If you are keeping up with my trip, you will know that I just came from Mendoza, home of Malbec. Now I am in the land of steak and red meat: Buenos Aires.
A very delayed flight and a short Uber (yes!) later from the city airport (so close!), we arrive at the Palermitano Hotel around 1 a.m. All the bars and steak restaurants we are passing on the way are alive and hopping, including Bar Isabella on floor 1 of our hotel. We need to learn how to stay up later, but for now, we check in and crash.
We wake up to a bit of a drizzly day. We have a great breakfast (full and included with hotel) and just decide to explore Palermo Soho, a cool neighborhood with shopping, bars, restaurants, etc. This is the kind of area that would have a house DJ playing on the sidewalk outside a store. And they did! I am determined to find a white linen shirt for New Years in Brazil. I check shop after shop after shop. I find out I am somewhere between an XXL and XXXXXXL in this country and most shops stop at XL… But I find one and it is fabulous!
We end up at Parilla Peña. Chowhound (the best foodie website, check it out) said this is the must, even locals love it. It did not disappoint. They open at 8:30pm, but we got there at 8:45 and although worried, we got seated right away, even though the restaurant is packed. The waiters are jovial and super happy to have tourists and locals there alike. They bring fried empanadas without even asking, we have provoleta (Argentine pulled-curd Provolone cheese made directly on the grill so it is melty and crunchy and chewy, Mocilla (blood sausage) and wash it down with some Mendoza Malbec. Piéce de resistance is the ojo de bife (rib eye)! We get the half and it is larger than any rib eye I have ever seen. Amazing and about $35/person, so pretty cheap for what you get (but not as cheap as BA apparently used to be 5-10 years ago!) El Ataneo Grand Splendid bookstore is a few blocks away, built in a 100 year old theatre, very cool, similar to Powell’s in Portland, a cathedral to books!
The next day we do the hop on, hop off bus tour. Great way to get a lay of the land in any city, but especially in this city, as to say it is sprawling is an understatement. It is like seeing a manhattan, next to a manhattan, next to a manhattan, etc. High rises clustered and everywhere. The architecture on any random street is amazing, a very walkable city with squares and statues commemorating historical figures everywhere. We also notice paired up Menorahs and Christmas trees in every park to remind us ’tis the season!
We end up at La Brigada in San Telmo (the old city). Cobblestone streets and the coolest of the coolest architecture. The restaurant vibe is kitschy cool. There is even a table of 5 women, multi-generational, all eating huge hunks of meat! Asado de Tira (cut is like Korean short rib cut, but thicker, wider, longer, more bones) is amazing! This is now officially the best steak I have ever had.
Tip – email hotel/concierge ahead of time and ask them to help you with reservations since it is just a local call for them in their language…
Tango time! We opt out of a tango dinner show, as although the show is supposed to be great, the dinner is always subpar and they are ridiculously expensive. Anne-Marie finds out a local Milonga (event hall that regularly hosts Tango evening) tour with Narrative Tango for $60/person. Our guide, Naomi says to meet us at 11 pm. Coffee needed! We go in and get a table and are officially persons 7, 8, and 9 to be in there, counting staff, still way too early… Naomi was a professional dancer, of Japanese descent, who had recently reached the finals of the Tango World Championship! She gives us the history of Tango and Milongas and clearly knows who’s who in the room as many come by to say hello. She explains that a Tango is a 4 song set and once you start dancing a set, it is not acceptable to stop mid-set, so choose a partner wisely or if unsure start during the 3rd or 4th song! Seriously. I try to make Naomi dance to make sure she truly is legit, but she explains you have to wait for a man to make eye contact with you, not the other way around. Eventually, she catches the eye of a top dancer and off she goes, amazing! We manage to stay up to see the main event, a famous couple gets a solo at 2 am. It is excellent, but I fade am going to miss the second solo and the time it really gets hopping between 3-6 am. Awesome experience, highly recommend going this route for Tango.
The next day we hit La Recoleta area and the famous cemetery. It is unlike anything you have ever seen. Elaborate, above-ground mausoleums (like New Orleans), but most descend down below street level for the bodies. A Brit who has been in Argentina for 20+ years offers us an under the table tour where we can pay whatever we want. He takes us around to Evita, presidents, a boxer who was robbed of the title during his fight with Durant, the richest of the richest families dating back to 1800, definitely no poor people. He gives us a lot of history and really makes the cemetery (pun intended) come alive. We give him $60 and per his recommendation hit El Sanjuanino for a fantastic Empanada lunch. From there we walked Alvear Avenida which is stunning and home to many upscale shops, embassies, and hotels on our way to Café Tortoni voted top 10 most beautiful café in the world for an iced coffee (it is summer here in December!)
Time for a special celebration since Anne-Marie really likes Christmas Eve. I find a dinner party at one of BA’s best restaurants, iLatina. It is pricey at $240/person, but it is a 6-course wine paired meal (yes, we like those…) with appetizers/cocktails and a midnight Espumoso (sparkling) toast. We arrive and are greeted with welcome mojitos and appetizers outside on their courtyard/sidewalk served from their food truck. We start mingling and find Christmas orphans like us from all over the world traveling through South America; a Brit couple teaching in Sao Paolo, a gay Aussie couple, two male cousins from Portland, a Kiwi and Italian couple living in the UK, a rich American with a Brazilian supermodel traveling for 9 months and many other characters. It is like an all-star Amazing Race episode! This is a Columbian chef, his Argentine wife as his sous chef, and his sister is the maître d’. It feels like a real family event now. Dinner is amazing, especially the Syrah and the slow-cooked pork, but only marginally better than the rest of the lineup to be honest! This is truly a spectacular meal, maybe the best of. Period. We ended up partying with new friends (patrons and staff alike!) til 1:30 am. We are really staying up late here!
Christmas day is rainy and the streets a are bit empty. But we got a ressie at another top steakhouse (recommended by a couple of groups of people we were wine tasting within Mendoza) for lunch. La Cabrera is very festive, friendly waiters like in any Parilla in Argentina, but we were hungover and I was (shock of all shocks) a bit steaked out. We ordered a couple of things, they were ridiculously huge. And they kept bringing free sides every few minutes. It was excessive. Recommend you just order steaks and trust other things are coming. Maybe even order ice water only and see what happens!
So iLatina was the best meal/experience (maybe ever), followed by La Brigada, Parilla Pena, and then La Cabrera. Other parilla’s we heard about were Manolo, Don Julio, Elena, and basically what I learned is any parilla someone recommends in Buenos Aires is going to be awesome!
Stay tuned for our next stop (and article), Uruguay!