A corner cantina that’s been a magnet for taxi drivers for years, El Español is one of the few places in Buenos Aires where you can still find a cafe con leche and 3 medialunas (croissants) for less than six pesos (U$2).
Thanks to its abundant, cheap food, several cabbies have recommended El Español to me over the course of these taxi adventures. But the restaurant has always been an addendum, a suggestion that’s arrived only after they’ve delivered me someplace else.
If the Irish writer Richard Steele is correct, if “a woman seldom writes her mind but in her postscript,” I wondered if the same could apply to Buenos Aires cab drivers and their food recommendations.
Last week, I set out with my long-suffering co-adventurer from Australia to find out whether El Español deserves more than an afterthought.
Everything about the place was no-nonsense: the appetite-inducing red and yellow color scheme, the fluorescent lights, the hard-working air conditioner, the white numbers stenciled onto table legs, the TV tuned to Crónica news, and the crowd of local families, taxi drivers, and couples that packed the dining room.
Our server appeared in a flash, handing us book-length menus. We turned page after laminated page, addled by the selection and astonished by the prices.
Grilled chicken for 7 pesos (about U$2.50)? Meatballs and mashed potatoes for 9 pesos (U$3)? Choripán (sausage sandwich) for 3 pesos (U$1)? No wonder taxistas adore El Español – the food is cheaper than the street carts on the Costanera Sur.
We started with a fresh and generous ensalada completa (with spinach, potatoes, hard-boiled egg, beets, carrots, tomatoes and white rice) and moved on to merluza al pimentón (poached hake fish with paprika and boiled potatoes).
The fish was moist and well-prepared, but, as my co-adventurer pointed out, drowned in a bitter pool of cheap corn oil. We perked it up with a squeeze of lemon but decided that next time we’d order pasta (On our way out, we noticed a roomful of men making ravioli, gnocchi, and fettucini).
Yes, there will be a next time at El Español, as I suspect there are treasures to be discovered on that vast menu.
And if nothing else, I know I’ll get my money’s worth.