5 Restaurants Reinvigorating the Buenos Aires Food Scene
As a new wave of ambitious chefs redefines the formerly tradition-bound restaurant scene in Buenos Aires, longtime visitor Peter Kaminsky highlights several spots leading the way.
For many years, my annual fishing trip to Patagonia has included a stop off in Buenos Aires, where the food never seemed to change much beyond the excellent grilled-meat restaurants and simple neighborhood joints serving breaded minute steaks and pasta in red sauce to porteños, as residents of the Argentine capital are known. More recently, however, the city has witnessed a full-blown dining renaissance. Young chefs trained in Europe and the U.S. are breathing new life into the traditional cuisine, introducing artisanal breads and cheeses, fermented fruits and vegetables, and unexpected international flavors, notably—thanks to an influx of Colombian and Peruvian cooks—lots of spicy chiles. At these five not-to-miss spots, next-generation talents are changing up old porteño favorites and reinvigorating Buenos Aires’s food scene.
Although I never thought of washing down a ballpark frank with a gin and tonic, that’s basically what the chef-owners at La Carnicería, along with cocktail impresario Tato Giovannoni, offer at Chori. The fast-food-style restaurant’s name honors choripán, the ubiquitous sausage on a bun consumed at every soccer stadium across Argentina. But Chori’s are no garden-variety sausages. And you likely won’t come across Príncipe de los Apóstoles, a small-batch gin infused with yerba maté, at a match either. “Instantly franchise-able” is a phrase that comes to mind when you see the decor, featuring blazing yellow walls covered with cartoon sausages and condiments. I loved the classic chori, served with lettuce, tomato, and mayo, livened up with oregano and ají chile. Lamb sausage comes with caramelized red onions, huacatay (Peruvian black mint), and crisped sweet potato threads. And—a first for me—there’s sausage made with fish, topped with rocoto chile and ají amarillo. As a side, try a small cup of grilled corn, fresh mozzarella, and tomato-onion salsa. You’ll likely have to wait in line, but Chori has a drinks trolley that cruises the picturesque side street. Go for the gin and tonic with a sprig of singed rosemary. Thames 1653, 54-11-3966-9857.
2. Los Galgos
If you are a fan of cocktails, how could you not love a place that has negronis on tap? Opened in 1930, Los Galgos—which means “the greyhounds”—was a popular café and vermutería that served breakfast and sandwiches alongside vermouth cocktails in the heart of the city’s business district. In 2015, Julián Díaz, who is at the forefront of the city’s new wave of mixology at his wildly popular 878, finished a restoration and culinary upgrade of Los Galgos. Díaz and his partners installed a parrilla, or grill, as well as taps for craft beer, vermouth, and those negronis. He also brought in Magalí Zanchi, a talented young chef who prepares all of the defining dishes of porteño cuisine, including puchero, the Argentine version of France’s pot-au-feu or Spain’s national dish, cocido. Per tradition, puchero is served in three courses: rich broth and noodles, followed by marrow bones, and, finally, braised meats. In a creative twist, Zanchi’s puchero comes with a dipping sauce of homemade mustard made with Torrontés wine vinegar and wasabi—which most definitely is not a traditional condiment. Ave. Callao 501, 54-11-4371-3561.
3. La Alacena
It always feels like a bright, unhurried Sunday morning at La Alacena in Palermo, even when it’s two in the afternoon on a Wednesday. Run by chefs and close friends Mariana Bauzá and Julieta Oriolo, the women are also the bakers, greeters, and seaters at this light, airy restaurant and its adjoining bakery. La Alacena is open all day, serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Long-fermented sourdough bread and flaky croissants are all made in-house. So is the tagliatelle pasta, a staple at old-time bodegones porteños (neighborhood hangouts). Here, it’s served with a bright, lemon-inflected carbonara sauce featuring guanciale cured by Pietro Sorba, the food writer and reigning authority on porteño cuisine. Fainá (chickpea pan bread), a standby of traditional pizzerias and bodegones, is topped with a swipe of ricotta and served with a side of peperonata goosed with spicy ají chile. Chicken livers almost melt into a bed of deeply caramelized onions with crisped, creamy polenta and capers. Like many of the new Buenos Aires chefs, Bauzá and Oriolo shop in Chinatown. It’s where they buy the fresh sardines they cure and serve with sautéed chard, chickpeas, raisins, and braised celery—or whatever combination speaks to them on any given day. Veal meatballs, stewed in tomatoes from Argentina’s Mendoza wine region and served with a dollop of fresh mozzarella, are surprisingly light, a term I’ve never before used to describe a meatball. Gascón 1401, la-alacena.format.com.
4. La Carnicería
In a city famed for meat, La Carnicería (its name means “butcher shop”) serves the oversize rib eyes and chops that you expect to find in any Buenos Aires restaurant worth its salt—and salt is abundantly showered on its crusty, charred meats served straight from the parrilla. If you’re sharing, which I recommend, one steak will do for two people… or three… maybe four. The meat, free-range and grass-fed, comes from chef-owner Germán Sitz’s family farm and is cooked over wood fire. A thick, juicy sausage, from the farm’s pigs, arrives in a cast-iron skillet with crisped small potatoes, English peas, and two fried eggs. Argentines refer to this last flourish as a caballo—“on horseback.” A family-style portion of burnt cabbage with broccoli, peas, Parmesan cheese, and garlic-laced yogurt holds its own against all of La Carnicería’s meats. You can taste the influence of Sitz’s Colombian-born partner Pedro Peña in what I think of as a gaucho ceviche: thin slices of rump steak marinated in lime and bracing tiger’s milk, tossed with pickled red onions, celery, and sweet potatoes, set in a halo of pureed ají amarillo. It’s absolutely brilliant. Thames 2317, 54-11-2071-7199.
You could be forgiven if, arriving at Proper, you thought your GPS was off. The place looks more like an underfunded government office. Or maybe a car repair shop, which it was before becoming an always-busy restaurant, recently named among Latin America’s 50 Best, where a wood-burning oven, à la Francis Mallmann, is the centerpiece. Chef Leo Lanussol earned his culinary chops at El Celler de Can Roca—the Spanish restaurant twice ranked No. 1 in the World’s 50 Best—and his hipster certification at Frankies 457 Spuntino in Brooklyn. The menu at Proper offers large and small plates, including slices of sourdough (made from green apple sourdough starter) served with house-cured anchovies from nearby Mar del Plata and fresh-off-the-churn butter. Housemade sausages are paired with pickled fennel and caramelized cane syrup infused with guajillo and ancho chiles. Crispy kale and chunks of wood-smoked potato temper the piquancy of Patagonzola cheese, an artisanal Patagonian take on Gorgonzola. Among my chief meat memories—and what trip to Argentina doesn’t have a few?—is Proper’s chuleta de cerdo, a double-thick, juicy pork chop with a finishing coat of mustard and krain, a Yiddish word for horseradish Argentines adopted in the absence of a common Spanish translation. Aráoz 1676, 54-11-4831-0027.