A Chef Let Loose in Buenos Aires

I came to Buenos Aires expecting every street corner to have a lamb leaning over a fire and a gaucho sipping mate. Silly me… ignoring the fact that it was the capital city and full of 12+ million people! Instead, I found what you see in many capital cities- bars and restaurants on every corner, museums you could spend a whole day in, more public art than you could explore in a year and people moving in every direction at every hour of the day.

In hindsight, I stayed close to the apartment for too long. We were stationed right in the heart of Palermo which has become the cool new spot to be, complete with a themed bar and barbershop on every block. In a 20 block square I had nearly everything I needed, except for good groceries, but more on that further down. I quickly found my spots-

Full City Coffee for a killer double decker breakfast sandwich, great coffee, tasty juices and friendly folks.

Bruk Bar for tasty and completely approachable cocktails.

Sans for afternoon lunch on the street, decent sandwiches and cheap beer with a good view of a busy corner.

A perfectly drinkable bottle of Malbec (about $8 USD) or a liter of Stella at the market downstairs. This was one night with friends, a lot of them…

And then I got stuck in a bit of a rut… Working from my apartment was easier for me than the workspace with good wifi speeds and a rooftop terrace. It got too easy to fall into a routine of breakfast, a bit of work, waste some time on the TV, realize I was ignoring a beautiful city, then head out in the afternoon to explore a bit.

For me, exploring is diving into some of the local food culture. Walk the markets, talk to the vendors, watch chefs grabbing their goods for the restaurant, grab an early afternoon cocktail and chat up the bar keep before they get busy. I couldn’t find any of that in Palermo… Markets were generally only produce and so small I couldn’t have my backpack on and turn around, the bars don’t open until late and with a handful of exceptions aren’t that special. But there were many parks, and even an old zoo that is closed to the public thought it still houses giraffes, ostriches and more within the fences, many shops and truly fun street art.

When I finally got out of the hood, I started seeing how much more the city has to offer. The Teatro Colon is amazing, San Telmo has a long story to tell and the areas around Montserrat are full of theaters, museums, and a truly bustling nightlife. Next time, and yes there will be a next time, I may call Palermo home but will be exploring far and wide through the rest of the city.

Okay, okay… I know you’re here for the food! As with many large cities there is no shortage of restaurants in BA. Nearly all of them serve steak, and not all of those are good. It’s actually funny to see how pervasive steak is in the Buenos Aires culinary world. Literally every restaurant seems to have it in some form- pizza and pasta shops, delis, cafes, Chinese places… And for someone that has lived and breathed steaks and meat for his whole life I thought this was amazing at first, but of course not even I can have steak every day.

What I really enjoyed finding were the places that took their steak and meat seriously but added their own touch to it. The “classic” Argentine steak gets a little salt and a wood grill which is awesome if you start with a great piece of meat and not so much if they start with an average cut.

Places like Proper (which I deem as the best steak I had in Buenos Aires) add a little flair to a great cut of meat with a compound butter and heavy seasoning.

Gustavo at Péron Péron (this is a must to experience in BA) has a larder of spices and herbs that most in town haven’t seem to have heard of, and he knows how to use them.

Niño Gordo expertly combines Argentine ingredients and Asian flavors with an up front view of the kitchen action for the best seats in the house.

Don Julio offers the straight up Argentine steakhouse experience with great service and killer wines. Their secret is in the quality of meat, then cooking it perfectly.

Secret Parilla seemingly never takes the closed sign down and keeps the gate out front shut so it looks closed, yet their big portions and good prices for a good meal keep the place busy. The chorizo here was especially tasty.

My apartment had a two burner electric cooktop, and I was lucky enough to have a parilla as well, which meant I could eat a bit more healthy and also cure some cravings for foods that I couldn’t find in restaurants. But, grocery stores are stocked much differently here… The bigger ones literally have a full isle of yerba for mate, and a two foot section of dried herbs and spices. Fresh herbs don’t exist other than parsley and basil, even in the land of oregano based chimichurri I couldn’t find it fresh. A wall of canned veggies, an isle of yerba and another of dries pasta doesn’t make for much of a shopping adventure. I did seek out a better spice shop and found a “health foods store” that had a decent selection of dried herbs and spices, and cheeses are easy to find at numerous shops across the neighborhood. Any time I looked for something the slightest out of the norm I was disappointed. No worcestershire sauce in a town full of beef, asking for tamarind paste got plenty of weird looks and tortillas don’t seem to exist, nor does the masa to make them myself.

The real highlights of the trip food wise were outside of fancy restaurants, which is generally the case for me…

The little fruit and veggie stand just around the corner that was always a good stop for an afternoon snack.

Super tasty and perfectly greasy empanadas from one of the spots on Plaza Serrano (too much wine and too many restaurants to remember which one)

Multiple asados with new friends, and a great educational meal from the boys at Carneval. These two guys were a great team, taught us how to asado properly and make some killer chimi!

A juicy and smoky choripan from a street side grill, which I’m not sure was even open to the public or if he was trying to cook for friends though he happily made us a few. But you can see I enjoyed it!

Overall when it comes to food in Buenos Aires, don’t get your hopes up for great food outside of meat and empanadas. Seafood is surprisingly missing and even though the fresh produce is all pretty tasty the variety is narrow. Even a good grilled chicken spot seems hard to find in Palermo at least. Set your sights on enjoying some great beef, pork and sausages and then plan a week or more of vegetarian diet to follow. Really, and all of the locals seem to agree, the best way to experience food in Buenos Aires is at a proper asado with some new friends, so you should find locals quickly and get your invite to a Sunday afternoon feast!

2018-02-22T08:57:05+00:00 February 1st, 2018|
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