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Buenos Aires Dispatch: Pizza and Steak Near the No-Zone

On her first day in Buenos Aires, exchange student Kira Lerner sat in a meeting room in the city center, raring to explore every corner of the Argentine capital. After a quick welcome activity, her program directors handed her a map of the city covered with big red x’s. These x’s, or “no-zones”, were areas of the city where she was not to set foot. In a “no-zone,” she would be pick-pocketed, mugged, attacked or all of the above.

A journalism major at Northwestern University, Kira immediately dismissed the no-zone idea. Determined to hunt down the best flavors in her new city, she recruited a few friends and embarked on her own set of taxi adventures. “A good choripan,” she said, “Is worth the risk.”

Here’s Kira’s report on her Buenos Aires food quests.

Last week, my co-adventurers and I met at the obelisco in Buenos Aires’ tourist-filled city center. We hailed a taxi, brimming with anticipation at the idea of entering a ‘no-zone’ and ending the night somewhere far from downtown.

Our taxista, Dante, was surprisingly agreeable and told us right away, “I like to eat pizza at the best place in Buenos Aires.” We asked him to take us straight there.

On the way, we learned about Dante’s past as a graphic designer, his four children, and his childhood in the northern province of Salta. He came to Buenos Aires because “it’s beautiful and has everything. [It’s] the most important city in the world,.” He eventually turned to taxi driving for financial and personal reasons that he didn’t care to explain.

When he dropped us off at El Imperio in the distant neighborhood of Chacarita, he told us he always orders two slices of mozzarella to go.

“Every time I pass by, I have to get pizza,” he said, getting out of his cab and following us into the restaurant. Before going back to his shift, he stopped by our table, take-away bag in hand, to make sure we’d been taken care of.

We shared a large pizza, half mozzarella and half fugazetta. As Dante promised, the pizza came quickly, dripping with cheese. The crust was thick and spongy, as is the custom in Buenos Aires, but the pizza had more flavor than the typical porteño slice. My favorite was the fugazetta, an Argentine specialty layered with sliced onions and cheese.

We left the restaurant stuffed with pizza and sweets (strawberry pie, cookies, and chocolate pastries), thrilled at having ventured to unfamiliar ground. The excitement simmered, however, when the next day I learned that Layne had been to El Imperio on a previous taxi adventure.

Eager to stake out new territory, my co-adventurers and I meet again. Our first taxi driver takes us straight to a pasta restaurant next to the obelisco that offers tourist discounts and English menus. Unimpressed, we hail another cab, still hoping to blaze new trails.

Horacio understands. Our second cabbie tells us about a steak house he goes to with a group of four taxista and auto-mechanic friends every Sunday at 2am to talk about life, cars, interesting passengers, and things they see in the street.

“It’s far,” he warns us.

“Perfect,” I reply, ready to escape the city center.

Horacio chats openly with us, sharing his wisdom about the city and professing his love for the River Plate soccer team (one of the most popular clubs in Buenos Aires). In 18 years of driving a cab, he’s never been in an accident, although he sees them on the “dangerous streets” all the time. Horacio likes to drive at night when the city is calmer, leaving daylight hours for sleeping “like Dracula.”

We arrive at the restaurant, 2901, which is within walking distance of the taxi storage depot in the Belgrano neighborhood, making it the perfect place for cabbies to grab a steak and beer after a long shift.

But on this night, the place is crowded with groups of friends sharing liters of beer and local families watching soccer games and reality shows. I ask for a table for six (for better or worse, American students travel in packs), and the friendly waiter stays to explain each dish on the menu.

We end up sharing a steak, a milanesa, chorizo sausage, French fries, and a platter of roasted vegetables. The steak is tender and perfectly cooked, the chorizo delicious, but the milanesa does not impress.

As a thunderstorm engulfs the city, we sit and chat in 2901 for hours, soaking up our surroundings and enjoying our feast. We may not have crossed into a no-zone, but we were somewhere completely new – wallets and cell phones in hand.

El Imperio
Corrientes 6891 (esq. Federico Lacroze)
Tel: 4553-0875 / 4553-1464

Congreso 2901 (esq. Cramer)
Tel: 4544-8686
Open 24 hours and delivery

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