When you are in Colombia and hear the name “Andrés Carnes de Res” it immediately brings to mind a specific image of a very unique place. Say that name in the U.S. and you will likely get met with a blank stare. That is the look that I gave Sean several months ago when he told me that we had to go to Andrés Carnes de Res for a meal while we were in Bogota. “You don’t understand,” he told me. “It is the craziest restaurant I have ever been to.” Since Oscar’s birthday is this week and the restaurant is known for its birthday celebrations, we decided to visit over the weekend along with Eli, Zuly and Isabella.
The original restaurant is located in Chia about an hour outside of the center of Bogota. I could not believe that people would drive that far to get to a restaurant but they do and every weekend it is packed. I hate being in the car and was not thrilled to be driving such a long way just to have lunch. We left about midday on Saturday and promptly hit traffic. After a slow slog out of the city, the countryside began to emerge. We turned off the highway onto a narrow country road and drove by streams and pastures ringed by the mountain range. All of a sudden I saw a giant rainbow zebra holding a sign. In front of the zebra was a series of low slung buildings covered in signs and lights. “What is all of this?” I asked Sean, alarmed, thinking that it was the strangest roadside stop I had ever seen. “This is André Carnes de Res,” he said.
Opened in 1982, the restaurant has become a Colombian institution. The Chia location (there is another in the center of Bogota) has 25 dining rooms, seating for nearly 2,000 people and is almost the size of a city block. There are multiple levels, many bars, several kitchens, outside seating and a huge children’s area. The inside of the restaurant looks like it was decorated by an artistic, schizophrenic hoarder. There are metal scupltures hanging from the ceiling, mannequins, colorful lights and signs and ceramic cows. It is truly one of those places that has to be seen to be believed. The words quirky and eclectic do not do the decor justice. Even during lunch, the atmosphere is party, party, party. The music is loud and there are groups of musicians that travel around the restaurant, serenading people and throwing confetti in the air. There were many birthday celebrations and the men at the table behind us were celebrating a divorce. Apparently at night it gets really wild. (Next time!)
Since we were somewhat in a partying mood (we were celebrating Oscar’s birthday after all) we immediately ordered cocktails. The kids were served their fresh juice drinks out of bowls.
My fresh, frozen mandarin juice and vodka came in a glass shaped like a bullet. It was delicious and strong!
The menu is about 65 pages long so luckily we had Zuly to help us order. We started with chicharrones, empanadas and patacones (fried green plantains) covered in cheese. After our appetizers, we moved outside to the kid’s area. The kids promptly ran off to rock climb, play ping pong, make masks and key chains. (The security is tight and each child and associated adult has to wear a wrist band that is checked and removed on the way out.) There were lots of families sitting outside and enjoying the afternoon.
Meanwhile, the adults had another round of drinks and ordered more food and chatted. For such a huge restaurant, the service was excellent and the food was surprisingly good. We had grilled vegetables, chicken skewers, hearts of palm salad and a Lomo al Trapo, a Colombian specialty which is a beef tenderloin covered in a salt crust, wrapped in a towel and cooked over a fire. It was delicious. Zuly made us try tripe which none of us liked. (Not even Oscar!)
Oscar’s review: “It is a giant restaurant with a giant menu and a giant kids section including a rock climbing wall. It was really fun because I got to go on a rock climbing wall and make my own t-shirt. It is also number 41 on Latin America’s 50 best restaurants.” As the birthday boy he got a crown, a sash with the colors of the Colombian flag and happy birthday sung to him in Spanish. And the most giant chocolate lava cake we have even seen. (Which was really a small ramekin of cake nestled on top of a huge paper mache lava cake.)
Before we knew it, it was getting dark and we couldn’t believe that had been at the restaurant for nearly six hours. And therein lies the magic of Andres Carnes de Res. Now I understand!