The city does have a few redeeming qualities (none of which involve bookstores or cinemas). One is the cheap restaurants, most of which are at least decent, and some very good. Another is the great textiles (albeit not yarn, really). And a final one is the fact that they actually have a reasonably good orchestra (no, I'm not delirious).
About the restaurants:
- Angelo Colonial (On Mariscal Sucre, not on Linares as it says in the Lonely Planet): The steak was good, the mashed potatoes were good, and the atmosphere is great. The restaurant is filled with fascinating antiques and the candlelight makes it really romantic and cozy. The service, however, was a joke. She forgot what we ordered minutes after asking us, and even though she wrote it down, forgot my water and my salad. I'm not kidding, I have no idea what she wrote down or why, because generally you write things down so you refer back and don't forget, but apparently she was only doing it for show. This isn't the place you want to go for great food and a taste of Bolivia, but rather for a decent romantic date. The price was right, though. Our meal cost less than $5 a person.
- Pronto Dalicatessen (Jauregui 2248 in Sopocachi): I love this place. The food is good, and really creative. It has nothing at all to do with a delicatessen, unless it is opposite day. The play is on the "Dali" - and the food is a bit surreal, but lovely. The service was excellent, and the ambiance top notch. I really like this place, and can't recommend it highly enough. Go there. It is relatively cheap, too, with a meal and a 1/2 bottle of wine only costing about $8.
- La Comedie (Pasaje Medinacelli 2234, off 20 de Octubre in Sopocachi): This is a lovely restaurante, in a beautiful, ship-shaped building. The food was great, the service could have been better, but the chocolate mousse made the entire city of La Paz fall away and the rest of the night a dream of chocolate. Meal cost about $7, totally totally worth it. Go there.
- Alexander Coffee and Pub: These guys are all over the place. Decent but not great food, good coffee, and they let you sit there forever. DO NOT BUY A BROWNIE! They are horrid. A comfy and decent-service cafe nonetheless.
- Le Bistrot (Guachalla 399, between 6 de Agosto and 20 de Octubre in Sopocachi): This place is ok, but I always feel a bit let down. It is in the Alliance Francaise building, and has a decent atmosphere, but the food is only ok. It tries to be good, but misses somehow, and the waitress I had both times was a bit spooky and weird. Probably good as a bar, but not so much as a place for a meal.
- Terraza (20 de Octubre 2331 in Sopocachi): DO NOT GO TO THIS PLACE. It is one of the worst restaurants I've ever been to. Horrid disgusting food and bad service. They should be ashamed of themselves. The Lonely Planet says that they are "stylish", but that can only be true if your sense of style includes eating food that grosses you out and having to get up from your table and search around the restaurant for your server. If there were restaurant police, they would shut this place down.
- Arabica (20 de Octubre, just down from the Terraza): this place is good. Clean, good service, comfy and peaceful, good coffee, and great food. I had a "nido", which is a yummy fresh bread "nest" filled with delicious veggie or other stew, perfect for a cold La Paz day, and a goat cheese and tomato salad, which was lovely and hit the spot (and was ok for foreigners to eat, if you get my drift). I highly recommend this place for a lazy Saturday afternoon, or a workday lunch.
- The Lounge (Calle Presbitero Medina 2527 in Sopocachi): I love this place, and it isn't because of the awesome owners, who I didn't meet until after I tried the top-notch food and yummy french fries. Beautiful place, great food, and a really good price. Definitely go there. The owners are a Bolivian musician and his American wife, and they are two of the nicest people I've ever met.
Textiles: go to the shop Comart Tukuypaj and its sister store out back and up stairs Inca Pallay. Both are fair trade shops that directly support the artisans, and have lovely products with a just price and high quality. Inca Pallay has saleswomen who can tell you about the weaving and the history of the cooperative. Their work is top notch and stunningly beautiful.
As for the orchestra, I'm not kidding! My friend Joseph and I went last night, and it was lovely. A great break from the ubiquitous pan flutes and guitars, and a solid orchestra. I was pleasantly surprised, expecting a nightmare of noise, but they played well, albeit lacking in discipline and decorum. The music was muddy but good, and the solo cellist was great. I give the conductor a lot of credit -- bravo, Maestro!