Menus cover the bases of international cuisines, but don't miss the local bounty—seafood delivered directly from the Pacific Ocean. One of the local favorites is caldillo de congrio, the hearty fish stew celebrated by poet Pablo Neruda in his "Oda al Caldillo de Congrio." (The lines of the poem are, in fact, the recipe.) A pisco sour—a cocktail of grape brandy and lemon juice—makes
a good start to any meal, especially when accompanied by a plate of machas a la parmesana, small razor clams served au gratin, baked in lemon juice, or with white wine, butter, and grated cheese.
Tempted to try heartier Chilean fare? Pull up a stool at one of the counters at Vega Central and enjoy a traditional pastel de choclo (pie filled with ground beef, chicken, olives, and a boiled egg, topped with mashed corn). Craving seafood? Head to the Mercado Central, where fresh fish is brought in each morning. Want a memorable meal? Trendy new restaurants are opening every day in neighborhoods like Bellavista, where hip Santiaguinos come to check out the latest hot spots.
In the neighborhood of Vitacura, a 20- to 30-minute taxi ride from the city center, a complex of restaurants called Borde Río attracts an upscale crowd, but other reservations-only restaurants worth a look are on Alonso de Córdoba and Nueva Costanera. El Golf, an area including Avenida El Bosque Norte and Avenida Isidora Goyenechea in Las Condes, has numerous restaurants and cafés. The emphasis is on creative cuisine, so familiar favorites are given a Chilean twist. This is one of the few neighborhoods where you can stroll from restaurant to restaurant until you find exactly what you want.
Santiaguinos dine a little later than you might expect. Most fancy restaurants don't open for lunch until 1. (You may startle the cleaning staff if you rattle the doors at noon.) Dinner begins at 7:30 or 8, although most places don't get crowded until after 9. Many eateries close for a few hours before dinner and on Sunday night. People do dress smartly for dinner, but a coat and tie are rarely necessary. Avoid shorts, sneakers, and athletic gear, and you should be fine in most places.