Buenos Aires - Argentina
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 25 kilometer (15 mile) slope, the city grew and developed, especially in the areas of fine food production, and meat and grain export. The diversity of immigrants who settled in Buenos Aires brought a variety of cultures and, of course, flavors to the region.
Like any 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 parrillas (steak houses) and Italian restaurants. Pizza is as popular here as in any college dorm room. There are a few other things one should keep in mind about dining in Argentina. Breakfast usually consists of medialunas (mini croissants with powdered sugar), or other small pastries, and coffee of course. Americans expecting bacon and eggs will be ridiculed. The most popular time to go out to dinner is probably between 8:30p and 10p. Wines are very common, especially the local red Malbec, which is bold and smooth, often inexpensive, and goes well with many different meals. Coffee is as popular as wine. Most waiters speak English and often Italian. For dessert, dulce de leche (caramel) is king. Don't forget to try a cup of maté (traditional Argentine tea), which is as essential to Argentina's culinary culture as the famous Argentine beef.
Parrillas 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. 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. Specialty 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. Don't forget to wear comfortable shoes because the dance floor gets crowded in the evenings.
San Telmo is another neighborhood 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 being overpriced, 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. La Divina Comedia is as much a social destination as it is a restaurant, very much in accordance with the Argentine way.
Recoleta is the most refined neighborhood in Buenos Aires. Some of the most renowned international dining spots are located here. The famous La Biela is a very traditional café/bar with a lot of local flavor, 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, 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 Nepalese/Indian food and an intimate atmosphere. Or try Thymus for characteristically classy French cuisine, including spicy grilled deer, at surprisingly low prices.
Barrica Restaurante & Bistrot, which also features live tango, is located in this neighborhood famous for its Italian immigrants. For tapas along the seafront try La Ribera where you can try some spicy seafood and right near the crafts market.
Mexican food can be hard to come by in the city, but Frida Kahlo in Belgrano serves tasty tacos and lots of tequila. Nearby Sucre offers a more stylish dining experience, but you'll need a bit more cash. There are also plenty of economical restarants that serve wonderful food and great wines, try Zurich Confitería, a place where the young hang out, and Oviedo, where you can search through a list of international wines.
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 used to frequent this famous spot, which is rumored to be the oldest café in Buenos Aires. And for those looking for a pint of Guinness, go to Temple Bar, named after the Dublin neighborhood. For a traditional setting, try Asador La Estancia, this restaurant serves food in the style of the gaucho or the Argentine cowboy. It has been in business for 30 years and regarded as an institution. The most visited Italian restaurant in the downtown area is Broccolino, a place where the multi-lingual staff will certainly help you decide on one the tasty plates.