- Ninina Bakery – A modern artisenal bakery in Palermo. The perfect place to have a leisurely breakfast of great coffee, pastries, or creamy scrambled eggs with toast. Also a great place for afternoon coffee and snack. Freshly made juices are also recommended. We’ve also had the best alfajores here, hands down.
- Full City Coffee – Probably the best coffee in Palermo with a simple but great breakfast sandwich on the menu.
- La Alacena – A new place that is great for breakfast (maybe the best medialunas). As high quality as Ninina, but a little cheaper.
- Hierbabuena – Largely vegetarian, but doesn’t descriminate against omnivores. A little pricier, but consistently good. Also has killer soups that come with your meal. Fresh juices and lemonades are excellent.
- La Cresta – We could eat here every day. Wraps made with beef (or La Cresta’s own rotiseerie chickens), burgers, and a variety of homemade salads. Made-to-order whole foods fast.
- …Con Sabor Argentino – A street vendor with the best empanadas. Definitely, worth the trip to Feria Mataderos on a Sunday where you can find them setup. They also make amazing tamales and offer a good and cheap malbec to wash it down. Don’t expect it to be classy.
- Pekin – Some of the best empanadas in BA. Make sure to grab at least one of the lamb and the carne sauve.
- Pain et Vin – The name kind of says it all, excellent bread and wine. Their sandwiches, made with their homemade sourdough bread are excellent especially when paired with one of their hand selected wines.
- Que Parrillon! Choripan – Some of the only street-meat we found. Delicious and bad for you. Put an egg on it. Nuff said.
- Chipper Fish & Chips – More than just fish and chips. Went here after a later night of drinking, but also a nice small place to hop in for lunch.
- El Sanjuanino – Real-deal Aregentinian place. Come for the emapanadas, stay for the locro and ceramic penguin pitcher of $4 house wine.
- La Cabrera – The best thing to do is to come here for happy hour which runs from 7 to 8pm each night. They stick to their guns on the timing so the best thing to do is to show up at 6:30, stand in line outside with a menu, and know what you want before sitting down. You don’t want the clock ticking away; there’s steak to be had.
- Don Julio – This place didn’t feel as touristy as we had been led to believe. It’s a busy place so we called and made a reservation a few days in advance. The service was great and the large portions are really large. A half of anything is enough unless you are a lumberjack.
- Casa Felix – There are quite a fiew closed-door restaurants in town and Casa Felix was a recommended one. We emailed to make reservations and at $32 USD per person (plus $12 USD for the wine flight) it’s a great deal, but not as intimate as we expected it to be (seating is at separate tables like a regular restaurant).
- Nola Gastropub – A taste of New Orleans, they cook up a mean bowl of red beans and rice, some of the best fried chicken, and pour probably the best artisinal beer we’ve found in BA – Bröeders.
- Siamo nel Forno – Really the only decent pizza in BA. Ignore the reviews you find on Oleo. Porteños don’t get neapolitan pizza.
- Seat Yourself – Many places expect you to seat yourself, especially cafés. We stood around like assholes the first couple times we went into places, but learned quickly.
- Slow Down – As is common in Europe, your waiter/waitress will greet you, take your order and bring your food relatively quickly, but if you want anything else, including the check, it is on you. You will be left alone to just relax and take your time. Flag down the waiter/waitress if you need anything else.
- “La cuenta, por favor” – Say this when asking for the check. It literally means “the account”.
We didn’t have a smooth start in Buenos Aires when it came to dining out. That was to be expected since this is our first time here and each place not only has its own customs and traditions, but a rhythm to life we didn’t really know much about. Some interactions were awkward at first (mostly my fault) while I fumbled my way through speaking Miami-Cuban Spanish while trying to get a grasp on the Argentinian accent and its colloquialisms. We took the time to observe and surprised ourselves by adjusting pretty quickly, getting into the groove of things and even doing the hardest part: slowing down.
Morning (starts at 10am)
Back home in Oakland, Ryan and I had a weekend morning ritual of getting up at around 9, grabbing a coffee and a pastry, and bringing it back home. We were pretty lazy compared to a lot of people in our neighborhood who were usually done with their morning run by then. Buenos Aires isn’t like that at all and made us feel like farmers that were up with the sun. Timing for meals is shifted a couple of hours later or more. On a Sunday, if we show up for breakfast at noon, we are the early birds (a lot of places won’t even be open until then). I finally had an excuse to sleep in and not feel like a lazy bum.
Desayuno y Café
A typical desayuno (breakfast) usually consists of 2–3 medialunas and some coffee. Another “promo” (desayuno special) is tostadas (that’s toast) with a side of jam and cream cheese. While most people will have a cortado (a macchiato) with their meal, most menus have a cafeteria section with more options. We have grown to appreciate (or at least I have) that ordering a cup of coffee is more than a ceramic mug of java; it’s a production. Café will typically come with a small glass of carbonated water and a small glass of fresh squeezed orange juice and for some reason that makes breakfast seem more special even though it’s what most everyone is having every day. An expat we met said that this was all the convincing he needed to move to Buenos Aires. It’s rare to see a big breakfast on the menu and when it appears it is typically referred to as the American breakfast (thanks a bunch), but be warned, Argentines don’t know how to cook bacon (they really don’t cook it much at all).
Mate is a social drink we’ve seen shared by people all over the city and in Puerto Iguazu. It is a caffeine-infused drink of chopped and then powdered yerba leaves that is sipped through a metal straw that only allows the liquid through. We usually see a group of friends or a family passing around the mate (which is also the name of the cup it is served in) while someone holds a big thermos of water. We never got the chance to try it ourselves, though, mostly because I’m not into sharing straws no matter how good of a friend you are.
Check out the details section at the top for our favorite places to have breakfast.
Midday (starts at 1pm)
Lunch time is usually around 1 or 2 in the afternoon and most people seem to take their full hour lunch break. A lot of restaurants will close after lunch and reopen for dinner service, something becoming more common in the States. While the sidewalks in front of restaurants will be filled with people on a nice day, we would usually grab a wrap or half a dozen empanadas for lunch. Each region in Argentina claims their own style of empanadas, but from what we could tell there are really two types: fried and baked. I grew up eating fried ones filled with ground beef (and they are still my favorite), but there are a variety of fillings (we had awesome lamb ones from Pekin). Most places have a unique way of folding the empanada depending on what it’s filled with which makes it easy to tell them apart.
There is a big Italian influence in Buenos Aires, but for the most part, it’s a façade. Walking down the streets you will see amazing looking pasta and cheese shops, but looks can be deceiving. The pasta is poorly made, the sauces flavorless and the cheese is a waste of calories. This isn’t to say there aren’t good spots, but make sure to get recommendations from a trusted source. Another Italian delight, Milanesa (thin cuts of breaded chicken) is pretty good and available nearly everywhere. I accidentally bought 5lbs of it (because I’m an idiot that didn’t learn the metric system) and after eating it for 2 weeks I can’t look at it ever again. Then there is Argentinian-style “pizza”, but aside from it being closer to an open-faced sandwich, everyone eats it with a knife and fork which just makes me feel like an asshole. We even saw someone eating a sandwich with a knife and fork. That’s where I draw the line, Buenos Aires; that’s not why the sandwich was invented! As far as the cheese and ham used for pizza, sandwiches, etc. there must be one company that produces both ham and cheese because it is the same stuff EVERYWHERE.
We expected there to be a lot of street food in Buenos Aires, probably because its so common in many other parts of the world, but there just isn’t much here. Our best guess is that it’s a cultural thing. You won’t see anyone rushing through lunch or even walking down the street with a cup of coffee, so street food most likely just doesn’t make sense here. The closest we got to street food was at the Feria de Mataderos which is a weekly fair held in the neighborhood of Mataderos (kind of obvious). Along with live music and souvenirs for sale, there are tons of vendors selling meats, cheeses, beer, and prepared food. While it was a great time, all the meats and cheeses looked the same and were mediocre at best. However, there was one saving grace thanks to Con Sabor Argentino food stand where we got the best empanadas we have had in Buenos Aires, not to mention a plastic cup of Malbec.
Beyond empanadas the only other street food we encountered was choripan. Choripan is just sausage on a roll (the name is basically chorizo+bread, if you’re wondering). If you really want to go to town, the Choripan Completo is a sausage sandwich loaded with ham, cheese, and a fried egg; basically it looks like a hangover cure. Either way, you can’t go wrong and you can load up on all the condiments known to man from the condiment island accompanying the stand.
Looking for an afternoon snack? Go with the quintessential Argentine sweet, the alfajor; a sandwich cookie filled with dulce de leche. Chances are, if you throw a rock in any direction within BA, you will hit a Havanna, the spot synomous with chocolate-covered alfajors. We prefer the non-coated variety, but pull up a spot at Havanna to sip a cortado and munch on an alfajor. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon. For some good plain alfajors head to Ninina and grab a basket of their miniature versions.
Check out the details section for our favorite places to have lunch.
Evening (starts at 8pm and ends pretty much when you feel like it)
Dinner time doesn’t start that much later than we are used to, but it’s definitely a social affair and people aren’t in any more of a hurry at this time of day than they are at any other meal. Entire families, babies and all, will be out at 10pm. I wasn’t so sure that I could hang with this crowd since I get hangry if it takes too long to get to a meal, but since we were up late anyway, it wasn’t much of a stretch. The only time we broke the pattern was when we were cooking at home or we’d go to the steak happy hour at La Cabrera.
Even though parrillas are everywhere, not everyone knows how to properly cook a steak. Don Julio and La Cabrera were the places that seemed to be most recommended so that’s where we went. While we were warned that Don Julio’s can be touristy, we didn’t find that to be the case as there were just as many locals crowding the entrance in hopes of getting a table. We had a great meal there with excellent service and ordered way too much steak and wine. Even a great place can overcook a good piece of meat, though, so we learned to order ours jugoso (medium rare). We saw more tourists at La Cabrera since we only went for their happy hour at 7pm. A steak dinner is about 40% off for an hour, but since you have to be out of there for regular dinner service, we got there 30 minutes early to get in line outside and peruse the menu (I’m not wasting steak-eating time looking at a menu).
A place that made us really feel like we were really in Argentina was El Sanjuanino. We’d heard that this was a great place to get empanadas which is what drew us there. Then we saw locro on the menu and had to go for that, too. In Ecuador, Locro had been a creamy potato-based soup most of the time. In Buenos Aires it is a much heartier stew of pumpkin, corn, and meat. We managed to polish off a small pot each along with our empanadas and washed it all down with a $4 house wine that pours out of a ceramic penguin (something surprisingly common throughout the city).
A trend that’s been picking up is that of closed-door restaurants. Basically, you make a reservation to enjoy a dinner at someone’s home (no secret password required). We had a few recommendations, but we managed to get in at Casa Felix. They have a lovely time-worn 19th century home with garden and courtyard and offer a set menu (which we usually prefer). While we had a great meal there with a couple of friends visiting from NYC, it wasn’t the intimate social experience we thought it would be. Normally I don’t care to be social and I suck at small talk, but I was actually looking forward to meeting other travelers or locals in this dinner party setting. What I thought would be more communal seating turned out to be set up in separate tables like a regular restaurant. Still, the menu is inventive and if you have the alcohol tolerance, the wine flight is worth it.
Check out the details section for our favorite places to have dinner.
The Artisanal Food Movement
This isn’t new to most folks in the US, but that is slowly making its way through Buenos Aires is the artisanal food movement. Maybe it’s because residents are starting to get fed up with the poor quality found in many BA establishments or because expats are moving in and offering higher quality speciality items they miss from their native countries (including good columbian coffee – thanks Full City!). Either way, this is a great thing for a city that loves dining out, but lacks real quality. This movement is still in its infancy, so know that without solid recommendations like those found on Pick Up the Fork, you could be knee deep in some of the worst food you’ve had.
Anything we missed? Let us know in the comments.