Three hundred years after its second founding in 1580, the port city of Buenos Aires started to thrive on the banks of the Río de la Plata. Over this 20-kilometre slope, the city grew and developed, especially in the areas of fine food production, meat and grain export. The diversity of immigrants who settled in Buenos Aires brought an infinite variety of cultures to the region, and of course, the flavours of distant countries.
Like any good bustling Metropolitan city, Buenos Aires offers a broad array of dining options. The city is now host to an increasing number of Asian and European restaurants, but is still best known for its parillas (steak houses) and Italian restaurants. Indeed, pizza is as popular here as in any college dorm room. The neighbourhoods best known for their fine dining would have to be Palermo, Recoleta, and Puerto Madero
, but no matter where you are, you shouldn't have to travel far for a good meal.
There are a few other things one should keep in mind about dining in Argentina. Breakfast usually consists of medialunas (mini-criossants with sugar), or other small pastries, and coffee. Americans expecting bacon and eggs will be ridiculed. The most popular time to go out to dinner is probably between 8:30 and 10:00. Wines are very common, especially the local red Malbec, which is bold and smooth, often inexpensive, easy to drink, and goes well with many different meals. Coffee is probably as popular as wine. Most waiters speak English and often Italian. And dulce de leche (caramel) is king. Now, onto the main course.
One thing to become familiar with right off the bat is the extremely popular tea, maté. While it is tea, the Argentines guzzle it down like water. It is not uncommon to see people of all ages walking around with thermoses full of hot water ready to drown maté in little leather gourds. Maté is a social drink, usually passed from person to person. Although the bitter flavour takes some getting used to, the ritual of passing the maté is a beloved cultural practice and veritable rite of passage for outsiders. It is not the kind of thing one orders in a coffee shop, but more of a peasant tradition that absolutely everyone seems to take part in.
Beef, Beef, Beef!
It's tough to avoid in this city. Vegetarians can even be shunned if too outspoken against one of Argentina's biggest economic supporters, the cow. Parillas are like enormous steak houses that throw every cut on the grill and they are some of the best and most well-known restaurants in the city. Puerto Madero
is the place to go for parillas, but of course, they're everywhere. Siga La Vaca
is a great place for a large group. One flat fee and you get all you can eat beef, side dishes and enough wine to draw a bath. Another option on the beautiful docks is the Spettus Steak House
. speciality dishes vary, but the best thing to do is ask the chef what the best looking cut of beef is for the day and you won't be steered wrong. One note of caution: be careful what you order because they will serve you parts of the cow you probably thought weren't edible. If you're not in the mood for steak after mulling that over, try Pizza Banana
. They offer pizzas with some outrageous fruit and seafood toppings, and bring comfortable shoes because the dance floor gets crowded in the evenings. Also check out Katrine
, where the pastas are sublime and the salmon with shrimp and vegetables is a special treat.
San Telmo San Telmo
is another neighbourhood known for its restaurants, but the real focus is on tango. Often these two go hand-in-hand as dinner precedes a music or dance show. San Telmo
has a reputation for being a bit touristy and consequently charging too much, but there is still a lot to see and taste here. At La Trastienda
, you can order a few empanadas and watch actors, dancers, or musicians, depending on the day. For an ethnic treat, Kitayama
is an elegant restaurant that serves traditional Japanese cuisine, first and foremost, sushi. La Divina Comedia is as much of a social destination as it is a restaurant, very much in accordance with the Argentine way.
Recoleta is the most refined neighbourhood in Buenos Aires. Some of the most renowned international dining spots are located here. La Biela
is a famous, very traditional cafe/bar with a lot of local flavour, especially suitable for racing fans. It was once a mecca for racing aficionados and has since retained much of that appeal. For a decidedly upscale outing, Lola
is the perfect choice. One of the trendiest places in Buenos Aires, Lola serves contemporary French and European cuisine and is adorned with the artistic works of Hermenegildo Sabat. Champagne is a must, as is the Nahuel trout with pine nuts. For something less ostentatious, there is Circolo Italiano
, another Recoleta spot, which offers lots of different dishes all reasonably priced, including a tantalizing mushroom risotto.
Palermo is probably the hottest area in Buenos Aires. There are lots of young people, lots of new bars, and yes, restaurants springing up left and right. El Trapiche
is great for large groups, but don't be surprised if you have to wait, this place is constantly crowded. Another option is Katmandú
for Indian food and an intimate atmosphere. Or try Thymus
for characteristically classy French cuisine, including spicy grilled deer, at surprisingly low prices.
While impossible to list all of the interesting dining options in Buenos Aires, at least a few from other neighbourhoods are worth mentioning. Barrica Restaurante & Bistrot
is another restaurant, which also features tango, located in La Boca. Mexican food can be hard to come by in the city, but Frida Khalo
in Belgrano serves tasty tacos and lots of tequila. There is also nearby Sucre
for a more stylish dining experience, but bring a bit more cash.
A classic tourist destination is Café Tortoni
in the incomparable Plaza de Mayo
. Coffee and pastry dishes here are popular, but the classic decor is the real selling point. Not to mention loads of wine and regular tango and jazz shows. Famous politicians and literary figures use to frequent this famous spot, which is rumored to be the oldest cafe in Buenos Aires.
Overall, the experience of dining in Argentina is whatever you wish to make it. There are expensive, stylish restaurants galore, but also plenty of good food at reasonable prices. The parillas are a must try. They offer incredible amounts of food and will more often than not serve you one of the best steaks of your life. Italian food is also ubiquitous and very popular among locals. While these are the most common options, the large number of immigrants in the city are opening more and more restaurants serving food from other corners of the world.