Food and Drink in Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires' dining options will surprise and delight you, especially if you expected only steaks and other standard South American fare. The city's large population of Italian descendants -- well over 1 million -- has heavily influenced the cuisine, and some of the best Italian cooking outside the home country can be found there.
The cosmopolitan nature of the city means that there really is something for everyone -- and at prices that most can afford.
But, there's no getting away from it, the capital is not great for vegetarians. If you like steak, however, you'll be in heaven. Steakhouses abound, and apart from a few exceptions, are very reasonably priced compared to what you would pay in the U.S. or the U.K. The Italian influence is strongly felt in terms of cuisine and you'll find a lot of trattorias, again at reasonable prices.
Sorrento del Puerto is a sleek and modern setting for Italian food, with large windows on two floors to capture the view. The pasta is excellent, the seafood even better. (Av. Alicia Moreau de Justo 430, 4319 8730)
El Mirasol is one of the oldest and best known steak house chains in Buenos Aires, with four dotted around the city, including in Puerto Madero, which is in a great spot overlooking the river. If you like traditional white cloth-covered tables, red napkins and smartly dressed waiters as well, of course, as outstanding cuts of meat, then this is a good bet. (Av. Alicia Moreau de Justo 202)
Sotto Voce is an upmarket Italian restaurant serving classic Italian fare in a lovely setting, set back from the main shorefront road. If you want a break from steak, then this is a good option. (Av. Alicia M de Justo 176)
Cabana las Lilas, one of the best of the city's parrillas (barbecue houses), is where steak-lovers will discover why Argentina is famous for its beef. Thick steaks come sizzling from the charcoal grill. This is an equally fine choice for dinner, although it can be expensive. (Av. Alicia Moreau de Justo 516, 4313 1336)
El Mercardo at the Faena Hotel serves traditional Argentinian cuisine. Designer Philippe Starck has really gone to town in this restaurant, which features all exposed brick walls and antique glass cases stuffed with knickknacks relating to local characters. Afterward, the adjacent Library Lounge bar is the place to be seen. (Martha Salotti, 4010 9200)
Katrine is an upscale eatery named after its Norwegian chef/owner. The venue serves a few Scandinavian dishes along with a fine continental menu. The outdoor terrace overlooking the water is ideal for a warm evening. (Av. Alicia Moreau de Justo 138, 4315 6222)
Center Cafe Tortoni, a favorite with the city's artists and writers since 1880, is the place for a light lunch amid Old World ambience and prime people-watching. An art nouveau beauty, it features a stained-glass skylight and original artwork, caricatures, portraits and photos of great poets lining the walls. (Av. de Mayo 829, 4342 4328)
Catalinas serves Mediterranean and international dishes in three elegant dining rooms, each painted by a well-known Argentinean artist. The three-course prix fixe menu, including Argentinean wine, is of excellent value. The eatery is especially noted for its grilled lamb chops. (Reconquista 850, 4313 0182)
La Estancia is another of the city's classic parrillas, specializing in beef grilled on a spit. They'll slice up as much tender beef as you can eat. (Lavalle 941, 4326 0330)
Broccolino, a casual family-run trattoria, takes its name from New York's Brooklyn, and boasts Brooklyn memorabilia and a mural of Manhattan's skyline. Pizzas, pastas and calamari sauteed in wine are among the favorite dishes. (Esmeralda 776, 4322 9848)
Dada Bistrot is the place to mingle with the locals. The decor of this snug bistro hasn't changed much in decades, but the kitchen produces hearty local dishes, including great steaks and pasta and wonderful desserts. (San Martin 941, 4314 4787)
Cafe Victoria offers a three-course lunch served on a shaded patio surrounded by flowers. Afternoon tea with scones is served at 4 p.m. The location is perfect if you are visiting the nearby Recoleta Cemetery. (Roberto M. Ortiz 1865, 4804 0016)
La Bourgogne is generally considered the best restaurant in the city, and one of the best in all of South America. French and continental dishes are served in an elegant formal dining room decorated in pastel hues. Reservations are required, as are jackets and ties for men. (Alvear Palace Hotel, 4805 3857)
Lola is a chic contemporary choice, bright and cheerful with caricatures of local personalities on the walls. A French-trained chef presides here in one of the city's best-known eateries. (Roberto M. Ortiz 1805, 4804 5959)
Chez Nous is the restaurant on-site at the Algodon Mansion, a Belle Epoque boutique hotel. The decor is as cutting edge as the cuisine, which fuses European and Argentine influence. The wine and some ingredients are from the hotel's sister property in Mendoza. (Montevideo 1647, 3535 1365)
Fervor makes a pleasant change from all the meat options, in that there is also an extensive seafood menu, much of it grilled on the parilla to sublime affect. It's not cheap, but the setting and the quality of the cuisine is worth it for a splurge. (Posadas, 1519)
Cabernet might be set in the heart of the trendy Palermo area, but a meal in the garden of this upmarket restaurant will transport you straight to Tuscany -- with a few surprises like lamb couscous -- and, of course, a grill with various steak cuts. The wine list, however, is thoroughly Argentinean. (1757 Jorge Luis Borges, 4831 3071)
Pain Et Vin is a really lovely wine bar which offers wine tasting (750 ARS per person) and a limited but supremely tasty menu based on Israeli chef Ohad's absolute passion for bread, which is all naturally fermented, handmade and baked in a wood-fired oven, and perfectly complements the wine. Menu items include prosciutto, quinoa salad, prawns and meatballs as well as a rather incongruous mac 'n' cheese! The wines are all Argentinian and sourced from small, independent vineyards. (Gorritti 5132)
Aldo's, located in an Art Deco building a few meters from Plaza de Mayo, is a modern brasserie with 500 bottles of wine on display sold at retail prices. The food draws on Italian influences, with the fresh pasta being especially notable. (372 Moreno, 5291 2380)
La Brigada is a BA institution, founded in 1992, and offering some of best and widest choice of cuts and wine selection in the city. Packed, noisy and fun, its centerpiece is the parilla (grill) where you can watch your steak sizzle before it's served. (Estados Unidos, 463)
Don't Miss in Buenos Aires
Plaza de Mayo: The city's stately historic center includes the Metropolitan Cathedral, dating to the 18th century, and a host of majestic buildings including the Casa Rosada, the pink palace where Eva Peron addressed adoring crowds from the balcony. The May Pyramid, guarded by tall palm trees in the center of the square, commemorates the 1810 revolution. The square is the setting of modern-day protests, including an encampment of Falklands War veterans calling for pension rights and by the Mothers of the Disappeared, whose children were abducted, tortured and killed by the military regime in the 1970s and 1980s.
Recoleta Cemetery: The hub of the Recoleta neighborhood -- one of the city's swankiest addresses -- is the Recoleta Cemetery, where the ancestors of the city's aristocracy are buried. Begun in 1822, this amazing cemetery is a virtual crypt city of tall and elaborate tombs and mausoleums covering four square blocks. It's one of the city's most visited attractions. The monument most people seek out is the simple dark marble crypt belonging to the Peron family, where their most famous daughter, Eva Peron, the wife of late President Juan Peron, is buried. The heroine of the city's working class now rests surrounded by the very families who once despised her lower-class origins. The cemetery's Gothic and art nouveau monuments have more elaborate and fascinating tombs, some with tragic stories attached, and it's worth a couple of hours' exploration with a guide.
On weekends, don't miss the colorful crafts and souvenir market that takes place around the Plaza Intendente Alvear, just below the cemetery, an event livened by street performers.
La Boca: Many of the city's first Italian immigrants settled this neighborhood, building corrugated iron houses along its cobbled streets. It is also said that the tango was born there. Now it's home to artists, who have painted the metal houses in bright reds, yellows, blues and greens, an echo of the former inhabitants, whose poverty led them to use paint remnants for decoration. Lively Caminito, a multi-hued pedestrian walkway, is a marketplace for artists and craftsmen and a block where you are likely to see couples doing the tango for tourist dollars to the tune of a guitar or the traditional accordion known as the bandoneon. Today it's given over almost completely to tourism, with every shop selling overpriced tourist tat and restaurants offering up mediocre fare. It's an essential stop on every tourist itinerary, but no longer represents the Buenos Aires of today. The atmosphere changes at night, and it's advisable not to go wandering around here after dark.
La Boca is also home to the Boca Juniors, the most famous soccer club in Argentina. You can admire the stadium from afar or take a guided tour.
Graffitti has long been a major urban problem in BA, and to tackle that a few years ago the authorities designated a number of warehouses as blank canvases for street artists. The result: Truly stunning street art from local hero Ron Martin to international street artist, Bansky. The best way to see this is on a guided bike tour.
Museum of Fine Arts: Featuring both Argentine and European artists, including Toulouse-Lautrec, Rodin and Van Gogh, and MALBA (Avenida Pres. Figueroa Alcorta 3415), a stunning modern building housing a private collection of contemporary Latin American art that includes work by Frida Kahlo. (Av. Del Libertador 1473; Tuesday through Friday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; closed Monday)
National Museum of Decorative Arts: Housed in a French-inspired villa, the museum offers European paintings, tapestries and furniture, Chinese art and miniatures from the Russian empire. (Avda del Libertador 1902; Tuesday through Sunday 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.)
Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences: You'll find a great wealth of information about the natural history of the country here, including some of the local dinosaur skeletons the country has become famous for; a geology room and an aquarium. (Defensa 1600; Tuesday through Sunday 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.; closed Monday)
Museo Evita: This museum details the life of Eva Peron through films, photographs and a collection of personal items. It is located in another former mansion turned into a shelter for homeless women and children by Peron herself. (Lafinur 2988; Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; closed Monday)
Colon Theatre: One of the most opulent opera houses in the world, the Colon has hosted everyone from Enrico Caruso to Luciano Pavarotti since its inauguration in 1908. Guided tours of the seven-tier theater with its grand central chandelier are available. (Cerrito 628. Tours daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., departing every 15 minutes, with the exception of Sunday performances.)
Parks and Gardens: More than 8,000 species of plants from throughout South America can be found at the botanical garden in Palermo. It adjoins the Buenos Aires Zoo, known for its white tigers. Also, the adjacent Tres de Febrero Park features 1,000 strollable acres with rose and Japanese gardens, lakes and meandering streams. The park is a great people-watching spot on Sundays. Not so much a park as an eco-reserve, the Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur, is a vast area of wetlands, containing, lakes, pampas grass, willows and shrubs and is home to more than 200 bird species alone. It's a few minutes' walk (or cycle) from the city center and is adjacent to Puerto Madero and the River Plate. It's crisscrossed by cycle paths and is a perfect spot for cycling, walking, picnicking or just getting away from the hectic city.
Soccer: Buenos Aires goes gaga over soccer, and attending a match is a gala experience, with street parties in full swing on the day of the game. You fall into two camps if you live in Buenos Aires: You either support the Boca Juniors, the country's most popular club, or River Plate. Boca gave the world Diego Maradona, whose famous look-alike earns a decent living being photographed with tourists in the surrounding area. Both teams attract fanatical supporters and games are an unforgettable spectacle, but be sure to buy a ticket in the seated platea baja area, not the popular (standing) zone. Boca Juniors also has its own museum at the La Bombonera stadium. Tours to the museum and tickets for matches at both clubs can be bought via tour operators. League fixtures take place between August and May. (River Plate Stadium: Avenida Pres. Figueroa Alcorta 7597. (0)11 4789 1200. La Bombonera: Brandsen 805, near San Telmo)
Tango: No one should leave Buenos Aires without taking in a tango show. The Argentines have perfected this dance to its most seductive and romantic. Small, intimate tango bars can be found throughout the San Telmo and La Boca districts, but the larger shows frequented by tourists at places such as La Ventana, Esquina Carlos Gardel, the Las Vegas-style Senor Tango or El Viejo Almacen (voted the no. 1 show on TripAdvisor), are also wonderful spectacles. Expect to pay in the region of $80 per person, which includes a three-course dinner and a one-and-a-half hour show. The ultra-hip Faena Hotel in Puerto Madero offers a smoldering show, Rojo Tango. If you are smitten and want to learn the dance, spots such as Le Catedral in Almagro and Complejo Tango offer lessons, guaranteed to be a fun experience.