Dining in Buenos Aires

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Dining in Buenos Aires
From traditional steakhouses and classic downtown pizzerias to modern cafés and personalized dining, Buenos Aires’ rapidly evolving gourmet scene is a treat for traveling foodies.
By Bridget Gleeson, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Bridget Gleeson
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    The Pizza and Empanada Scene
    Eating in one of Buenos Aires’ downtown pizzerias is an Argentine tradition, and a traveler’s rite of passage. Corrientes, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, is lined with theaters and pizzerias, particularly around its intersection with the famously wide Avenida 9 de Julio. Locals go to a show, and then out for pizza. You’ll also see these traditional restaurants crowded with businessmen at lunchtime, standing up at the counters eating empanadas and slices of pizza. The pizza itself—thick, cheesy, and baked in a deep dish—isn’t to everyone’s taste, but the ambiance is unbeatable.
    Photo by Bridget Gleeson
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    Traditional Bakeries
    In Buenos Aires, the locals' breakfast is simple and generally without variation: an espresso or cortado (coffee with a splash of milk) with a couple of medialunas (sweet, flaky, croissant-like pastries). More decadent bakery offerings are stuffed with dulce de leche or sprinkled with powdered sugar. Step into any of the city’s bakeries—there’s one on practically every corner—and help yourself to one of the metal bowls and a pair of tongs, which you’ll use to choose your pastries for takeaway. The cashier will charge you accordingly, and then wrap up your treats in white paper—perfect for a picnic in the park or a sweet afternoon snack.
    Photo by Bridget Gleeson
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    Family-Sized Steaks
    Parrillas, or steakhouses, are everywhere in Argentina. In Buenos Aires, travelers can choose from a wide range of options. On the lower end of the spectrum are basic hole-in-the-wall joints where families share grilled steaks and sausages, towering piles of French fries, grilled provolone salads, soda, and Malbec served in penguin-shaped pitchers; on the flipside are incredibly gourmet parrillas with lengthy wine lists catering to high-end diners. Most visitors land somewhere in the middle, enjoying leisurely lunches and dinners at classic, slightly upscale parrillas like Palermo’s excellent Don Julio.
    Photo by Yadid Levy/age fotostock
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    Closed-Door Dining
    Some of the city’s most unique culinary experiences don’t happen in traditional restaurants, but inside the homes of the chefs themselves. These dining venues are called restaurantes a las puertas cerradas, or closed-door restaurants, and typically feature specific cuisine, a relatively set menu, and the choice of a private or communal table. An additional bonus is the chance to see inside a real Buenos Aires home, the opportunity to meet food-minded locals and travelers, and, of course, time to meet and talk to the chef and sommelier. Popular options include Treintasillas and the Asian-inspired Sunae Asian Cantina in Colegiales.
    Photo by Bridget Gleeson
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    The City's Spanish and Italian Culinary Heritage
    Buenos Aires’ culinary identity was shaped largely by the Spanish and Italian immigrants who settled in Argentina, bringing with them traditional cooking techniques and tastes. It’s no surprise, then, that Spanish and Italian restaurants continue to play an important role in the city’s gourmet scene. Avenida de Mayo, in Congreso, is home to many of the most old-fashioned and high-end Spanish restaurants. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric place to come for a long, classy lunch alongside some of the neighborhood’s well-dressed citizens. Try the set lunch on weekdays at Plaza Asturias or splash out on the pulpo a la gallega (a traditional Galician octopus dish) at nearby Restaurante El Globo, which is more than 100 years old.
    Photo by Bridget Gleeson
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    Food Tours and Tastings
    In a city where dining and drinking options can be overwhelming, it helps to turn to the experts for advice. Several gourmet-minded outfits can help curate your culinary experience in Buenos Aires. One company called Fuudis runs food tours each week that take small groups on a progressive dining circuit, starting with an appetizer and an aperitif in one venue, moving onto another restaurant for a main course, and finishing with dessert and coffee at a third location. Travelers serious about food can also arrange tailor-made tours with the acclaimed food writer behind the blog Pick Up the Fork. Both of these dining tour resources are easy to find online.
    Photo courtesy of Fuudis
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    Atmospheric Historic Cafés
    The city of Buenos Aires keeps a running list of bares notables (notable bars)—historic cafés open to the public. While some are rustic and others elegant, all of these cafés offer a taste of nostalgia and of times gone by in a city that’s always changing. The concept of a bar in Buenos Aires is European: Most stay open all day, with patrons ordering coffee in the morning, traditional Argentine plates at lunchtime, cake and tea in the afternoon, and whiskey or beer in the evening. The city’s official list, of course, features the city’s most venerable café, Café Tortoni, prominently located on Avenida de Mayo near Plaza de Mayo.
    Photo by Bridget Gleeson
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    Food and Wine Pairings
    The only way to improve on a leisurely feast of several courses in Buenos Aires is to pair the food with wine. Sommeliers at many of the city’s finer restaurants offer wine pairing options, typically pairing the entrada (appetizer) with a sparkling wine, the second course with Torrontés—a fruity, aromatic white produced in the north—the third course with a Malbec from Mendoza, and ending with a dessert paired with a sweet or fortified wine. In addition to drawing out the flavors in the food, the wine pairing menu allows guests to sample wines from many of Argentina’s regions. One to try is I Latina, the Colombian closed-door restaurant in Villa Crespo, where each of seven courses can be paired with specially chosen wines.
    Photo by Joan Mercadal/age fotostock
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    Indulge in the Creamiest Helado
    Buenos Aires is rightfully famous for its helado, or ice cream. Dense, creamy, and highly flavorful, it bears a strong resemblance to Italian gelato. Heladerías, or ice cream shops, abound in the city. Serious connoisseurs debate the relative virtues of artisan ice creams and larger gourmet purveyors like Persicco and Un' Altra Volta—both of which have branches around town—but first-time visitors to the city are usually impressed by a regular scoop of helado from the corner shop. Of particular note are the varieties made with dulce de leche and dark chocolate, fresh fruits like maracuyá (passion fruit), and local favorite sambayón (a blend of whisked egg yolks, sweet wine, and sugar).
    Photo by Sebastiano Volponi/age fotostock
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    Cool Contemporary Cafés
    The contemporary cafés are the flipside of Buenos Aires' historical bares notables, and they are just as appealing in their own way. Look for modern coffee shops and teahouses all over the city, with a particularly high concentration in the Palermo neighborhood. In addition to serving fabulous homemade pastries, picture-perfect cappuccinos, and gourmet sandwiches and salads, they’re ideal places for taking a break, planning the day, and watching the locals in action. Modern cafés to seek out include the famous Oui Oui in Palermo Hollywood, rustic-chic Malvón and minimalist Café Crespín, both in Villa Crespo, and Tea Connection in Puerto Madero (with other locations around the city).
    Photo by Bridget Gleeson