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Eat & Drink

Dining at Altitude in La Paz Words by Mark Johanson

“When you consider that Bolivia has more than 4,000 varieties of native potatoes, you can begin to understand why chefs in La Paz are bullish. The untapped culinary potential is astounding.”

Danish restaurateur Claus Meyer was at the top of his game in 2012 when, after scoring the No. 1 slot on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list for three years in a row with Noma in Copenhagen, he shocked the culinary world by opening his second restaurant, Gustu, in La Paz, Bolivia. Not only that, he set up a string of culinary schools in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Six years later, young Bolivian chefs trained at Gustu have set off on their own to turn this high altitude Andean city into one of the most surprising culinary destinations on the planet.

Where to Eat

Of the Gustu alums now branching out across the city, Sebastian Quiroga has made the biggest waves with his high-end vegan restaurant Ali Pacha. It’s one of several new establishments aiming to recapture the faded glory of downtown, and offers three- to seven-course tasting menus that showcase Bolivian ingredients from the Altiplano to the Amazon. A few blocks away near the Witches’ Market is Popular Cocina Boliviana, a colorful cafe that puts a gourmet twist on the city’s traditional lunch stalls with lavish three-course meals based on grandma-approved staples. The posh Zona Sur neighborhood (cherished for its lower altitude and higher oxygen levels) is home to the widest array of dining options. Some standouts from chefs trained at Gustu include Propiedad Publica and Los Qñapés. The former offers made-from-scratch pastas that gracefully fuse Bolivian and Italian ingredients, while the latter bakes up delectable snacks like jerky-filled empanadas and cuñapés (cheesy dollops of yucca bread).

Where to drink

The handpicked and organically grown coffee beans from the Andean foothills of Caranavi had always left Bolivia for cafes in Europe and North America until some forward-thinking coffee lovers in La Paz began to realize what they had right in their own backyard. Now, you have local roasters like Typica and high-end coffee bars such as HB Bronze that are ensuring Bolivia’s best beans stay within its borders. Similarly, top bottles of Bolivian wine, grown in the world’s highest altitude vineyards near the southern city of Tarija, now have a place at the table in La Paz vinobarssuch as Hallwright’s and Hay Pan. For cocktails using only Bolivian spirits like singani (a local brandy) and La Republica (a gin infused with Andean botanicals), you won’t find a more intriguing spot than Jallalla, a new folk music venue above the studio of one of Bolivia’s most important contemporary artists, Roberto Mamani Mamani.

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