The absolute best thing about the town of San Agustín is the food! It’s like a culinary oasis in a vast desert of homogeneous meat and rice dishes. After our long days touring the archaeological sites and natural wonders, we looked forward to trying one of the great restaurants in town. I’ll start with the best restaurants and move down the list.
First place is extremely difficult to choose. There were two restaurants that could’ve easily won. I’m going to call it a tie between Altos de Yerbabuena and Restaurante Italiano da Ugo. Both count among the best meals I’ve eaten in Colombia.
Altos de Yerbabuena
Altos de Yerbabuena is located on the road to the Archaeological Park. They specialize in both vegetarian cuisine and succulent steaks, along with a decent collection of good wines. The restaurant is a small place with just a few tables inside making for a romantic setting. It’s only open until 8pm, so it’s best to go early. A taxi costs COP$5,000 and they will call one to pick you up when your meal is finished.
The specialty of the house, Lomo al Trapo (a steak that’s been marinated in herbs and spices for several hours), wasn’t available, so Marisol and I both chose different steaks. I ordered the steak with green pepper sauce while Marisol had the steak in fine herbs. We both agreed that the meat was of high quality and cooked to perfection. I ordered my steak rare and it came out exactly the way it should have. In Colombia, I usually get blank stares when I ask for my steak to be cooked rare, and they usually overcook it to a rubbery inedible state. At Altos de Yerbabuena, the meat melted in my mouth and was as juicy and flavorful as I dream a steak to be.
Our starter of mushrooms in cheese was incredible as were the accompanying side dishes, a salad and potatoes. The salad was by far the tastiest I’ve had in Colombia, a country that is clearly lacking in the salad department. We washed everything down with freshly prepared juice. Unfortunately there are no desserts, but a cinnamon and mint tea was a nice way to finish our perfect meal. In all, the tab set us back about COP$70,000 including tip.
Restaurante Italiano da Ugo
The other winning restaurant was Restaurante Italiano da Ugo, located in the small village of El Tablón, just outside of San Agustín. We arrived to a packed house but Ugo was able to make room for us. We recommend reservations if you decide to visit. A taxi cost us COP$5,000 each way.
Ugo was very enthusiastic when explaining the day’s specials and chatted with us before we ordered. We started our meal with an amazing caprese salad and each had a pasta dish for the main course. I had the fusilli diavola and Marisol had a vegetarian linguine. They were prepared exactly as you would expect an Italian chef to make pasta.
Our desserts were also exceptional. The white chocolate mousse and tiramisu were both wonderful. We spent about COP$80,000 on our dinner and tip.
Third place has to go to another Italian restaurant, Pepe Nero. This restaurant just outside of town on the way to the Archaeological Park has a small selection of pasta dishes which are speedily recited by the server upon being seated. I had the spaghetti bolognese and Marisol had the spaghetti frutti di mare. We opted for the panna cotta for dessert. Everything was excellent but lacked that certain something we found at Ugo’s. We still highly recommend visiting Pepe Nero. It cost us about COP$55,000 including tip.
In town near our hotel, we had lunch at Surabhi. In addition to their affordable menu del día, they have a huge menu of Colombian and international cuisine, including burgers, pastas, stir fry dishes, and vegetarian options. We were craving burgers and I got this monstrosity:
The Mexican burger looked good on paper but was too much to handle in reality. It was also bad. Very bad. The meat was rubbery, the bread was stale, the cheese wasn’t melted, the beans weren’t cooked all the way, the guacamole was weird, and I’m not sure what the deal was with the Doritos. Other than the burger, the service was slow and wasn’t very friendly. Skip Surabhi.
For breakfast, we tried the touristy El Mesón and a small bakery called La Sorpresa. La Sorpresa won hands down on price and quality. Virtually the same breakfast of fried eggs and hot chocolate cost half the price and tasted better at La Sorpresa (COP$3,000).