More than a legend in its own lunch time, El Bistro, has become part of Cartagena's culinary landscape, as typical as coconut rice and carne en posta.
It's hard to believe that the boys from Germany, Lars Brurein and Mirko Wolz, landed in Cartagena in 1999, with their well-worked variation of the traditional sopa y seco (soup and a main), lunch scene.
Our lunchtime legends are all built around a winning combination of European recipes with a tropical twist. Regular favourites include the succulent pork loin served with a passion fruit sauce and yam puree, a whole grilled robalo cooked with fresh herbs, the grilled chicken, Hungarian goulash, or a grilled lobster feast that will give any Monday a boost.
Brurein always chalks up plenty of vegetarian options for weary travellers tired of the meat and two carb diet in Central America, as well as a healthy selection of fresh fish options to keep the regulars from getting bored.
Outside lunch hours, there are some fabulous meals a la carta that are well worth the glance. With the majority of mains stay safely within the USD$10-15 bracket, El Bistro is a culinary godsend for backpackers in town stung by Cartagena's prices.
The fresh tuna filet served on a bed of herby mash packs a fresh and flavourful punch anytime of day. Likewise, the beef, cooked to medium perfection, practically falls into your mouth in a silky heap.
If you're more on the peckish side, there's a dazzling selection of tapas and starters that double up as sharing plates. The sausages in a honey and dijon dressing play up the restaurant's German roots and go perfectly with a chilled beer, served in a traditional beer mug.
Their prawn, black pudding and plantain stack, with a bitter orange twist to suprise your tastebuds, is so popular with the local crowd, there are two variations on the dish.
When the food is such a draw, it's easy to forget El Bistro is also a bar and bakery. Here you can enjoy some brilliant cakes and bread made en situ. Practically all the foreigners in town count on these guys for their fresh bread baguettes that taste just like home. Trust us, this is one of the only places where your complimentary basket of bread is as good as the main meal.
El Bistro's giant-sized fresh juices can be ordered low on sugar and there are great cocktails and affordable wine offers to make your day a little bit sweeter. Cheap drinks are even cheaper if you head there anytime during the week between 16.00-19.00 for their excellent happy hour.
The welcome addition of an espresso machine and a good collection of magazines and newspapers has made this a top spot to expand your vocabulary over a lazy cocktail or coffee session.
Is there anything these guys can't do?
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THIS IS WHAT WE LOVE
* Ordering a grilled lobster feast that makes any lunch feel special.
* Meeting new friends even when you are eating alone.
* Bread fresh out of the oven and without sugar.
* Great cocktail offers during El Bistro's happy hour (16:00-19:00).
* Knowing that your food hasn't been pre-cooked but lovingly prepared.
* Eating every day of the week in the same place but never getting bored.
* One of the best apple tarts in town.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
* Get there before 12:30 to avoid having to wait for a table.
* Service can be a little slow at rush hour.
* Bookings can be made only for large groups.
*The air con feels a bit faint, but there are lots of fans to keep you cool.