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Why is Buenos Aires food so incredible?

Eduardo do Valle

Bernardo Paglia, @xchorix, Don Julio, @xlacarniceriax

In Buenos Aires, a delicious aroma is always filling the streets: meat and burning wood on the Puente de la Mujer; waffles on Calle Defensa; pizza close to the Obelisco. A constant invitation to discover this celebrated food scene – with 10 restaurants among Latin America's 50 Best, taking the city to the top of the ranking in 2018. While architecture and intellectuality already gave Buenos Aires sophisticated airs, these days, food is the aspect that secures this title.

 

But… what’s so special about it? For chef Juan Gaffuri, of Elena, it’s about tradition; it’s about food that originated at the house table, food of a matriarchal order, of mothers and grandmothers, of flavors passed down from generation to generation. That’s why understanding Buenos Aires food would be impossible without the guiding hand of a Porteño. Next, local and international chefs and sommeliers share tips on how (and where) to discover the best of Argentine flavors.

 

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Dry-aged beef

The flavor of home

The search for authentic Buenos Aires food takes us to Calle Carlos Pellegrini 521. There, nearby Teatro Colón, we meet with chef Federico Fialayre, of the restaurant Tomo 1. “This is my home. I was born the year it was founded and grew up in the kitchen,” says Fialayre, who is keeping alive the legacy of his mother, Ada Concaro, the establishment’s founder. 

 

Tomo 1: Carlos Pellegrini 521

 

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Federico Fialayre, chef at Tomo 1

The renovation comes from a re-reading of classics, like braised lamb with organic wild rice, or traditional rice with goat milk jam. “The idea is to incorporate the new while never forgetting the old Buenos Aires of Milanese recipes, locro, and our very characteristic pizza,” he explains.

Following Fialayre’s tips, the road takes us to the city center, more precisely to Pizzería Güerrín. The ambience couldn’t be less pretentious, with blue tiled walls and paper napkins that remind us of the year it was established, 1932. Movement in this pizzeria is intense all around the clock. Here, more than a 100 options translate this Italian classic into a very Argentine style. A native of the boot country, chef and TV host Donato de Santis isn’t worried about this appropriation: “Argentine pizzerias are almost as present as grills,” says this Italian who has been living in Buenos Aires since 2000. His advice is to try the options at Hell’s Pizza, a place that adds an American atmosphere to this very charged Italian-Argentine ambience.

 

Güerrín: Corrientes 1368

Hell's Pizza: Humboldt 1654

 

Since the day he arrived, De Santis has been a witness of the evolution that transformed Buenos Aires and Argentina into a food reference.

For him, the key point of this change is the re-evaluation of ethnic cuisine and placing value on native produce, something that can be observed in NOLA’s Cajun food, in the Filipino cuisine at Cantina Sunae, and also the choripán at the modern Chori, in Palermo. “What attracted and brought me here was the feeling of opportunity, something that made me feel at ease in a country that has a lot in common with my birthplace,” he says. “Buenos Aires is definitely a Latin American gastronomic capital.”

 

Chori: Thames 1653

NOLA: Gorriti 4389

Sunae Asian Cantina: Humboldt 1626

 

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Choripán

Friendly fire

Mastering heat seems to be another reason for Porteño cuisine’s success. “Even though it seems like it doesn’t demand too much knowledge, it’s something very idiosyncratic,” says the chef who surrendered to wood when he arrived at the capital. It seems like good airs produce good fire. Pure physics that can be witnessed at every parrilla, something as Argentine as tango or good soccer.

 

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Food at La Carnicería

A classic among classics, Don Julio means tradition and is a good example of the aroma of generous rib eye steaks filling the Palermo sidewalks. Also, you cannot miss La Cabaña, established 10 years ago in Puerto Madero, always offering quality cuts, like the bife de chorizo (almost 2.2 pounds [1 kg]!) that consecrated this restaurant founded 85 years ago in another location. Now, if the idea is to experience an Argentine asado elevated to its maximum expression, the road will take you to La Boca, more precisely to the restaurant Patagonia Sur, the address of Argentine master of fire Francis Mallmann.

But not even the typical parrillas escape the wave of modernity that has taken over the Argentine capital. To de-construct tradition is the objective of La Carnicería, which has seating for less than 30 people. Located in Palermo, it serves generous cuts of beef, wild boar, and pork accompanied by gin and tonic, while also offering a vegetarian version of the Argentine grill.

 

Don Julio: Guatemala 4699

La Cabaña: Alicia Moreau de Justo 380

Patagonia Sur: AEA, Rocha 801

 

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Restaurant La Carnicería

At Elena, meat is almost an obsession. They have a special club for dry-aged items, refrigerated at 35 °F [2°C] for at least 45 days. “The experience is different at each visit, because a single piece has different degrees of maturation,” explains Juan Gaffuri, while serving a T-Bone with chimichurri. This is a modern grill, one that combines the cold and the intensity of Argentine fire.

Elena: Posadas 1086

La Carnicería: Thames 2317

 

Between glasses of wine and mates

Whether we are talking about meat, pizza, or empanadas, there’s always an ideal wine in Buenos Aires. “This is another tradition in the country, one facilitated by its geography,” explains sommelier Valeria Gamper, a professor at IAG, the Argentine Institute of Gastronomy.

 

To drink like an Argentine, the advice is to explore markets and wineries, where the malbec and bonarda vines coexist with bottles of cabernet sauvignon, semillon, or cabernet franc: “Diversity reigns supreme!” Another good stop is Vico’s, in Palermo, where wine is served by the glass. While talking about restaurants, Gamper recommends the ones that help costumers navigate the bodegas, like Tegui and Aramburu Restó.

 

As for dishes, she recommends having a good empanada salteña with an aromatic white torrontés riojano; a rib eye would go very well with a red – malbec, for example. And, since you cannot talk about Argentina without mentioning alfajores, her tip is to leave wine aside and savor this typical sweet with a delicious and steaming mate as the sun sets: just like a true Porteño.

CAVE: Juncal 838

IAG: Santa Fé 1556

Vico Wine Bar: Gurruchaga 1149

Tegui: Costa Rica 5852

Aramburu: Salta 1050