After landing at Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport, I took a cab past sugar cane fields to Cali, a Colombian city at the base of lush green mountains. The longtime home to indigenous Calimas drew attention from Spanish explorer Sebastián de Belalcázar in 1536, fueled by fantastic tales of gold in the mythical lake of El Dorado. Centuries later, Cali is now the capital of Valle del Cauca departamento, houses 2.4 million people, and has overcome considerable turmoil that’s been well documented on shows like Narcos. I visited Cali to celebrate a close friend’s wedding and had 10 memorable food and coffee experiences at restaurants and cafes during my stay from July 20-24, 2018.
Numbers on the map correspond to listings below and appear in alphabetical order instead of order of preference.
Bendito Coffee Shop doesn’t open until 2:30 p.m. in hilly Granada, but Claudia Giraldo’s photo-lined cafe with decorative bikes makes their limited hours count. They source beans from regions like Huila, Nariño, and Cauca, roast on-site using a Quantik and offer more brewing methods than most coffee bars. Baristas are versed in devices like a two-group Bezzera espresso machine, V60, Chemex, Aeropress, French press, siphon, drip pot, and Kyoto-style cold brew tower. I drank a satisfying cup from a V60 dripper, served with a hefty slab of carrot cake lined with crushed walnuts. Bendito’s logo features a woman in a wide-brimmed hat and fashionable dress drinking a cup of coffee. Which method she prefers is open to debate.
MUST ORDER: V60 Coffee
2. Corinne Cafe
San Antonio is an upcoming neighborhood in the hills south of Cali River. Corinne Cafe is a multi-faceted space that dates to 2015 with great branding, art-lined white walls, wood tables, and an upstairs lifestyle shop. A coffee bar on the ground floor features a one-group Waga espresso machine and beans from Espresso Workshop by O’Kafe, which teamed on my frothy, well-balanced cortado. Donut relleno is fluffy, fried-to-order, and piped with a choice of filling. I opted for savory queso crema over options like Nutella, mermelada de frutos rojos (red fruit preserves), curd de limon (lemon curd) or arequipe (Colombian dulce de leche). The menu is actually fairly large given the tiny kitchen, including waffles, bagels, salads, sandwiches, all sorts of postres (desserts), and for some reason I can’t fathom, baby back ribs.
MUST ORDER: Cortado, Donut Relleno
Kuty is an open-air bakery that I visited on an Uber driver’s recommendation, since my first choice was closed for Columbian Independence Day. The combined panaderia (bakery), fruteria (fruit store), and cafeteria (cafe) features a brown facade and cream colored tables. I split three traditional cheese pastries: pandebono (chewy tapioca flour ring), almojábana (rice flour roll filled with cheese), and pan de queso (pull-apart cheese pastry). Their coffee bar also delivered.
MUST ORDER: Almojábana, Pandebono, Pan de Queso, Cappuccino
4. La Barra
La Barra is a “cocina tipica” that’s served traditional Colombian comfort food for breakfast and lunch since 1998. The two-story restaurant features wooden picnic tables and Colombian flags outside, with a small dining room and a white wall that reads, “Cocinamos con amor” (We cook with love). I’m convinced based on their hearty plates. Chuleta de cerdo features a boneless pounded pork chop that’s battered and deep-fried to a craggy crisp, locking in juices. Each chop’s plated on a banana leaf-lined wood plank with steamed white rice, creamy fresh-sliced avocado, and a clay pot filled with earthy stewed Calima beans that are well-seasoned, grow locally, and taste great over rice. Sancocho de gallina is a regional rooster soup with herbaceous broth. Bandeja paisa is a meaty feast more typical of Bogotá that crams a crispy fried chicharrón slab, a healthy ground beef pile, luscious grilled links of morcilla and chorizo, fresh-shucked avocado, fried egg, fried plantain, Calima beans and steamed white rice on a single plate. To drink, I’d suggest a big pitcher of aguapanela, a more refreshing, judiciously sweet cousin to lemonade that’s brewed with local sugar cane and lemon.
MUST ORDER: Bandeja Paisa, Chuleta de Cerdo, Sancocho de Gallina, Aguapanela
Mascabado is a bakery-cafe at the base of Granada that serves #hechoamano (hand-made) brunch all day at umbrella shaded patio tables and in a tiled dining area. House-baked pastries include a standout cinnamon roll with flaky crust, soft core, judicious glaze and evenly distributed cinnamon. Mascabado’s sprawling menu featured enticing options like oatmeal waffles with seasonal fruit and creamy honey, but I settled on torta de zapallo y queso de cabra. This squash quiche featured a whole wheat crust, tangy chevrotin goat cheese, Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, baked butternut squash, and of course eggs. Cafe granizado was a blended coffee drink that balanced my rich baked goods.
MUST ORDER: Cinnamon Roll, Torta de Zapallo y Queso de Cabra, Cafe Granizado