Argentina’s food city is so much more than its parrillas.
When most travelers think of an Argentine feast, they, quite understandably, think of the steaks and various grilled meats that have come to define the cuisine of the South American country. Whether it’s a backyard asado or a fancy parrilla, it’s very likely you will have the best meat of your life in Buenos Aires, and you’d be a fool to deny yourself that. But life is nothing without its variety, and while you could theoretically have steak for every single meal of your trip, there’s no need to put your cholesterol levels through that. Especially not when Buenos Aires is such a rich, multi-faceted food city that can bring you to nearly every corner of the world.
South and Latin American Cuisine
Like every good food city, Buenos Aires can thank its immigrants for its best eats. Citizens from all over South and Central America have flocked here to make the city home, bringing some of their most trusted recipes and culinary traditions with them. You’ll find everything from upscale Peruvian restaurants to casual Colombian lunch counters, serving up perhaps the best ceviche outside of Peru, not to mention those famed empanadas (see below).
Where to Try It: Opened by two Colombian brothers and hidden away in a quiet courtyard mansion, the seven-course tasting menu at i Latina is one of Buenos Aires’s (and the world’s) culinary gems. The dishes change with the seasons, but each menu promises a tour spanning from Mexico to Patagonia, with each course highlighting different dishes, flavors, and/or ingredients from a Latin American country or region. Splurge for the wine pairing, which gives you a gorgeous taste of Argentine wines to accompany each dish.
The ultimate cheap eats of Buenos Aires are no doubt its empanadas. You’ll find this savory snack everywhere from the appetizer menu of the city’s most expensive restaurants to mom-and-pop corner stores (there’s seriously an empanada shop on every city block). The baked or fried dough can be filled with everything from shredded beef and chicken to cheese and veggies.
Where to Try It: You can’t go wrong at La Cocina, the tiny lunch counter that specializes in empanadas. Any of the eight fillings on the menu will fulfill your empanada fix; it’s the closest you’ll get to the homemade version anywhere in the city.
So what do most porteños (Buenos Aires locals) consider the true dish of the city? That would be milanesa, or thinly cut veal or chicken breaded, fried, and covered with tomato sauce and cheese. Its presence in the city is due to the fact that many modern Argentines are descended from Italian immigrants and carry on that strong heritage when it comes to food. The dish hasn’t quite reached the level of sophistication that steak has, but this is a meal most Argentines eat at home, and you’ll find some pretty tasty versions at restaurants catering mostly to locals.
Where to Try It: The milanesa king of Buenos Aires is Don Ignacio, and his namesake restaurant serves the classic dish in ginormous portions.
Italy really did leave its mark on this city, and nowhere is this more evident than in the city’s love of pasta. You’ll find pasta of every sort on nearly every menu in nearly every restaurant in Buenos Aires. That means you don’t have to go to a specifically Italian joint to get it; pasta is considered purely Argentine cuisine here.
Where to Try It: Have you ever wanted an old Argentine man to tell you exactly what to eat? Well, at Don Carlos you get exactly that, for better or worse (he knows his food, so it’s almost guaranteed to be for the better). Located in La Boca, around the corner from the famed Boca Juniors soccer stadium, there’s no menu here, only whatever proprietor Don Carlitos decides to make you that day. Regardless of his own inclinations, you’ll most likely get a taste of some Argentine classics (including yes, a lot of steak!) but also some fantastic pasta handmade by his family members in the back.
As the self-proclaimed pizza capital of South America, Buenos Aires takes pizza quite seriously, never sticking to just one style. Like with so much here, pizza was originally brought to the city by Italian immigrants, and today you’ll find everything from wood-fired to grilled pizza, with lots of different (and some very weird) toppings. The uniting factor is the excellent cheese. Also New Yorkers beware: it’s the norm here to eat pizza with a knife and fork.
Where to Try It: Every local has their favorite pizza place: Siamo nel Forno is the more traditional Neapolitan-style pizza you’ll most likely be familiar with, but swarms of locals can be found at places like Pizzeria Guerrin and La Hormiga.
Everyone knows just how sublime the wine in Argentina is, but one little-known secret is that if you’re looking in the right places, the cheese here can be just as good. Homegrown cheeses include Argentine Reggionito, Magnasco Edam, and La Capilla Malbec Wine cheese, which you can find in cheese shops like Aurora, Bodega Amparo, and Pampa Linda. Well-known cheeses from France, Italy, and England can also be found, but expect to pay higher prices thanks to importing.
Where to Try It: One of the city’s best cheese plates is at Elena, the upscale eatery located inside the gorgeous Four Seasons Buenos Aires. Along with some heavenly steak and seafood options, the charcuterie section highlights several impeccable cheeses; be sure to try the camembert with housemade honey.
There’s no lack of Asian eateries in Buenos Aires. Sushi restaurants (of varying quality) abound while Chinatown has plenty of very decent takeaway spots. A select number of Thai restaurants also warrant a mention and there are eateries that do some excellent Asian-Argentine fusion, but we’re going to cheat a little here, and admit the city does Asian food best when it’s focusing on Asian barbeque.
Where To Try It: Located in Palermo Soho, one of Buenos Aires’s trendiest neighborhoods, the inside of Niño Gordo is worth a visit in and of itself, thanks to the Instagram-worthy, red-light-soaked interior filled with Japanese-kitsch knick-knacks, including a ceiling dangling with paper lanterns and a jellyfish aquarium. Take some snaps, but then settle in for one of the city’s most unexpected, and most fun, meals. Combining Japanese, Korean, and Chinese flavors with the traditional Argentina grilling-style, you can choose from options like pancetta and chitin okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) to black pudding dumplings. The cocktails are also killer and come in very weird flavors and even weirder presentations.
The easiest way to get a little taste of everything Buenos Aires has to offer is through one of its food markets. Similar to American iterations like Chelsea Market in New York City and Grand Central Market in Los Angeles, these markets are part grocery stores and part lunchtime counters. From empanadas to coffee shops, they are a great way to see how locals eat and shop.
Where to Try It: Established in 1897, Mercado de San Telmo is a classic Latin American indoor food market, with gorgeous wrought-iron awnings and a glass atrium. While the décor is traditional, the stalls themselves are getting trendier and trendier, with everything from old-school butchers to hip craft beer parlors setting up shop. Coffee Town, in the center of the market, serves some of the best coffee in Buenos Aires.
When you’re hankering for dessert, don’t hesitate to introduce yourself to Buenos Aires’s helado scene. Like with empanadas, heladerias can be found on nearly every street with lines frequently stretching out the door. Buenos Aires ice cream is closer to Italian gelato than American soft-serve: soft and creamy, with an impressive variety of flavors. Go for a dulce de leche, and knock another Buenos Aires must-try off your list (the caramel treat is another Argentine classic).
Where to Try It: Anywhere, seriously. It’s hard to go wrong with ice cream in Buenos Aires. But for a dulce de leche scoop that will make you want to get Argentine citizenship, head to family-owned Rapa Nui.
Picture this: a thick, sweet layer of dulce de leche, sandwiched between two crumbly cookies (either chocolate or vanilla, dealer’s choice). A dessert straight from the gods? Perhaps, but it’s also known as Argentina’s most beloved cookie. You can buy them at street corner mom-and-pop stores. You can get them for dessert at high-end restaurants. You can even have them for breakfast. They are delightful and delicious, and once you have one, you will not be able to stop eating them for the entirety of your trip.
Where to Try It: If you’re lucky, the breakfast buffet at your hotel will include some, but if not, the best-known brand here is Havanna. You’ll find plenty of Havanna shops around town, and there’s a large selection at the airport for when you realize you can’t possibly live without these cookies once you get back home.