Ever stepped into a restaurant where memories are as layered as that chocolate cake on the wooden trolley?

One Bogotá restaurant, Cactus, has been serving clients for more than thirty years, and even though I was not the first to have my table for two in the main dining room back in early 1990s, Cactus is a place which has stayed true to a menu of barbecue chicken, burgers and roast beef sandwiches.

I could never go wrong on a date in Cactus. The waiters (many of whom have been around since the early days) get to know you on a first name basis, recognize you when you walk through the main door and wait attentively on your order. Not too stuffy nor elegant, Cactus is all about generous platters and a lunch or dinner that suits your budget. The ochre colored walls and fireplace recall the interior of a typical home in the north of Bogotá, and when traveling to the U.S meant having an obligatory stop in South Beach, the collection of framed menus from different diners stateside made Cactus a very familiar place with its grilled steaks, boiled veggies and mashed potatoes. Home-style cooking far away from…well, home.

It’s quite an achievement that Cactus has stayed open for 31 one years with- out succumbing to culinary change. Too many restaurants in the city can’t resist competition, let alone recessions. During the forced energy rationing of the César Gaviria government (1990-1994), Cactus kept cooking its wings and ribs to clients huddled around an obligatory table candle. The restaurant’s clients then were young executives, flight crews, journalists and at least one secret agent on a mission for a well-stacked quarter pounder.

There are probably more spies in the city now than in the 1990s, but there are also more dining options, so the clientele at Cactus has expanded its base to include more business types and politicians. A late afternoon meal for two (with Oreo cheesecake included) will set you back $90,000 pesos. That’s fair, especially as you’ll be eating in a place, which is a landmark of honest to good- ness food and where so many dates resulted in marriage. When they claim to be a family restaurant, they really mean it. Cactus now crosses the generational divide and if you become a regular, it will make your life in Colombia that much more, pleasant.

Calle 96 No. 12- 42