If you ask a Buenos Aires taxista about his/her favorite thing to eat, it’s going to be un buen bife 90% of the time.
But after two years and lots and lots of steak-driven taxi adventures in Argentina’s capital, I unearthed a few beefless treasures, too.
If you’re living in or traveling to the Metropolis of Beef, there are actually quite a few non-bovine treats that are unique to Buenos Aires and totally worth tasting.
Here are my ten taxista-recommended favorites:
1. Lechón at Don Lechón: 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. (Avenida Elcano 3607 (at Alvarez Thomas) – Colegiales – Tel. 4555-5846 – Map it)
2. Matambre at Parrilla Peña: I stumbled into this steak house in the middle of an Argentine beef shortage and discovered that they also make great matambre (pork flank steak), along with some of the best provoleta (grilled provolone cheese) and tiramisu in Buenos Aires. The owners are always around at this neighborhood parrilla – naturally it’s a great place to eat steak, too. (Rodríguez Pena 682, Tribunales, Tel: (11) 4371-5643 – Map it)
PIZZA & PASTA
3. Mozzarella pizza at Albamonte: 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. (Corrientes 6735, Chacarita, Tel: (11) 4553-2400 – Map it)
4. Sorrentinos in scarparo sauce at Spiagge di Napoli: After 83 years in the old tango neighborhood of Boedo, it’s no surprise that the cooks at this no-frills cantina know how to handle their starches. This is one of the few places in Buenos Aires where you can get your pasta al dente – and taste big flavors in your sauce. If house-made fusilli with puttanesca are good, ham, cheese and basil sorrentinos with pesto-based scarparo sauce are even better. (Independencia 3527, Boedo, Tel: (11) 4931-4420 – Map it)
5. Moscato, mozzarella y fainá at El Cuartito: Like the people of Buenos Aires, the disparate flavors in this classic trio somehow come together and yield something luscious. Though virtually all of the city’s pizzerias offer it, few that can top the sweet-savory excess of El Cuartito’s moscato (sweet, amber-colored wine), mozzarella (pizza that stays crispy on the bottom and oozes cheese on top) and fainá (a thick tortilla made with chick pea flour and olive oil). They’ve been at it since 1934 – and their slogan might have something to do with their success: “Pizza takes time. Your palate will appreciate the wait.” (Talcahuano 937, Tribunales, Tel: (11) 4816-1758 – Map it)
6. Fugazzetta at La Mezzetta: At La Mezzetta – unlike at many Buenos Aires pizzerias – the pizza does not sit in a glass case waiting to be reheated. They serve everything fresh from the oven – screaming hot crust, bubbling cheese and all. Their fugazzetta – a tomato-sauce free, cheese and onion Buenos Aires specialty – easily outclassed every other version I tasted – the sugary crunch of the onions, the pungent oregano, and the endless river of cheese work together to create a focaccia-esque slice of sin. There’s usually a line at this modest storefront in Colegiales, but the aproned man at the cash register rips through it with an efficiency that would give Starbucks a run for its money. (Alvarez Thomas 1321, Colegiales, Tel: (11) 4554-7585 – Map it)
7. Vermicelli with Pippo’s tomato sauce at Pippo: If my grandma were Italian, this is the kind of comfort food she’d serve me: a big bowl of house-made, pencil-thick noodles smothered in a beefy tomato sauce and sprinkled with faux parmesan. Vermicelli, sauce and cheese become one as you work your way to the bottom of the bowl. You’ll be even happier when they bring the check. Try spending more than $10 here. Since it’s around the corner from the federal courthouse, there’s great people-watching, too. (Parana 356, Tribunales, Tel: (11) 4375-5887 – Map it)
8. Empanada de tambo at La Aguada: There’s a reason that La Aguada chef David Rosenthal’s empanada recipes have been repeatedly published in Clarín – they’re some of the best in Buenos Aires. The empanada de tambo, with seven cheeses (including Roquefort and mozzarella), fresh chives and celery is delicious (but so is his beef version with leeks and sweet peppers). In Rosenthal’s empanadas, the delicate, Tucuman-style masa stays where it belongs – in the background, quietly supporting the fillings that play the starring roles. (Billinghurst 1862, Palermo, Tel: (11) 4827-9477 – Map it)
9. Struffoli at Panaderia Santa Teresita: Struffoli are honey-covered, anise-flavored fritters that come from Naples and are usually eaten at Christmas time. At this grandma-owned and operated sweet shop in Las Cañitas, they fry them year-round. They’re so good they’ve saved the bakery from the gentrification that’s rocked the rest of the neighborhood. Although the alfajores here might also have a part to play in the bakery’s institutional status in the barrio. (Arevalo 2882, Las Cañitas, Tel: 4777-3740 – Map it)
10. Ristretto Granizado at Saverio: There is a lot of spectacular ice cream in Buenos Aires, especially a lot of spectacular dulce de leche ice cream. But I can’t shake the memory of this coffee and chocolate masterpiece from Saverio, a string of three ice cream parlors that’s been around for over 100 years. In ristretto granizado, coffee and dark chocolate dance between bitter and sweet. The purity of the espresso flavor is the main event. The chocolate is an embellishment. This is synergy you can literally have delivered. (Av. Cabildo 1501 (esquina Virrey Arredondo) – Belgrano, Tel: 0800-444-1909 – Map it. 2 other locations: www.saverio.com.ar)
Stay tuned for more Buenos Aires flashbacks: I’ll be breaking down my favorite cabbie-recommended steak houses next…