In observance of the year-end gringo tradition of taking stock and ranking what comes to mind, I’ve compiled this list of the top 10 taxista-recommended restaurants of 2008.
As I reflect on all of the wonderful things I’ve tasted this year, I’d like to take this moment to thank the taxi drivers of Buenos Aires, who’ve led me to so many places I could have never found on my own.
Here, in descending order, are my favorite fruits of their wisdom:
10. Marta Corsico’s Former Gas Station Café – Thanks to taxi driver Miguel Angel, I stumbled on Marta Corsico’s Argentine-style soul food at the now defunct gas station café on the corner of Chile and Entre Rios. Though her food – think milanesas, breaded hake, and homemade pasta – isn’t exactly fodder for the guidebooks, Marta has a fleet of local fans who’ve followed her to her new restaurant at Viamonte 1363 and Tacalhuano. If you’re craving the gas station café experience, you can pick up Marta’s quiches at the YPF on Bernardo Irigoyen and Venezuela, which is run by her husband and son.
9. La Tranquerita – Boyacá 996 – Flores, Tel: 4584-1441. Taxista Ricardo dropped me off at La Tranquerita on May 25, the day Argentina commemorates the anniversary of the Revolucion de Mayo – and a day that many people celebrate with a big bowl of locro (a stew made with corn, hominy, peppers, and leftover beef or pork parts). Although I can’t speak for the rest of the dishes on the menu, I can still taste the rib-sticking locro at this neighborhood dive, loaded with all the right goodies and plenty of chili sauce on the side. Be sure to call ahead to make sure it’s on the menu.
8. El Litoral – Moreno 2201 (esquina Pasco), Balvanera, Tel. 4953-2438. The journey to El Litoral, with the part-time sculptor and full-time single dad Rene, was as remarkable as the sandwich de vacio that the savvy taxi driver recommended when we got there. Crowded with cabbies and workers from the barrio, this corner steakhouse is short on atmosphere but long on cheap, delicious beef in various incarnations.
7. La Vaca Pampa – Av. Elcano 3243 (Belgrano R), Tel: 4554-5498. Oscar, a cabbie from Palermo, takes his daughter to this cozy parrilla in Belgrano for their weekly lunch date. This is a place where the asador knows how to coax tenderness from a skirt steak (entraña) and roast a gorgeous summer tomato. Prepare to endure the stares of regulars if you go.
6. El Puestito del Tío – Dorrego 3000 block (between Figueroa Alcorta and Av. Leopoldo Lugones). I forgave reggaetón-loving taxista Luis for trying to take me to the food court at the Jumbo-Easy shopping complex after he delivered me to this roadside food stand in the Bosques de Palermo. Between the female grill master (in pink scrubs) and the perfectly cooked sandwich de churrasco (skirt steak sandwich), I was instantly charmed and hopelessly hooked on the bargain bites at this popular carrito.
5. Mi Sueño – Fernando, the tango-singing taxista from Olivos, assured me that not all choripanes (sausage sandwiches) are created equal. Mi Sueño’s version is a case in point. Their pork chorizo – made with white wine, red peppers, and a touch of oregano – is about as good as it gets. (Note: there’s no real address, but it’s hard to miss this little food stand on the Costanera Sur – look for the red and yellow carrito about a kilometer north of the Reserva Ecologica).
4. La Mezzetta – Alvarez Thomas, Av. 1311 (y Avenida Elcano) – Chacarita/Colegiales – Tel: 4554-7585. For reasons I could never determine, taxista Martín doesn’t care for the goods at this neighborhood pizza superstar. But I was grateful he pushed aside his own preferences and pointed the place out to me anyway. At La Mezzetta, the pizza flies out the door so fast that even the slices are practically made to order. I have yet to find better, more outrageously cheesy fugazzetta anywhere in Buenos Aires.
3. Don Lechón – Avenida Elcano 3607 (at Alvarez Thomas) – Colegiales – Tel. 4555-5846. In Argentina, lechón, or suckling pig, is a dish usually reserved for holidays or special occasions. Expensive to buy and difficult to prepare, it plays a small but treasured role in the country’s meat ensemble. Tender at the bone, moist and cooked to perfection, the suckling pig at Don Lechón is worth a trip any day of the year. Steak? Steak who?
2. Don Zoilo – Honorio Pueyrredon 1406 (esquina Luis Viale) – Villa Crespo – Tel. 4588-3800. Though the Metropolis of Beef boasts hundreds of parrillas, it’s easy to understand why Don Zoilo is one of taxista Jorge’s steak houses of choice. Nestled in a neighborhood off the tourist track, this earnest restaurant has built a loyal following thanks to its righteous bife de chorizo and its inflation-defying prices. If you still have room after your steak, the lemon-infused natilla is a sweet/sour/decadent way to finish off your meal.
1. Albamonte – Av. Corrientes 6735 (between Maure and Olleros) – Chacarita
Tel. 4553-2400/4554-4486 (No pizza at lunch!). This is not your traditional, thick-crust Argentine-style pizza. Locals, including taxista Antonio, love it anyway, thanks to wood oven-baked crust that manages to stay crispy beneath generous helpings of mozzarella and super-fresh tomato sauce. Go for dinner and go early – every day of the week, the place teems with families, friends, and pizza lovers in the know.