The fashionably rustic, immensely popular La Casa de Socorro (Calle Larga No. 8 B-112; 57-5-664-4658), known for its steaming seafood casseroles, recently added photos of Cholera stars Benjamin Bratt and John Leguizamo to its sizable wall of fame (already loaded with head shots of Colombian presidents, beauty queens, and baseball players like the Atlanta Braves’ Edgar Renteria). Get there right at noon or after 2 p.m. to avoid the midday rush and snag a table inside, preferably in the sunlit upstairs dining room.
Native son and retired boxer Bonifacio Avila opened the beachside shack Kiosco El Bony (Bocagrande; 57-5-665-3198) in 1976. Today, it’s a local institution, serving tangy octopus and shrimp cocktails to fishermen, hotel workers, and backpackers. Order a whole red snapper, and don’t be afraid to use your hands.
Reservations are a must at La Vitrola (Calle Baloco No. 2-01; 57-5-664-8243), the upscale Cuban-themed restaurant around the corner from a seaside mansion owned by García Márquez. The dining room feels like prerevolutionary Cuban chic, with palm trees, whirring fans, black-and-white photos of Old Havana, and a live band playing the music of Beny Moré and other soneros. Try the deliciously meaty ropa vieja habanera with shredded beef, plantains, beans, and avocado.
Homemade sweets can be found at El Portal de los Dulces (located inside Plaza de Los Coches), an archway in front of Cartagena’s iconic clock tower. The sidewalk is lined with older ladies selling tamarind balls, coconut shavings, and other sticky fruit-based treats. If it’s Friday evening, take your sugar high over to Donde Fidel (32-09 Plaza de los Coches; no phone) at the end of the archway—the tiny salsa club opens its doors early for the after-work crowd.