I have a love-hate relationship with gringo restaurants. By gringo restaurants, I mean restaurants specifically in the business of serving foreigners. The good: They’re usually safe places to eat, conveniently located and serve familiar food like pizza, pasta and salad. It’s also been nice to see that the majority of them promote the fact that they have a vegetarian menu, which makes me curious about how common it is for backpackers and travelers to be vegetarian or shun meat for health safety reasons. The bad: Their prices may seem reasonable when you convert local currency to US or Canadian but they’re still wildly overpriced and completely out of reach for locals. The other drawback is their lack of local influence. It’s not as much fun to travel internationally and wind up eating the same things you’d find at home.
Pizza, pizza and more pizza. Step outside of your hostel in Bolivia, throw a rock and you’ll hit a restaurant that specializes in pizza. We spent a little under 24 hours in Tupiza, Bolivia and had pizza twice. I opted for the Caribbean fruit pizza, with apple, pineapple, mango and raisins. John went for a more traditional cheese free version of a Roman vegetable pizza. We both lucked out. The pizzas had crispy thin crusts and were nicely seasoned. For medium pizzas, I think we paid about $25 Bolivian Bolivianos each ($3.56 USD).
Fresh fruit and vegetable juices are everywhere in Bolivia. You can buy them from ladies on the street but I’d advise sticking to the restaurant variety or finding people who make them with bottled or boiled water. You can never be too cautious when it comes to drinking clean water. For me, really there is nothing better than a fruit smoothie for breakfast. We had too many to count in Bolivia. Gringo restaurants typically have fruit on hand to blend up a combination of banana, mango, papaya, apple and orange. Street vendors usually have more exotic varieties. In Uyuni, restaurants charged $10 Bolivianos ($1.42 USD) for a glass or $25 for a jug ($3.56 USD). Street vendors in Sucre and La Paz charged a mere $3.00 Bolivianos ($0.43 USD) for two large cups full of freshly blended juice.
Craving Mexican food in Bolivia? No problem! There were several restaurants in Uyuni with pages of their menu dedicated to Mexican food. I wouldn’t say there are any Mexican restaurants in Uyuni, because the typical menu at a gringo restaurant is 15 pages long with influences from Italy, China, Mexico and North America. We did find one advertising their vegetarian Mexican options. We went their twice, with the second time being much more successful than the first. On our first visit, we ordered vegetable, bean and rice burritos, with the egg left out. They kindly removed the egg but, for some reason, added cheese. There is nothing more aggravating than menus that don’t list key ingredients like cheese or eggs. Some of the burritos on the menu had cheese listed but not the one we ordered. They just decided to add it. We complained and they basically told us to pick it off. Gah! Worst. Thing. Ever. We begrudgingly removed each strand of cheese and choked down our dinner. On our second visit, we were extra clear about our request for no cheese or eggs. They got it right and we ended up with some delicious bean and vegetable, and avocado and bean tacos. Yum! Prices here were set at about $25 Bolivianos per main ($3.56 USD).
While in La Paz, we stayed at the Adventure Brew hostel. It was a great, clean and fun party hostel, with the only downside being that the kitchen was off limits until 7:30 p.m. This lead us out in search of food around midday. La Paz was kind of scary and very dirty so, once again, we found ourselves seeking out gringo restaurants. The nice thing was, La Paz had a lot Asian influenced restaurants, something we hadn’t come across in awhile. Our first dining experience was at Thai Old Town, where we ordered some cucumber and avocado sushi rolls and a plate of vegetable and tofu curry. It was a weird experience to eat lunch in their very clean, Asian inspired dining room. We felt like we could have been anywhere in the world, with no sense of the black exhaust fumes and chaotic markets that were right outside. Thai Old Town was a bit pricey, with each of our dishes costing $30 Bolivianos ($4.27 USD). The food was good, we left happy.
On our second day in La Paz, we were craving curry and ended up at Star of India, the highest curry house in the world. It seems like every business in La Paz markets itself as the world’s highest something. It’s not surprising, at 3600 meters (X feet), La Paz is the world’s highest capital. We saw a flier for Star of India, advertising their super spicy Vindaloo curry. John, being a lover of curry and spice, was immediately intrigued. In the end, we didn’t test the strength of our stomachs, and opted for mild vegetable curries. However, they did have a vegan version of their spicy Vindaloo, made with textured vegetable protein (soy) and seasoned with 35 chilies. Wowzers. Apparently, only three or four people out of every ten can successfully complete the Vindaloo challenge and earn one of their special t-shirts. Even the chefs and staff can’t stomach it. We were super impressed with Star of India. During lunch hours, for $30 Bolivianos ($4.27 USD), you get a soup, any of their curries with rice, and dessert. The soup and dessert of the day wasn’t vegan friendly but they gladly substituted the soup for vegan naan bread and the dessert for a fruit cup. It’s too bad we didn’t make it back for round two. Truth is, we found an even better and cheaper place, which I’ll be writing about soon.