Essential Argentinian Eats
Author & Photographer: Daniella Morgan-Pascuavalca
I knew before embarking on a trip to Argentina that I would be in a food coma the entire trip, but I didn’t quite know the extent of it until I looked at my credit card bill. With the majority of our time spent in Buenos Aires, with just a few days in Mendoza, most of our food adventures took place in the country’s capital. To say it is the Paris of South America is an understatement. Although the architecture resembles a distant cousin, Buenos Aires’ heart and soul has been crafted by people far from its European counterpart. This city is short of lacking passion, tango, and most importantly: food. I could write an entire encyclopedia on Argentine cuisine, but to keep it short and sweet, here is the pocket handbook version.
No trip to Argentina would be complete without a belly-filling excursion to a parrilla. Parrilla refers to the open-hearth grill on which meat is cooked in these traditional restaurants. They resemble a steakhouse, but their atmosphere can range anywhere from a white tablecloth establishment to a small grill on the sidewalk. We went to a family-style restaurant which was bustling on a Tuesday night at 10 P.M. Not to mention, most of these restaurants do not open their doors until 8 and rarely get customers until 9. Listen to the waiters; they know how much food you need to order. My friend and I were a little ambitious and ended up rolling our way back home after an empathetic “Buena suerte, chicas” from the man sitting next to us. As a rule, do not order your meat well done. Argentines take this as an insult and would much rather prepare you a juicy steak than a charred sirloin.
Buenos Aires parrilla recommendation: Parrilla Peña
Another notable traditional restaurant in Buenos Aires: El Sanjuanino
In Mendoza: Maria Antoineta
Due to Argentina’s historical fling with Italy--namely a massive arrival of Italian immigrants in the 19th century--it is no surprise that Italian food can be found everywhere on Buenos Aires streets. If you’re filled to the brim with Argentine food, this is your second option. A full warning should be issued, however. Pizza in Argentina is not the traditional pizza we are used to in the US, or even in Italy. While most trendy Italian restaurants have the pizza we are most familiar with, exercise caution in smaller, more traditional restaurants. You may be excited to sink your teeth into a warm slice of pepperoni, only to find a slightly undercooked dough topped entirely with onions. The only credit these pizzas deserve is the fact that my friend’s family makes them every Friday to get the rest of their relatives together. So if you do decide to hit up an Italian restaurant and are weary of the pizza, stick to the wonderful pasta.
Notable Italian restaurants in Buenos Aires include: Las Delicias
In Mendoza: Orégano, La Marchigiana
Dulce de leche. The only three words you need to know when ordering ice cream in Argentina. Memorize them and you’re golden.
Buenos Aires: Persicco
Mendoza: Ferruccio Soppelsa
If these traditional restaurants aren’t really your scene, Buenos Aires is strewn with more trendy cafes, offering a wide selection of brunch, coffee, and dessert options. Although these aren’t as popular among older locals, the ones we visited are frequented by young people and can provide you with fast service often not encountered in larger restaurants. Here, you can get your fix of cafe con leche and medialuna pastries.
Buenos Aires: Möoi, Cafe Martinez
Saving the most traditional and fascinating drink to the end is mate. For those who associate mate with the canned kombucha-style drink popularized in the US, the real identity of yerba mate will come as a surprise. In parts of South America, namely Argentina, mate is a family-style tea served in a characteristic spherical cup with a straw. The cup - known as the matero - is packed half way with loose mate leaves and filled to the brim with hot water. However, it is not the taste of the mate that distinguishes itself, but the family practice. It is customary to share the mate, passing it around a table to friends and relatives alike. Receiving a cup of mate from my friend’s Argentine family was an honor. Unfortunately, for travelers eager to get a hand on a cup, due to the customary practice of sharing, this drink is not readily available in cafés. It is best to hope you know somebody who will invite you to drink mate and indulge in sugary facturas (pastries).