If you know me — or even if you don’t know me and accidentally stumbled into the world of Passenger Conners, and now are like, “whoa, I feel like I know this lady” — you most definitely know that the thing that gives me some of my greatest pleasure in this life (besides puppies with moist, blinking eyes) is food.
And when I eat something exceptionally good, so tasty I just can’t tear myself away from it and find myself willing the gods of my gut to let me never grow sated, I tend to cry out (or tweet, or Facebook post): GIT IN MAH BELLY!
Alas. The surprisingly and somewhat dismaying truth I’ve discovered about Buenos Aires’s cuisine in the past month is that it’s perhaps not the most … er, flavorful. Salt is in high demand, but flavor, as in spices and spiciness, not so much. Even when attempting ethnic fare at allegedly delicious (this according to local food blogger types here in BA) Armenian and Indian restaurants, the results are decidedly bland.
Sure, I haven’t been able to eat everywhere across this great city in the 1+ month I’ve been here, and sure, there have been a number of places that were legitimately very, very good (I’m lookin’ at you, Sudestada: delicious and muy, muy picante!), one of my great takeaways has been a distinct lack of overall taste.
With one notable exception:
A little background here: meat is the Argentine delicacy, it is the great mecca of meals among locals and even tourists clamoring to try the country’s famed beef. And the great religious culinary institution where peeps go to get their beef on, is the parrilla a traditional steakhouse.
At a parrilla, you will find great heaping platters of offal. As in livers and blood sausage and hearts, oh my! You will also find far more palatable (to my tastes) options, such as bife de lomo, a succulent cut of tenderloin; ojo de bife, or rib eye, and bife de chorizo, a sirloin steak.
Indeed, Argentina is famed for its sprawling Pampas, or grasslands, prime for raising herds of cattle, and the Argies have seriously mastered the Pampas-to-table trend of dishing up some mighty fine, and perfectly cooked cuts of beef.
Grilled in asados, the meat arrives to you deeply charred on the outside and so red on the inside, you’d be forgiven for hearing the faint echo of a “moo.” There are typically no sides served with your hunk of cow, but rather you opt for an a la carte salad and most likely, some potatoes, or papas fritas. If you’re feeling particularly in need of roughage (and lord knows, after a couple of parrilla meals in a row, you’ll need it), you might even order a grilled vegetable plate.
The meat can be doused in sauces at many restaurants, but I prefer to get it straight off the asado, where I can sprinkle a wee bit o’ salt upon it as desired. The restaurant will also provide you with (typically) 2 little bowls of meat-dippin’ sauce: criolla (which looks suspiciously like pico de gallo), and chimichurri sauce.
Oh, and if you’re thirsty? You best pair that badboy with a deep, red Malbec. Now for the big question:
Where to find Buenos Aires’s Best Parrillas?
There are so many parrillas in this town, it hurts my cholesterol levels to think about it. I’ve only scratched the surface, and here are my top parrilla picks., thus far:
Las Cabras: Located in the heart of Palermo Hollywood, this corner parrilla is wildly popular with locals, and for good reason: it’s not only delicious, it’s freakishly affordable. Imagine, less than $20USD for a juicy tenderloin for 2 people, a salad, a provoleta from the gods, and a penguin of wine. Yes, I did say a penguin of wine. My pitcher was penguin-shaped! Pro-Tip: Do NOT confuse Las Cabras with that nearby tourist trap of a steakhouse, La Cabrera – ugh. (Fitz Roy 1795, Palermo Hollywood)
El Trapiche: Tucked into a corner of Palermo Viejo, with it’s garish lighting and old-school Argentine decor, El Trapiche feels a lot less sleek than Las Cabras, and thus, a little more authentic in a down-and-dirty Argentine steakhouse kinda way. The service is spectacular, from waiters decked in shirts and ties with very proper mannerisms. Order the nightly ojo de bife and salad special, a divine provoleta, and a bottle of the house rose and enjoy. (Paraguay 5099, Palermo Viejo)
1880: Escape the throttle of tourists that flock to historic San Telmo at this tiny and tasty parrilla. To be sure, there WILL be other tourists, but it’s a far cry from many of the neighborhood’s other establishments. It is here you will find a bife de lomo inches thick, perfectly charred and filled with blood-red goodness. (Defensa 1665, San Telmo)
Don Julio: Yes, it has become a true tourist beacon. Yes, the wait time for a table is outrageously long. But I still have a soft spot for Don Julio, which first stole my heart during my first trip to Buenos Aires years ago. The steaks are still delicious, the atmosphere fun and the Malbec affordable and good. I promise. (Guatemala 4691 and Gurruchaga, Palermo Soho)