The Tourist and Local Places to Eat in San Andrés
So I tried some of the tourist places first and then migrated off the main drag to dine with the locals. I found the food was just as good if not better at the local restaurants. In addition, the portions were larger for a half or a third of the price!
Best Tourist Restaurants
Restaurante Tropical at Hotel Casablanca
This restaurant is located upstairs and is accessed by the pool area. Or at least that was the case during my stay while part of the restaurant was under construction. I ate here the first night after 24 hours of travel. I was looking forward to an a la carte menu so that I could order grilled fish, a staple on this Caribbean Island, but much to my dismay, I found the restaurant was offering a buffet. Too tired to entertain a plan B, I settled for this, and after having eaten many places on the island during my four day stay, I must say it was one of the better meals. Having said that, the atmosphere isn’t worth writing home about, and I think it caters to the all-inclusive package at the hotel which I didn’t purchase. Regardless, it served its purpose…a quick meal nearby as I had to be at the Dive Shop by 8am the following morning.
The morning buffet at this restaurant is excellent. It includes a large selection of fruit including melons, bananas, strawberries, apples, grapes and some exotic fruits for which I didn’t know the name. There was also a large selection of breads, cereals, and juices along with the typical vat of scrambled eggs and cooked meats. In addition, Juan Carlos, made omelets to order. I ordered eggs every day, though much to my surprise they came out differently from my request despite confirmation. An omelet vs. scrambled. Mushrooms instead of spinach. Tomatoes instead of onion. Oh well, he was so cheerful in the morning, that it didn’t matter. In fact, all the males at the hotel were very friendly and helpful. The females on the other hand didn’t go out of there way. For example, I generally got my coffee after I finished eating, and one hostess told me I couldn’t sit at the four-top table because they did not have enough space for all the guests, yet two-thirds of the tables were empty, and I was only going to be there 15 minutes!
Gourmet Shop Assho
I felt fortunate that there was one other American on the dive boat this morning, and we instantly became friends. Both of us were traveling alone and we knew enough Spanish to get by, so we ventured off the main strip, Calle 1 along Playa de Spratt Bight, and aimed for a restaurant called Seaweed that Eric read about in his Lonely Planet travel guide. The restaurant was out of Ceviche and only had sandwiches and pizza to offer, so we detoured to Gourmet Shop Assho. I had read excellent reviews about this quaint restaurant off the beaten path. It seemed promising with the cute wine bottle décor hanging from the ceiling and with customers inside. The restaurant, however, did not live up to expectations. We ordered fish. I chose a garlic sauce and Eric chose a basil sauce. After an hour wait (it felt like they had to go catch the fish), the filet, which only came with a small portion of rice, was lightly breaded and mealy or not fully cooked. We were so hungry, we ate it, but I’d have to rank it as one of the worst meals we ate. Perhaps we went on the wrong day or they have a specialty we didn’t know about as the reviews on TripAdvisor are generally in favor of this establishment.
I went out on my own Friday night. Unfortunately, I read a warning which suggested tourists should not travel alone after dark. As such, I stuck to the main pedestrian street, Calle 1. Later I found out the surrounding streets are extremely busy and well lit. In addition, the locals are friendly, and I needn’t have worried about wandering the streets after dark.
Anyway, being a single girl and unfamiliar with the territory, I played it safe and visited Niko’s as the reviews vouched for excellent crab claws, one of my favorite dishes. The outside entrance is inviting with colorful writing above the doorway and palm trees in the small courtyard.
The entry inside looks more like an office and I wasn’t exactly sure what to do. The older couple at the desk to my left waved me inside. I walked into the dark dining area with views of the sea. The waiter was extremely helpful and knew the long-numbered passcode to wifi by heart!
Of course, they we out of crab claws, so I settled for their garlic lobster which is considered one of their specialties. The lobster comes in chopped pieces, doused in sauce and overflowing out of the shell. My first bite was a little tough, but the rest was tender. If lobster were my favorite meal, I suspect I’d be raving over it, but I like crab claws at least twice as much. The dish was extremely rich. I could hardly finish the hefty portion which came with coconut rice (made with coke rather than coconut) that was sweet and tasty.
I’m glad I visited this restaurant though the atmosphere seemed dull for a Friday night at 7:45. Only three tables were occupied by the time I left. Perhaps dinner starts later here, as no one had arrived for the 60th birthday celebration for which one family was decorating.
Restaurante Tico Tico
The restaurant served ceviche on the main pedestrian street, Calle 1. Each time I walked by, I noticed mostly Colombians dined in the non-descript place, and it was usually busy. I would have considered it a local restaurant with it low-key vibe, but being on the strip, the prices fit I with the tourist bill! I ordered the shrimp ceviche and Eric ordered the mixed ceviche. I quite liked it though it was in more of a red sauce than citrus sauce.
Eric read about a restaurant called Fisherman Place at the very end of the main pedestrian street, Calle I. It was on the exact opposite end from Banda Dive Shop where we had just finished diving for the morning. We figured we’d be dry and hungry for a late lunch by the time we strolled along the beach and past the casino, a garden and the I Love San Andres sign.
We entered the large, open-air octagonal gazebo and sat at one of the few open tables. We were ready to try the Rondon for which they are known. Unfortunately, they had run out. We learned that we needed to arrive by twelve to be lucky enough to try it. So, instead we ordered grilled fish. I went with my staple again, Filete al Ajillo. This time the fish substantial, almost the consistency of chicken. It was good, but I liked the atmosphere better with the old boats on the beach.
Restaurante La Regatta
We never made it here to eat as it usually requires reservations. It got very good reviews. Regardless, it’s worth looking at the decorations.
Best Local Restaurants
Restaurant Mari’s Play
After our dive, Eric and I planned on going to Fisherman Place on the opposite end of the main pedestrian street from where we were. As soon as we stepped outside the dive shop, the clouds unleashed a heavy rain. From the looks of the sky, it seemed like this shower might be longer than the daily five-minute variety so we ducked into Juan Valdez Café as did a few other divers on our boat.
Upon waiting out the storm, we asked Serge and Federico if they’d like to join us at Fisherman Place. They agreed though except Federico suggested we go to a local place that had better food and cost half the price. While I had yet to try Fisherman Place, I was somewhat skeptical of this comment, but willing to try it out as I love to do as the locals do.
Federico led us a few blocks into town to eat at Restaurant Mari’s Play. The restaurant was a hole in the wall whose sign could use some freshening up. I believe it fit approximately six to eight tables draped with plastic red and white checkered table cloths. The menu was a dry erase board with about seven options, the most expensive being maybe $8.
Federico told us the main dish which comes with rice, beans, and plantains also comes with a choice of soup and juice. Really?!? We hardly got half that at Gourmet Shop Assho the previous day! I ordered the fish, and frankly it was quite good!
We were tired of fish, so we opted for chicken. We ordered a four piece. It was dark meat and it came with five pieces and french fries! The fast food joint was pretty good and nice start to our night out trying street food and visiting the local area of town.
Delicias Del Sin
At this place, two folks were on the street flipping the cornmeal patties on the grill for the shell of arepas. We ordered a cheese arepa so they stuffed it right there and handed it to us. Had we wanted meat or other items, it was handed off to the lady in the store front for more stuffing. We felt the arepa was a bit “corn mealy”, but eating an arepa on the streets of Colombia is a must!
So this place was not a restaurant. It was a bar with outdoor seating where many locals sat around chatting and watching soccer. One man saw us slow down to see what teams were playing, and he asked if we wanted a beer. The next thing we knew, he had escorted us to the bar, the lady tending bar just took out one of each beer they had for us to see, and then Eric got a beer for 1,200 pesos, less than 50 cents! In the meantime, another man carried over two plastic chairs and sat them in the corner for us to use. So friendly!
Restaurante El Parqueadero
This restaurant was always full of locals when we passed by it. As such, my last night in town, I visited here. The lady at the counter wasn’t terribly friendly, but it may have just been the language barrier as she slapped a menu on the counter and pointed at the dinner options.
I decided to try the fried chicken as many of the other choices such as tongue and fried pork chops seemed very heavy. Fortunately, I had eaten at Restaurant Mari’s Play two days prior, so I understood her next question in Spanish. Did I want vegetable soup or fish soup? I got the veggie soup with fried chicken, slaw, rice, and juice.
I had high expectations given it always looked busy, but it wasn’t my most favorite of the local places. Regardless, I’m glad I went for the experience. ETB
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