After a year I feel like Cody and I have this “hosting visitors” thing down pat…based on who you are, how much time you have with us and what you like, we can pretty easily whittle down the list of tourist attractions into a nice itinerary of things you have to see while you’re with us. However, there are a few places so synonymous with Bogotá and so crucial to experiencing the city that they make the cut no matter who you are. Andrés Carne de Res is one of those places.
Andrés Carne de Res (or simply, Andrés) began as a steak restaurant in Chía (just outside the northern boundaries of Bogotá) with a handful of tables. Over the past 30 years, it’s grown into two gigantic locations and several tiny takeaway joints to become probably one of the most famous restaurants in the country. To give you an idea of their scale, I read in an article from Condé Nast Traveller that the Chía location covers over 2.5 square miles and is able to seat 2,000 people–thank goodness it has five kitchens! They employ hundreds of cooking and serving staff, as well as entertainers and a group of artisans who hand make every single item in the restaurants, from the decorations and knick-knacks right down to each piece of tableware. If you like what you see, all the handmade articles can be found in the restaurant’s gift shops. While Andrés D.C. (located within the city of Bogotá) is smaller, the multiple levels, dining areas and dance floors provide the same atmosphere.
It’s hard to put your finger on the special ambiance of Andrés…it’s best experienced in person. The restaurant borrows its theme from Dante’s Inferno, with the different dining areas ranging from the fires of hell to the paradise of heaven. To call the decor eclectic is a ridiculous understatement–try to imagine Disneyland with an eerie, cirque de soleil-esqe vibe. Then add a dash of metal shop, a nightclub, throw in few families celebrating a graduation or birthday and that’s the best description I can muster.
We’ve been a handful of times (including during 9our very first visit to the city) and no two visits have been alike. We’ve taken a chiva (a party bus and a whole other experience in itself) to the Chía location, only to drink and dance the night away and somehow wake up in a cab outside our apartment in the wee hours of the night. We’ve spent Halloween reveling in the creepy carnival themed evening, packed liked sardines amongst locals and foreigners of all ages. During one visit with a family, we marveled at the craft tables, themed shows and climbing wall (!) designed to keep younger visitors occupied while the grown ups enjoy their meals. This past trip was to the D.C. restaurant during the Copa America where we spent a couple of hours with our besties, munching appetizers and sipping aguardiente as the rowdy fútbol fans provided a soundtrack of shouts and sighs.
But it’s not all about the massive size and visual smack in the face that Andrés provides–the food is really good too! At 60 or so pages the menu is practically a novella, so if people are keen to share we generally order for the table. If it’s your first time to Colombia and you aren’t a teetotaler, there is no way you’re getting out of a shot of aguardiente. This clear, anise flavored sugarcane brew is pretty much the most popular alcoholic beverage in Colombia.
When it comes to food, there are two appetizers that are an absolute must. If you’re familiar with Colombia, you’ve surely come across arepas–there are as many versions of this flatbread made from ground corn as there are regions in the country. My favorite by far is the arepa de chócolo which is made from yellow corn, sweetened and stuffed with melted cheese. In the picture below you’ll see my fingers creeping toward another of our favorites, the mixto de fritos. There are so many delicious things on the menu that must be tried, this perfect mix lets everyone get a bite.
Andrés is famous for steak, so if our group is down we share the punta anca–steak covered in bacon and served on a sizzling metal plate. People who like it rare can grab a slice straight away, or you can let your meat continue cooking until it’s done to your liking. On the side come arepas, a big salad, potatoes and a variety of chimichurri salsas. I never have the patience to take photos, so I have to give a special shout-out to our friend Taylor for the food pics!
Another important part of the Andrés vibe are the entertainers. From side-show ‘freaks’ straight out of a 1900s carnival to folks who could have stepped out of a jazz club circa 1920, there are always interesting actors roaming between the tables whose sole purpose is to interact with the customers. If you’re celebrating a special event or if it’s your first time to their restaurant, you can be sure the band will find you to sing, dance and give you a gold, blue and red sash to commemorate your visit. After nine the music turns up and people check their belongings in locked burlap sacks so they can dance between the tables worry free. I’m not sure if it was the fun of having our best friends with us, the vibe of the game or those sips of aguardiente, but I couldn’t resist getting a pic with these goaty looking guys on our way out.
If you’re curious, the Condé Nast article I mentioned above (which includes some really good photos) can be seen here. Check out this interview with founder Andrés Jaramillo if you’d like to read more about the history and philosophy behind his restaurant.