You can find excellent steak around the world but what we ate in Argentina’s capital was on another level.
Obviously, the quality of the meat second to none. Happy grass fed cows roaming free in the pampas make juicy, flavourful beef and the asadors manning the grills in parillas are experts at achieving a perfect charred crust with tender a punto flesh.
What I wasn’t prepared for were the astonishing low prices, abundant portions, and the sheer ubiquity of great steak restaurants, parillas, on virtually every street. When I asked porteños (Buenos Aires natives) we met to name their favourite parilla, they often responded with a chuckle because there are simply so many, it is very difficult even for locals to choose.
It is all a bit overwhelming and the only thing to do is get stuck in!
A recommendation from an Aussie foodie traveller led us to Don Julio in the Palermo neighbourhood for our first BA parilla experience. The restaurant was heaving and we had to wait for a table (we took this as a good sign, particularly when the waitress gave us a couple of glasses of plonk on the house to help pass the time). The prices (we’re talking around £15 for a dictionary thick slab of steak) let us order with impunity: bife de lomo (fillet) and bife de chorizo (rib eye) with a bangin’ bottle of Malbec. Regretfully we were too content gorging to photograph anything on the leather-clad tables or bother remembering the name of the wine, although this image from the web will give you an idea of the place. This was Mark’s overall favourite restaurant we tried in BA.
Another top find was Gran Parilla del Plata, a former butcher shop in the San Telmo neighbourhood which still has butchers’ hooks and posters of the various cuts of beef around the room. This was my favourite – in part because of the side dishes. Garlic fried potatoes almost stole the show from the bife de chorizo mariposa (butterflied sirloin) we ordered to share: they must have used at least a couple of freshly crushed bulbs. The chimichurri and salsa verde condiments served as standard were fresh and full of flavour.
Des Nivel is a bit of an institution apparently – the asador at the front casually tending to huge piles of sausage, ribs, steak and more is certainly an impressive sight. Totally no-frills; some TVs bolted on the walls, tuned in to the latest football match are the main decoration.
We also savoured the sights and smells of the asados lining the streets of the San Telmo weekend antiques market.
We first heard about La Cabrera from Mark’s sister Gill, who decided the steak served here would have the honour of breaking her long-term vegetarianism. While any red meat would surely taste sublime to someone deprived of it for years, Gill’s recommendation was bolstered by several other sources, so we were keen to check it out.
Luckily Mark and I were joined by a new pal we met at our hostel – the quantity of food may well have defeated just the two of us. Just look at this beautiful 800g beast!
It’s like a hunk of dinosaur from Fred Flintstone’s table. La Cabrera definitely served us the most photogenic steak we had in BA, and the nibbles provided by the cover charge were the most plentiful, varied and interesting.
Sarkis in Palermo gave us some respite from all the steak – the popular, low price Armenian joint served lovely salads and mezze. As an afterthought we ordered some lamb to avoid any potential red meat withdrawal symptoms – better safe than sorry.
We also squeezed in a visit to Cafe Tortini, the oldest cafe in the city, for a quick coffee before the loud American tour groups and their obtrusive camera flashes became too annoying.
Before we left BA, we signed up to learn how to make empanadas (not unlike small Cornish pasties) at our hostel, along with a dozen or so others. There was a fun contest at the end for the best/most creative empanada – my effort won the prize of a free bar tab, woohoo! I may go into large-scale production back in England with my creation of meat stuffed, giant pretzel shaped empanadas. Definitely a gap in the market.
It may be a stretch to say Buenos Aires is paved with steak, but I will personally refer to Buenos Aires as “Steak City” from now on.