EL GOBERNADOR BY RAUSCH – Since unveiling his award-winning Criterion in Bogota in 2004, London-trained Jorge Rausch has built a restaurant empire stretching to Costa Rica. El Gobernador, his seventh, opened last June with a wood-framed dining room where the chef gives French culinary traditions a Colombian twist: suckling pig paired with sweet potato, and tiger prawns on enyucodo, a yuca-and-anise specialty from the Caribbean coast.
EL BOLICHE CEBICHERIA – At this tiny, stylish restaurant on a San Diego backstreet, only a handful of diners at a time get to sample the excellent Colombian-style ceviche from gifted chef Oscar Colmenares. He transforms freshly caught octopus, squid, and conch by marinating them in tamarind sauce or coconut milk with cilantro.
MARIA – The jazzed-up jungle look inside Maria—white wicker chairs, giant cordyline plants, strangely hypnotic tiger-motif tapestries— is a draw in itself. But it’s worth staying for Alejandro Ramirez’s salmon poached in orange and coconut milk, or snook tirodito with fennel and grapefruit.
LA VITROLA – This Cuban-themed landmark feels straight out of Old Havana, complete with whirring ceiling fans and bolero crooners. It’s surprisingly formal for laid-back Cartagena: expect uniformed staff, sophisticated Caribbean cooking (grilled grouper with chili) and a far-reaching wine list.
RESTAURANTE LA CASA DE SOCORRO – Color runs riot in this local institution, where even the waiters’ garb is a patriotic yellow, red, and blue. Regulars range from blue-collar workers to pearl-garlanded senoras, along with a whole telenovela’s worth of Colombian celebrities. Diners pack the place around 8 p.m. for hearty seafood soup and herb-crusted fish straight from the grill.