In celebration of Colombia’s independence from Spain 202 years ago, Seth and I lunched at Restaurante Las Margaritas. The oldest restaurant in Bogotá, Las Margaritas opened its doors in 1902 and has been in constant operation ever since. Seth had read about it in the New York Times while we were still living in Texas, and we noticed its modest exterior shortly after moving into our apartment in Chapinero. Unfortunately, we just hadn’t made the effort to visit. After tasting their traditional offerings, however, we instantly regretted waiting so long!
Upon entering the bright, skylit central space, Seth and I selected an open table near the front of the kitchen. Para tomar, we ordered masato—a cold, fermented rice drink with generous amounts of cloves and cinnamon—and salpicón—a nonalcoholic sangria-like drink with a guayaba pera base and small chunks of tropical fruit. We also ordered a couple of their famous empanaditas (little empanadas), which were served in a wicker basket with slices of lime. Super ricas!
For our main courses, we shared the Lengua con Salsa Las Margaritas (cow tongue with house sauce) and the Sobrebarriga (flank steak, also with house sauce). Each plate was served with a small salad—a unique amalgamation of shredded lettuce and carrots, diced red pepper and green beans, sliced strawberries, and a few peas—in addition to two medium-sized boiled potatoes, a perfectly formed half-cup portion of rice, and an uchuva garnish. I had never eaten cow tongue outside of a South Texas taco, but I was delighted by its smooth texture and mild taste. The sauce was a pureed gravy of onions, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, cumin, corn flour, annatto, beer, salt, lime, capers, and aji. Meanwhile, the flank steak was perfectly cooked. The simplicity of both dishes reminded me of some of the more popular German fare that I like to eat in Texas, specifically Jägerschnitzel. Meat, gravy, and potatoes: that’s all a good ‘merican really needs.
Just as we began pouring over the dessert menu, a waiter approached our table and asked us if we spoke any English. We told him that we did, and he responded by summoning the restaurant owner to our table. Julio studied industrial engineering at UT Arlington in the early 1970s, so he spoke very good English. He seemed thrilled to learn that we were not only native Texans but also his new neighbors. He put in an order for a single serving of postre de las natas (milk-skin dessert, similar in texture and taste to rice pudding) before fleeing to his office to retrieve his Texas memorabilia. He proudly showed us his flag stand, which displayed the fabrics of Colombia and Texas side by side, along with his gorgeous deer-skin cowboy hat. He told us he paid a hundred dollars for the latter as a young man, and upon one of his more recent trips to the States, was sad to learn that “they don’t make ’em like that anymore.” After we finished our dessert, he brought us two complimentary aguas aromáticas (hot waters prepared with papayuela) and sat down for a chat. He told us about his drunken college exploits, his epic road trips across Texas, and his deep appreciation for the lazy Southern drawl. He was an especially jolly and joyful person, and his face lit up with every story he recounted. Before Seth and I left the restaurant, Julio gave us his business card with his cell phone number. He asked that we call him before stopping by next time so that he could bring his three UT Arlington yearbooks. “Y’all come back now,” he waved, and sent us on our way.
[Restaurante Las Margaritas: Calle 62 # 7-77, Bogotá-Colombia]
[photo courtesy of Senderos y Memoria]