There are only a handful of restaurants in Bogotá that have earned the distinction of having been in business for more than a century. And fewer still, who can trace their recipes to a time of inkwells, horse and cart, and when Chapinero was a pine forest.
So, Las Margaritas must be doing something right. If you are in the capital for a few days, or live here, this hallmark of bygone days is a must, because until you’ve tried their award-winning empanadas, you can’t claim to have truly eaten one.
Their patties are also considered one of the best-kept secrets in the city.
When Margarita Arenas opened the doors of “Las Margaritas” in 1902, she couldn’t have imagined that three generations later, her venue would still be in the family. As you step though the white hacienda-like portal, Julio Ríos, the great-great grandson of doña Margarita, greets you and makes you feel you’ve part of his namesake.
At the end of the 19th century, Bogotá’s northern limits ended at the Parque Nacional. From there, you had to reach Chapinero along a dirt track, either on foot or by wagon. In fact, Chapinero was a stop on the old Santa Fé to Tunja road, and two years before the first limestone blocks of the Lourdes Church were set, Margarita found a small storefront and began selling empanadas.
She and her daughters relinquished their catering business in Las Nieves, and as her empanadas became the “talk-of-the-town,” she needed to expand. A house across the street would become the original “Las Margaritas” and there was no shortage of free-roaming chickens in the garden for the pot.
A wooden pilón (maize grinder) became the centerpiece of the restaurant and today still adorns the main dining room. This keepsake of a lineage of matriarchs adds to the authenticity of an open kitchen where Ajiacos are served in glazed ceramic bowls.
The Ajiaco is also one of the “origin” dishes that date back to the days of yore.
A trip to Las Margaritas is a walk down memory lane. Soft tiple music from the highlands plays in the background and you are served the “old-fashioned” way – attended by a family that enjoys telling stories of their ancestors and some rather legendary Chapinero characters.
The décor is simple and similar to what you might see in the countryside, so no need for a car and hedging the traffic of a Saturday on the Autopista Norte.
Julio is also proud of the many foreigners who visit for the cornmeal empanadas, which were recently ranked by SoHo as “Best of Bogotá.” The History Channel even filmed in Las Margaritas regarding their culinary heritage.
As the proprietor speaks fluent English – having worked for a petroleum company in Texas – you’ll have no problems understanding a menu that includes very Bogotá dishes such as a tender sobrebarriga and tamales.
You can also order an entire plate of deep fried pork rinds, chicharrón, or go for an afternoon chocolate santafereño with cheese and typical breads. Whether you have been able to acquire a taste of changua milk soup or delve into the local tongue with capers, Las Margaritas is all about staying the course and celebrating a Bogotá when courtesy was as important as the food.
By the taste of things, Las Margaritas’ future is secure. A must for when a pang of nostalgia gets hold of your appetite. As for the secret ingredients in the empanadas? You’ll just have to surprise yourself.
Calle 62 No.7-77
Open for lunch Tuesday to Sunday