How Medellin became Latin America's hot new dining destination

Story highlights

  • Medellin, Colombia, has a slew of new restaurants owned and run by chefs
  • Ocio chef Laura Londono has worked at Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris and in Italy
  • Molecular gastronomy kitchen El Cielo serves food that shocks and entertains

(CNN)Where's the hottest culinary scene in Latin America right now?

If you answered the Colombian city of Medellin, you wouldn't be alone.
    And if you didn't even think of this vibrant Colombian city -- it's been dubbed the City of Eternal Spring for its perma-pleasant weather -- you might want to consider getting here before the masses dub it the world's next great foodie destination.
    A slew of new restaurants in the city are chef-owned and operated, making for ongoing innovation and menus that are often refreshed.
    Here are a few of Medellin's eating highlights.
    Ocio
    With a name that means "leisure time," Ocio specializes in slowing things down and stopping to smell the 12-hour roasted pork shank.
    The industrial-meets-contemporary restaurant in Medellin's posh El Poblado neighborhood is known for slow house specialties like codito pork in an orange balsamic sauce served with locally grown pastusa potatoes.
    The preferred follow-up is the alfajor banana tempura dessert with ricotta and house-made caramel ice cream.
    Chef Laura Londono, who did stints at three-Michelin-star L'Astrance in Paris and two-Michelin-star Il Rigoletto in Italy, decided to do her own thing in Medellin in 2013.
    "I realized that the city was changing and that people were becoming curious and interested in eating out and eating well," she says.

    Ocio, Carrera 33 No. 7-21 - Poblado, Medellin Colombia;

    Carmen
    There are few better dishes in Medellin than Carmen's plantain-crusted fish of the day served over coconut rice risotto with a baby banana and rum puree.
    The fish comes fresh from Bahia Solano and Nuqui on Colombia's Pacific coast, fruits reach the restaurant by way of the Amazon and co-chef Carmen Angel is always looking for Colombian ingredients to inspire new dishes.
    The high-end cuisine comes with a setting to match -- an open-kitchen dining room, a formal one if you're feeling fancier and an ivy adorned-patio perfect for post-grub craft cocktails.
    "We saw a huge potential for something different and new in Medellin and were inspired by the opportunity to evolve certain culinary constructs in a city that had been so confined for so long," Angel says. "There are only signs of growth right now, every month there are more and more restaurants opening and more diversity in the culinary offerings."

    Carmen, Carrera 36 # 10A-27 El Poblado, Medellin Colombia;

    Hatoviejo
    Colombia's "comida tipica" or traditional paisa plates -- Medellin is the capital of the Antioquia region, where locals are called paisas -- are on the heartier side of the city's haute cuisine.
    Pork, corn, plantain and yucca are staples and Hatoviejo has them all.
    Sometimes in the same dish.
    The bandeja paisa is a delicious example -- locals the country over place this dish with beans, beef, chorizo, fried egg, fried plantain, pork rind, rice and avocado among the country's best.
    And probably its biggest.
    Prepare to skip dessert.

    Restaurant Hatoviejo, Calle 16 No. 28-60 Hotel Intercontinental, Medellin Colombia;

    El Cielo
    If you like your food to sing, smoke and shock, Medellin's molecular gastronomy kitchen, El Cielo, does the trick.
    From yucca crisps served atop a box that plays Beethoven's "Silence" to a smoking cauldron of dry ice turned palate cleanser to an Amazon-inspired tree of life made from pan de yucca (cassava bread) and gold-dusted chocolate truffles filled with pina colada, El Cielo wants to be a "roller coaster of senses" according to its leader.
    Chef Juan Manuel Barrientos has been called the most innovative chef in this most innovative city, and his Bogota El Cielo ranks among Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants.
    Mostly because it's fun.
    And because the food is first rate.
    "Medellin definitely will be a gastronomic destination," Barrientos says. "We have a lot of things to offer."

    El Cielo, Cra 40 N 10A - 22, Medellin Colombia;

    In Situ
    At In Situ, the fine dining comes with a side of botanic garden.
    Located amid Medellin's Jardin Botanico, the contemporary eatery with big doors that open for a near-full view of the garden's pond and palms puts eaters next to nature.
    For more filling fare, there's a sirloin steak bathed in gooseberry chimichurri.
    But salads are also a hit -- the Musaenda comes with smoked salmon, fresh herbs from the backyard garden and caramelized lychee.
    A post-meal walk through 40 acres of exotic orchids and a famed 50-foot-tall Orchideorama floral structure isn't so bad either.

    Restaurante In Situ, Jardin Botanico, near the Orquideorama Street 73 # 51 d 14. Botanical Garden, Medellin Colombia;