Located in Candelaria, just a stone’s throw away from Plaza de Bolívar, La Puerta Falsa is one of Bogotá’s oldest and certainly its most famous restaurant. But unlike the bold and brash Andre Res de Carne or Harry Sasson, both of which are well aware of their Western appeal and play up to tourism as much as possible, La Puerta Falsa has stayed true to its roots.
Serving simple but supremely satisfying cuisine in cosy surroundings, it’s no surprise that there’s often a queue reaching right around the block for La Puerta Falsa. Bogotá locals, global tourists and even Colombian celebrities have trodden the wooden boards of the eatery’s diminutive interior, propping up the bar on one of its rickety stools or venturing upstairs to eat elbow-to-elbow alongside other patrons.
Don’t expect to be blown away by the range of options on offer from La Puerta Falsa’s menu, but do expect to leave with a full belly, a closer connection to the city and a deeper sense of the building’s 200-year-old history.
The restaurant takes its name from its humble beginnings, when the great-great-grandfathers of the current proprietors set up shop across from the Catedral Primada (which is still there today) in 1816. An unambitious outfit originally set up to deal solely with the needs of its customers, the restaurant did not at the time have a name, but the fake doors painted onto the cathedral as a defence mechanism to confuse would-be attackers became synonymous with the place, and so its moniker was born.
Over the intervening two centuries, La Puerta Falsa has attained the status of a Bogotá institution, all without losing any of its rustic charm or aspiring to upsize or expand. Equally hospitable to all of its patrons, whether they be celebrated actors, writers and ex-presidents or just the average Joe (or Juan) wandering in off the street, La Puerta Falsa is the perfect illustration of why something that isn’t broken should not be fixed.
In keeping with that theme, it’s fitting that the La Puerta Falsa menu has changed very little in over 200 years. Even today, all of its offerings can be fitted onto a single A4 menu, with hearty, homemade Santafereña (from Bogotá) cuisine the order of the day. Ajiaco, a tasty soup made from chicken, onions, corn, capers, avocado and sour cream, is an obvious example, but there are two other dishes on La Puerta Falsa’s menu which draw the crowds more than others.
The first are its tamales, which enjoy the reputation of being among the best in the city. Consisting of a corn-based dough mixed with chicken on the bone, rice and whole corn kernels, tamales are wrapped in plantain leaves and served steaming hot. The other house speciality is chucula y almojábanas, a cup of hot chocolate accompanied by a slice of soft cheese and some sweet bread. The idea is to dip the cheese in the chocolate and scoop out the melted chunks… a little unusual for some tastes, but a kick-start to the day many Colombians swear by.
In a time when rampant tourism and the desire for profit seem to be overriding factors all too often, it’s reassuring that La Puerta Falsa doesn’t bother with any of those trappings. There are no tacky postcard stands or T-shirts for sale, and the owners don’t plan to start a franchise or move into bigger surroundings any time soon.
Instead, take a visit to La Puerta Falsa and you’ll be rewarded with the sense of stepping back through the ages to a simpler time, when the world revolved less around money and more around filling your stomach with tasty, nutritious fare. Don’t ever change, La Puerta Falsa! Bogotá just wouldn’t be the same without you.