Argentina may leap to mind when discussing South American beef, but some 12 million cattle, primarily Hereford and Angus, graze Uruguay's open, vast grasslands—this in a nation of roughly 3 million people. Beef is the staple of the Uruguayan diet. It's quality, cheap, abundant, and often grilled in a style borrowed from the gauchos, and known as parrillada. A meal in a Uruguayan steakhouse should be on your agenda. Beef is also made into sausages, such as chorizo and salchicha, or is combined with ham, cheese, bacon, and peppers to make matambre.

Seafood is also popular here—and it’s fresh and delicious, especially the lenguado (flounder), merluza (hake), and calamar (squid). Try the raya a la manteca negra (ray in blackened butter). If you are not up to a full meal, order what is often considered the national sandwich, chivito, a steak sandwich with thin strips of beef.

Uruguayan wines under the Bouza, Santa Rosa, and Calvinor labels are available in most restaurants. As Uruguayan wines also have raised their profile in the past decade, a vineyard visit or wine tasting is highly recommended. Clericó is a mixture of white wine and fruit juice, while medio y medio is part sparkling wine, part white wine.

Lunch is served between noon and 3; restaurants begin to fill around 12:30 and are packed by 1:30. Many restaurants do not open for dinner until 8 pm, and often don’t start to get crowded until 9:30. Most pubs and confiterías (cafés) are open all day. Formal dress is rarely required. Smart sportswear is acceptable at even the fanciest establishments.

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