sausage, made by hand with many secret ingredients, is legendary. For 8BS (about US1.25) you get a roll stuffed with a sizzling sausage, your choice of cooked or raw veggies, mustard, and mayo. Elvira has been doing this in the same spot in the market for more than 35 years. To find her, go to the top floor of the market, follow the signs to Calle 14 and Calle 15, then ask for Doña Elvira.
Doña Cristina, another graduate of Gustu’s street food program, offers a sandwich of a different kind. From her open-air stall among a group of other vendors on Avenida Costanera in front of Parque La Florida in the Zona Sur area of the city (search for “Las Cholas” in Google Maps), she crafts perfect sandwich de chola which is a soft roll piled high with sliced roast pork, pickled vegetables, hot sauce, and deep-fried pork skin called chicharron. If you smile when ordering she might just toss on another piece of chicharron.
Cafes and bars in La Paz, Bolivia
The sophisticated cocktail scene in La Paz has been greatly facilitated by three local distilleries.
Andean Culture Distillery is producing Killa Whiskey which they claim is the first Andean whiskey and the first whiskey made in Bolivia. La Republica is producing two gins, an Andean version flavored with high altitude herbs and plants, and an Amazonian version flavored with rainforest herbs and plants. And in a nation full of potatoes, 1825 Vodka has chosen to make their vodka from wheat they grow themselves.
The charming bar at Restaurant Gustu is the best place in Bolivia to taste Bolivian wines, craft beers, singani (the national drink of the country), and those Bolivian distillates we just mentioned, and you can thank Gustu manager and sommelier Bertil Tøttenborg for that. He has made it his mission (and passion) to dig as deep as possible into these Bolivian beverages and he’s a wealth of information and the bar is a wealth of carefully curated options.
Hay Pan, a narrow sliver of a bar that is often packed with locals and travelers, offers high-quality wines (including many Bolivian options), craft beers, and cocktails at reasonable prices along with tapas, flatbreads, and a working turntable that supplies the tunes (often Cuban salsa). It’s a hip but welcoming scene and there’s usually something special going on–from music to drink specials and more.
In 2017, the folks behind Ali Pacha vegan restaurant opened Umawi Coffee & Bar, named for the Aymara word for “let’s drink”, above the restaurant. There’s something for every thirst here from coffee to juice to creative cocktails like the ones shown above.
+591 Bar, named for Bolivia’s country code, is located on the top floor of the Atix Hotel along with the hotel’s small and mostly decorative pool. All the usual suspects are offered here along with some creative cocktail twists and the place attracts a beautiful crowd. Mercurial Bolivian artist Gastón Ugalde, whose art fills the hotel, maintains a table here.
A couple of great cocktail bars have closed since we were in La Paz including a very Twin Peaks place called Whiskeria and an unassuming place called The Steel. But new bars have opened as well including Jallalla Cocktails which people seem to like.
Whether you’re after wine, beer, cocktails, or coffee you can get your fix at HB Bronze Coffee Bar. HB Bronze coffee buyers source the best Bolivian beans (including geisha) and staff members are fluent in all brewing methods at this chic 2-level space decked out in wood, brass, and lots of natural light.
HB Bronze bartenders (the place had the only chola bartender in town when we were there) are also at the ready with bespoke cocktails like the Titikaka Royale made with local vermouth and a powerful herb called rica rica. The Riosinho cocktail (named for a park located in downtown La Paz) is made with local papaya soda, housemade coffee liquor, Campari, and La Republica Andina gin (think of it as a bright Bolivian twist on a gin and tonic). Or go for the “cafegroni” made tableside (pictured above). Hungry? No problem. At HB Bronze they bake their own bread for sandwiches and salads options like one made with delicate smoked local trout with baby greens, pesto made with the huacataya herb, and toasted quinoa. There are also charcuterie plates featuring llama ham and local cheese.
Cafeina Specialty Coffee channels the cool cafe vibe perfectly and serves lovingly made coffee any way you want it, including hard-to-find cold brew.
If you’re after a quiet high-quality coffee you’ll find it at tiny, bohemian Antigua Miami. One of the owners is a pastry chef, so expect great pastries as well.
At Typica Cafe, Bolivian beans are sourced from around the country and then roasted in-house for ultra freshness in a loungy environment that invites lingering.
La Paz, Bolivia travel tips
Flights to La Paz land at El Alto International Airport, the world’s highest international airport, at 13,323 feet (4,060 meters) on a plateau above the city. Chances are, that’s much higher than wherever you’re flying in from so you’re likely to feel the altitude. Common effects of altitude are shortness of breath and fatigue, but you can mitigate those feelings by avoiding over-exertion, drinking lots of water (but only the purified kind, never water from the tap), and limiting alcohol which goes to your head faster at altitude.
Also, we got pickpocketed while walking around the central downtown area of La Paz (only the second time that’s happened on the whole journey), and we’re not alone. Don’t carry unnecessary valuables around with you in La Paz and be sure anything you are carrying is secure.
Use our La Paz, Bolivia city travel guide series of posts to plan your own trip to this one-of-a-kind destination.
Part 1 covers what to do in La Paz and hotels in La Paz.
Here’s more about travel in Bolivia
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