Each and every block in Buenos Aires is home to a charming café packed with old men putting the world to rights, a swanky restaurant with a whole new perspective on rib eye, or a plain and simple pizzeria. Some are for passing the time of day while others are perfect for clandestine meetings between lovers or politicians. You should give any bar or “restó” you feel instantly attracted to a go, because you never know who you may meet, or better still, the meat you may eat. The following capture a magical essence that keeps visitors coming back, or simply never lets them free.
1. Gran Parrilla del Plata
Perú and Chile, San Telmo
Cow-hide seats and relaxed waiters who won’t hurry you over a lengthy dinner complement the juicy ribs at Gran Parrilla del Plata. Portions are fit for two and the recently extended steak house on a prominent San Telmo corner is buzzing with Argentines and foreigners alike. If there’s room for afters, give the chocolate-heavy dessert tasting menu a whirl – and get a taxi home. My local.
2. Cabaña Las Lilas
Alicia Moreau de Justo 516, Puerto Madero
One of Buenos Aires’ high-end steak houses, if not the swankiest, Las Lilas literally brings Aberdeen Angus and Hereford beef from its farms straight to its tables in Puerto Madero. Don’t be defeated by the whopping size of the T-bone steak (photo), a house specialty worth forfeiting breakfast and lunch for. Las Lilas’ encyclopaedic wine menu has won several awards from Wine Spectator so take advantage of your sommelier.
3. Costanera Sur
For a walk on the real side of life, head to the nature reserve and riverside path opposite Puerto Madero for a wander with the “porteños.” The sizzling smell of choripan - sausage slapped in bread and covered in lashing of a mildly spicy “chimichurri” sauce – cooking at roadside stalls will lead you into temptation without a doubt, but choose a stand you like the look of – and enjoy the moment along with all the others chomping and strolling.
4. Hernán Gipponi Restaurant
Soler 5682, Palermo Hollywood
While bleeding steak and an iron high might top your list of Buenos Aires priorities, a time will come when you might need a little fishy on your dishy. Give the lavish eight-step tasting menu a go at Hernán Gipponi’s restaurant in the Fierro Hotel and the world is almost your oyster. From perfectly grilled prawns, squid, paella and a fish of the day as well as a wine list compiled by Andrés Rosberg, head of Argentina’s sommelier association, this place truly is a catch made in heaven.
5. Museo de Casa Gardel
Jean Juares 735, Abasto
Before contemplating dancing an “ocho” move, make your way – without any eye contact – to the home of legendary singer Carlos Gardel who died in a plane crash in 1935 and whose house opened to the public in 2003. This museum offers an insight into El Zorzal’s (the song thrush) life with some rooms still perfectly preserved. Located in the Abasto neighbourhood, dip into any Peruvian restaurant after you’ve had your fill of tango and stock up on some refreshing “ceviche” – line-marinated seafood.
6. Cocina Sunae
Although this is a magical closed-door restaurant – make a reservation and the address shall be revealed – which serves up exquisite pan-Asian delicacies, it’s a favourite with Argentines and foreigners alike thanks to its ever-changing menu designed by owner Sunae Wiseman. Think Filipino steamed pork, Thai shrimp salad and Pla Lard Prik – a succulent and Thai-style fish of the day – your mouth may be watering but leave room for the refreshing green tea ice cream.
7. Natural Deli
Rep. Árabe Siria 3090, Botánico
Doing exactly as it says on the tin, fresh and as much organic food as the chef can get his hands on is served up at this elegant café. Drop by for a filling Oriental steak salad, stuffed with seasonal goodness, an energy-boosting Blue Velvet smoothie to get you through the hot and hazy afternoons, or try and take away organic Colombian coffee with a chocolate muffin – the delicacies lining the shelves will keep you hanging around for a little bit longer.
Paraná 1048, Barrio Norte
Co-owned by award-winning TV presenter Ernestina Pais, the fabulous town house was converted into a bar and restaurant that serves up what has become a favourite cocktail (of mine), the basil daiquiri. Three floors of über-cool grandeur plus a luscious garden mean you can ramp up the decadence and slap on all your finery, or simply lounge about with a prime viewing seat at the bar to watch the international crowd have a good time while nibbling tapas.
9. Museo Evita
J.M. Gutierrez 3926, Botánico
Argentina’s most emblematic woman (sorry CFK), Eva Duarte de Perón had a museum opened up in her memory 50 years after she died and despite the fact it is extremely complete – covering her childhood through to her role as the nation’s First Lady – foodies should stop off at the divine restaurant which is steeped in history. Although around 60% of Argentines have Italian heritage, it can be hard to find risotto made with Arborio or Carnaroli rice in Buenos Aires (so simple!) but the Museo Evita Restaurante serves up a delectable mushroom risotto dish with perfect consistency – and the right rice. One of few places I’ve found with perfect risotto.
10. 0800 VINO
Tomás Anchorena 685
No Buenos Aires list would be complete without throwing yourself into the hands of an oenologist and Nigel Tollerman is the man to do it. Duck into his wine cellar for a tailored tasting among dozens of wines all just calling out for a new home. From blind tastings to nights dedicated to rosé, you can always make room in your suitcase for just one more bottle of Argentine malbec.
First published on Got Saga on January 28, 2010.