La Cocina de Pepina

Taste the Caribbean in this Fiercely Traditional Restaurant

Local legend, chef, sociologist and architect, Maria Josefina "Pepina" Yances, swallowed the spirit of salsa legend Celia Cruz whole, living her life as if it were one long Carnival.

  • This Is What We Love

    • The only pretension in this place is to serve up local delicacies brilliantly
    • Ceviches with a kick that will make you want to come back
    • A world class Mote de Queso that makes your stay in Cartagena complete
    • Getting off-the-tourist trail in Getsemaní
    • Friendly service from the owner who keeps Pepina's Carnival spirit alive
    • Eating your way through decades of Caribbean culinary traditions
  • What You Need To Know

    • This restaurant does not accept table reservations. You may have to wait but it's worth it
    • It's a local restaurant with international prices. It's not cheap but you are paying for a lifetime of research so loosen up the wallet and the belt -you deserve it
    • If it's not busy they sometimes close early
    • It's become a popular food option since the NY Times placed it on its list of things to do in 36 hours in Cartagena. Book ahead to avoid disappointment
  • The Details

    Type of Food: Colombian Classics

    Hours and Days: Sun-Mon: 12:00-16:00 I Tue-Sat: 12:00-16:00 I 19:00-21:30 ?

    Price Range: $$

    Address: Callejón Vargas 9A-06, Cartagena, Colombia

    Neighbourhood: Getsemaní

    Rating: TIC User Rating

    Rating: Trip Advisor


    Our Full Review

    Eating at Ms Pepina's culinary temple, La Cocina de Pepina, dedicated to the traditions and flavours of the Caribbean coast, is every bit as exuberant as its fun-loving founder.

    Prepare yourself for a riotous explosion of saucy sensations, filled with colour, fun and mucha recocha (fun and frolics).

    Alas Pepina passed away in 2014, but her impressive legacy lives on in an unrivalled selection of local recipes.

    Lacking in pretension but serious about the region's special culinary traditions, the kitchen was originally designed to be a laboratory, a mere dispenser of jam jar specialities.

    Demand for special tasting of her saucy creations in-house soon outstripped supply, forcing her to allocate production to support the restaurant's popularity with illustrious visitors like Willem Defoe, Harvey Keitel and Tom Parker-Bowles.

    Nobel Laureate, Gabriel García Marquez was a regular and loved the Cabeza de Gato (cat faces) - balls of mashed plantain, yam or yucca with onion, garlic and served with a spicy, sweet chilli sauce, fiambre de res, a kind of carpaccio criollo, the city's finest Mote de Queso, a soup made from the local cheese and for dessert and Mongo Mongo, a rich mix of six tropical fruits that takes three-days to cook.

    Following Pepina's passing her family have continued with her mission, re-discovering some forgotten specials after going through her very special recipe collection.

    Like true culinary experts they work with the seasons which isn't always adaptable to customer demand. Dishes are prone to come and go but there are always some irresistible alternatives, so go with an empty stomach and open mind.

    The Ceviche "Si, Si, Si" (yes, yes, yes), named after an influential local figure who could never refuse people that asked for favours while he dined at her first restaurant in Montería, is a round up of Carribean greats. Break into a stack of snail, the freshest of seabass, prawns and avocado and sweep up all the juicy dregs with an arepa. Is it amazing? si, si si!

    The most comforting of them all has to be the arroz pastelado, an aromatic melody of stewed rice, vegetables and pork served with sweet plantains. Couple it with a Corozo fruit juice to feel like a true local.

    Other treats worth trying include a juicy prawn ceviche with avocado, the bocachico fish fritters, the spicy prawn stew, calderete de camarón, and the restaurant's famous stuffed peppers.

    They keep their focus on food, not elaborate cocktail menus, so you won't find any mixologist conconctions here. However, the friendly staff more than make up for it by their choice of local liquors and fresh juices which go together wonderfully. 


  • Getsemaní

    Cartagena's second historic walled city has gone from no-go to must-go in less than five years thanks to some of the city's hippest new bars and restaurants. 

    If Centro is Manhattan, Getsemani is more Brooklyn – an up-and-coming hipster hangout trying desperately to cling to its roots. 

    A little rougher around the edges than the already gentrified districts of Centro and San Diego and the lofty ambitions of the beach districts, Getsemaní offers a glimpse into the more unruly historic centre of the past. 

    A fiercely traditional barrio offering a heady mix of bars, dancing, affordable diners, hostels and hotels for backpackers and bohemian colonists looking to mix it up with the carefree locals. 

    Historically populated by merchants, smugglers and freed slaves thriving from activity in the port and main marketplace, Getsemaní has always been more raucous than the hoity centre with all its regal airs and graces. 

    Much of the district's newest bars, follow in the city's loudest traditions. 

    While much of the area's carefree population are direct descendants of the hell-raisers of yesteryear it is no longer the terrifying place that rich Cartageneros used to scare their children into staying at home. 

    Backpackers, never averse to roughing it for a cheap place to stay have braved the bogeyman with few problems for decades and a growing number of boutique hotels and hostels have followed their lead setting up shop in some of the bigger properties on Calle Guerrero and Calle del Carretero. 

    Uber-hotel chains, Viceroy and the Four Seasons have plans to kick the barrio into the stratosphere with stellar openings in 2017 / 2018.

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