Several years ago, when one of my friends from college visited Cartagena for a wedding, I asked him how the food was. “Meh, it was not so good, I was particularly disappointed with the ceviche there.” Really? When I made travel plans for my Memorial Day weekend trip to Cartagena with my wife Jun, I diligently searched the web for the best ceviche restaurants in the city. One name that consistently came up was La Cevicheria, which became a must-go spot after a visit from the late Anthony Bourdain in 2008. When Jun and I arrived for an early dinner on the second day of our Cartagena trip, there were already crowds waiting on the side and we were quoted roughly a 30-minute wait. While we didn’t get to go inside, we felt lucky to be seated outside where, despite the humid weather, the street of Old Town with a sunset showed a ton of charm, along with a rotation of amateur singers who sang on the side and asked the restaurant’s patrons for tips (Jun generously gave tips of around 2,000 pesos (slightly less than a dollar) to every single one of them not matter how good or bad they were). I will, however, remember La Cevicheria for its food, and did have the best meal here during our stay in Cartagena.
The rather expansive menu at the restaurant can feel overwhelming. We asked our server for some recommendations, and she suggested one ceviche and one paella dish for two. Let’s start with the dish that we came here for. The sea bass ceviche, in a dish called “Ceviche Colombiano en Tentacion” (i.e. Colombian Ceviche Temptation), came with red slices of food Jun and I couldn’t immediately recognize. Those red slices were incredibly delicious and perfectly complemented the fresh sea bass. They turned out to be red plantains. I was struggling to remember a pairing as unique in flavor and texture as the sea bass ceviche and red plantain that we had. If these dishes were offered somewhere in New York City, I would gladly stop by anytime in the summer for quick bites on weekends.
The paella (“paella frutos del mar”) was even more impressive. Jun and I had never seen so much of seafood – lobster, shrimp, squid, octopus, clams, mussels, you name it! – go into the pan of aromatic rice that was probably more than enough for two people. At ordinary Spanish restaurants in New York City, we would’ve been charged double the money (here, this generous serving cost us around $30) at half the amount of seafood. I can safely assume that restaurants in Colombia probably do not have the same level of financial constraints in running the operations, but it still felt like we were treated to one of the best bargains in our life! We ordered only two dishes (this was probably the only moment in Cartagena where I wished we had had more company so we could try others), but both turned out to be the wise choice to make our second night in Cartagena very satisfying.
I don’t think La Cevicheria doesn’t accept reservations so if you want to dine for prime time dinner, you will likely expect some wait time. The crowd at the restaurant seems to be more tourist heavy (after all, they probably saw this restaurant mentioned in guide book after guide book), but that shouldn’t really diminish your dining experience. There is full bar and the cocktails made from the restaurant (we tried Manhattan and Martini) are actually pretty solid. As noted above, even if it could get pretty hot and humid, do try to get seated at one of the outdoor tables if you want to truly feel like you are dining at somewhere magical. From time to time, when a restaurant is mentioned in best restaurant list in travel guides and websites, it turns out to be not as good as the reputation suggests. I am confident declaring that La Cevicheria really lives up to its name and if you are looking for some taste of fresh seafood, you can’t really beat the experience here.
KenScale: 8.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.0/10)
- Creativity: 8.0/10
- Execution: 8.0/10
- Ingredients: 8.5/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.5/10
Address: Calle Stuart 714, Cartagena, Bolivar, Colombia