My wife and I are deciding on where to retire in Latin America. We are both ‘foodies’ so some good restaurants and local cuisine in the area would be a major factor for us. We will have a monthly income of roughly €2000 – €2300 a month and have no preferences for coastal or inland living as of yet. So my question would be, can you recommend some of the best restaurants in Latin America?
Thanks for your help.
Suzan Haskins – Ecuador Correspondent
Foodies in Cotacachi should go directly to La Mirage It’s a 5-star dining experience you’re unlikely to find anywhere else in Ecuador. Choose from a 3 or 5 course prix-fixe menu and sit back and relax. It’s amazingly luxurious…and a couple will rarely spend more than $100 and that’s including drinks. (Try the lavender candied rose petal…oh my!) On the flip side, you might like to try El Convento, behind the church. Iglesia Matriz. Only open for lunch, you’ll spend just $2.50 per person for a home-cooked meal made of the freshest ingredients. Typically you’ll start with a fresh loco (cream soup) followed by a full plate meat, rice, salad and then fruit or ice cream for dessert. And included is a fresh fruit juice and always a bowl of popcorn on the table.
Jason Holland – Roving Latin America Correspondent
When I am traveling in Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast, aka Southern Zone, there’s one place I always stop for a bit to eat: Bar Jolly Roger. It’s on a jungle-covered hillside just outside the beach of town of Dominical, reachable by a dirt and gravel road just off the main coastal highway (look for the small skull and crossbones sign on the roadside) that goes up, up, up and up and turns this way and that through the rain forest until you think you’re totally lost… and then you’re there. It’s open-air and just about every seat in the house offers panoramic views of the Pacific over the jungle. Sunsets are especially spectacular. And because of the unspoiled setting it’s not unusual to see wildlife like toucans and capuchin monkeys in the surrounding trees. The menu is inexpensive pub grub: burgers, beer, salads, pizza… and about 20 different flavors of chicken wings – the best in the country in my opinion. It’s not fancy but the service is friendly. It’s fun and has great food. Always my go-to.
In San Miguel de Allende, in Mexico’s Colonial Highlands, there’s no shortage of great food. I love everything from the fancy gourmet places (that are still much cheaper than they would be in the U.S.) to the ubiquitous taco trucks on side streets. But one of my special favorites is La Mezcaleria (address: Correo #47) just few blocks from El Jardin, the town’s main square. This is the heart of the colonial district, so the surroundings are picturesque. La Mezacaleria is in a restored colonial building, with not many seats – so reservations are recommended. It’s a small menu, just a few small plates of international fusion. I had tuna tartare, grilled vegetables, and grilled octopus on my last visit. There are fried grasshoppers, a Mexican tradition, for the adventurous. Everything is delicious and doesn’t break the bank. The star of the show are the many specialty mezcal (which is related to tequila) margaritas available with flavors like peach, basil, cucumber, and cilantro. Sounds weird – but delicious. You can also have the mezcal straight, all high quality varieties from the region Oaxaca region, or local craft beer. A great place for a drink and light dinner for a couple, or with friends.
Jessica Ramesch – Panama Correspondent
What a great question! Panama has a wonderful (and growing) food scene with lots to offer, even in smaller towns outside the capital. I feel these days Panama truly does have some of the best restaurants in Latin America.
It all depends on what you’re looking for of course. Panama City is a cosmopolitan center with plenty of fun restaurants including trendy gourmet or ethnic eateries. The city is on the water so if you are interested in, say, a nice apartment with a balcony and/or ocean view, it may be a perfect location for you. I have fallen in love with a new Indian restaurant called Avatar where you can have a nice dinner (including a drink) for $20. Go before 5:30 p.m. and they usually have discounts of 20% to 30% on overall meal (not including beverages). I’ve been to other world capitals like London and Paris, where a nice meal in a trendy part of town can cost three times as much, so to me Avatar offers excellent overall value.
Of course I have favorites elsewhere in Panama as well. One of my favorite Italian restaurants, Luna Rossa, is located in the beach town of Coronado, about an hour’s drive from Panama City. Here you can have fresh pasta or pizza from a wood-fired oven, a glass of Chianti, and a decadent dessert for about $25.
And there are dozens upon dozens of more casual eateries (in Panama City and across the nation) where you can have a drink and lunch or dinner for under $10. La Casa Vegetariana, a hole-in-the-wall vegetarian eatery, has a small but tasty buffet every day, and each selection you make will cost you $0.50. I often have lunch with healthful linseed “juice,” sauteed greens, brown rice, avocado and one of several veggie “meat” selections for $3.
No matter where you go in Panama you’ll find an abundance of fresh veggies, fruit, fish and more…and plenty of restaurants featuring fun and fresh ingredients in a wide range of cuisines. In Panama City particularly there are organic/gourmet delis, home delivery services, and specialty markets (including Indian shops and Kosher supermarkets). Foodies are well served in Panama.
Jim Santos – Ecuador Correspondent
If you love seafood, you will love the restaurants in Salinas on the southern coast of Ecuador. There are many local restaurants we enjoy. If I had to choose the best Ecuadorian-style, I would have to pick “Luv’N Oven”, a popular local spot with two locations. Their grilled corvina (sea bass) can be served with a variety of toppings like lemon sauce, passion fruit sauce, or my personal favorite, shrimp. They have a wide variety of the comida tipico, and I have enjoyed everything I have ordered there, from their $9 filet mignon, wrapped in bacon and smothered with a mushroom sauce – to their garlic lobster or ceviche mixto.
We also have a world-class chef operating at Big Ralph’s. He was trained in London, so of course you can get fish and chips there. But he also has an eclectic menu featuring things like green thai curry shrimp or chicken, braised beef, tender pork tenderloin, lobster ravioli, and more. Delicious food, and every plate is served looking like a work of art.
Plenty of variety to explore for a “foodie” here on Ecuador’s coast.
Don Murray – Mexico Correspondent
Thanks for your great question on local foods. As Mexico’s correspondent for the Riviera Maya, I live in Cancun, a Foodie’s Paradise. With five million tourists visiting this area annually, Cancun is truly an International city and its over 700 restaurants reflect that.
For the best in local, authentic Mexican food, you can’t do better than the 8-10 family owned small restaurants inside the local downtown market at Mercado 23. Each restaurant prepares a daily special which usually consists of a rich soup, choice of main dish of meat, rice with egg, tortillas, beans and fruit water for $65 pesos (about $3.50 at today’s exchange rate). This is real food served to real local people. Nothing fancy here; just delicious and affordable.
Cancun is full of international cuisine. You’ll find numerous examples of Italian restaurants, Chinese, Thai, Japanese and some wonderful Brazilian steak houses. Major U.S. chains such as Ruth’s Chris, Bubba Gump’s, Outback and even McDonalds all have a presence here.
Our personal favorite is La Dolce Vita, an intimate and authentic Italian restaurant in downtown Cancun. This is an upscale restaurant with pricing and impeccable service to match. They use only fresh cuts of meat, crisp vegetables in salads and their baked goods and pasta are prepared in their own kitchen. Dinner for two with wine can run $75. We’ve spent more.
Cancun offers an almost endless selection of food variety with prices to fit anyone’s budget. Good luck with your adventure!
Ann Kuffner – Belize Correspondent
If you are a foodie, you’ll be pleasantly surprised that for such a small country, several areas of Belize have quite a few good restaurants. If you visit, check out the areas of Ambergris Caye, Placencia, and San Ignacio and the Cayo Region. You’ll find quite a few good restaurants and diverse cuisine in each of these areas, where expats live.
Ambergris Caye is a popular tourism and expat retirement area. It’s hard to pick a favorite restaurant. Casa Picasso is very well known for their tasting menu which is diverse, but has a Malaysian/Asian flair. Their pork belly appetizer is luscious. But they also have nice seafood dishes. And their cocktails are fun and creative. Casa Picasso is on the pricey side. Expect to spend $25-$50/person there if you order cocktails or wine. On the Belizean side, the most famous restaurant is Elvi’s. They serve traditional Belizean meals with a twist, with plenty of fresh seafood. I love their curries, and their twist on tacos, with multiple tasty sauces. Levi’s prices are mid-range. Expect to spend around $30/person there. On the cheaper side is the new Truck Stop, which is a trailer beer and food park not the north island. This is very casual and there is are two food truck containers. One is Malaysian, the other is Latin American, specializing in Areppa sandwiches. You can have a filling lunch here for under $10/person.
The Placencia Peninsula has some higher end restaurants, as well as cute beach bar cafes. Hands down, my favorite is the Maya Beach Bistro, on the beach. The owner chef prepares creative, gourmet food. I haven’t been back recently, but they continue to get rave reviews on Trip Advisor. What I do remember is that they have a great wine list. When we visited they offered one of my favorites, Grunerveltiner, by the glass. This is very unusual for a restaurant in Belize. Their meals are priced similarly to Casa Picasso.
Fuego, Guava Limb, and the San Ignacio Hotel are my favorite restaurants in San Ignacio. Fuego is a fun restaurant located right in the town square. The chef prepares Latin/Belizean dishes that are full of flavors. And the prices are reasonable. You can eat a nice dinner there for under $20. Guava Limb is a health oriented café that serves food that has the freshest ingredients, straight from their farm. I love their salads, but everything they make is good. They have won the Best New Restaurant in Belize. Similar to Fuego, the price is below $20/meal. The San Ignacio Hotel is a classy place and their restaurant reflects that. They specialize in their beef dishes, but offer many more options. The ambiance is very nice. The price will be closer to that of Casa Picasso and the Maya Beach Bistro.
All of these restaurants are on Trip Advisor. Some have websites, others use Facebook. You can find more detailed info about their food, and prices, through Trip Advisor.
Jackie Minchillo – Costa Rica Correspondent
Patagonia in my opinion is the best restaurant in town. It is actually an Argentinian steak house and would be most appropriate for a nice night out, special occasion, etc.
While they serve some delicious pasta and seafood dishes, they are most well known for their perfectly cooked steaks and homemade sangria. Prices are slightly on the higher end, with dinner and a drink the cost will typically be between $20 and $30 per person.
La Bruja Ines is a small, authentic Mexican restaurant, with a local twist on some classic seafood favorites like Ceviche. The food is thoughtfully made, and the attention to detail from every meal, to the homemade juices and smoothies to the place settings is a foodie’s dream. This restaurant serves fresh breakfast, lunch and dinner and is also on the lower end of the price spectrum. You can eat for less than $10 per person.
For the best truly local cuisine including Costa Rica’s famous Casado plate or Gallo Pinto for breakfast, go to Soda El Buen Comer. Fresh ingredients and a taste of true local flavor, at very low prices. Daily specials (an entire plate) can be as low as $5.
Nancy Kiernan – Colombia Correspondent
Thank you very much for your question. As you can probably imagine there are many, many excellent restaurants in Colombia. Since you don´t have a preference for coastal or inland living, I have a great recommendation for one of each. I chose these restaurants because they have, in my opinion, the total experience: excellent food quality, good value and an interesting eating environment.
In Medellín, Marmoleo specializes in grilled steak. While they do serve some fish and chicken dishes, people go there for the steak. My favorite entree is lomo berraco. Grilled tenderloin medallions in a garlic sauce with grilled prawns, all on a bed of perfectly seasoned mashed potatoes. The cost? $13. Other entrees range from $11 to $20. I usually skip the appetizer in favor of saving room for dessert. They have cakes, cheesecakes and other sweets, all in the $4 range. They offer a full bar with top shelf liquor brands, an extensive wine list, sangria and cocktails. A mojito will run you $5.50. What makes Marmoleo so special for me is its location. Perched up in the mountain above the city, the outside dining room overlooks the beautiful city lights of Medellín. On weekend nights live music plays to make your dining experience complete.
On the coast in Santa Marta, Eli´s is the place for amazing international dishes with a touch of Colombian tradition. Eli´s is located inside Hotel Boutique Casa Carolina. The hotel is a renovated colonial home, so it is just filled with character and charm. You can dine next to the pool, inside the traditional colonial home, or upstairs on the rooftop deck. This lovely environment becomes an amazing backdrop to their delicious food. Main courses include filet mignon, sea bass, and salmon. I prefer to eat the seafood since it is literally caught just down the street. Prices range between $10 and $14. Desserts are $4. To wash it all down they offer wine, beer, cocktails and if you prefer something non-alcoholic, then I recommend the mixed fruit smoothies for less than $3.
Please note that the standard for tipping for meals in Colombia is only 10%. It is voluntary and most restaurants will ask if you just want it added to your bill.
Glynna Prentice – Mexico Correspondent
In Merida, Mexico, one of my favorite restaurants is Apoala, which serves classic Oaxacan dishes. Hearty meat-eaters may like Charlie Trotter’s, also in Merida. In Guanajuato, Mexico, Los Campos and Mestizo are favorites with local expats. And if you’re ever in Mexico City, check out Limosneros, in the historic center.
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