Buenos Aires is the place to go when you want to eat like a prince on the dime of a pauper. Despite the fact that inflation is rampant and three years ago your dollar would have gone much further, it´s still an amazing deal if you know what to look for.
Oddly enough, when you compare cheap food in BsAs to cheap food in say, Houston, it would be tough to say you are better off. You could easily get a donut & coffee or a mountain of nachos and a margarita at happy hour for a better price in Texas. The trick is to shoot high-end. Buenos Aires is teeming with places which would charge an arm and a leg elsewhere. High quality delicious food is yours for the taking if you´re willing to shell out just a few more dollars.
For the wino: Bar du Marche. Between 6-8 pm on weeknights, head to this charming French-inspired bistro in Palermo, where you are provided with a cheese list. . . pick three, and the knowledgeable bartenders will expertly pair your picks with three generous sized tasting glasses of wine. The best part? Three wines, three cheese, bread, and olives ring up at 220 pesos – about $14 USD.
For the adventurer: Zanjon del Gato. Hidden behind a garage door until 8 pm, the metal slides up to reveal this hole-in-the-wall gem. The menu is short and expertly designed, and we really enjoyed everything we had. Dishes vary between small, medium and large portions, and prices from 70 – 140 pesos, between $4.50 – $9. Or, have a total blow out and go for the mainstay on the menu, a 1 kg (yes, 1 kg, you read that right) T-bone steak, served with cheesy mashed potatoes, roasted cherry tomatoes, and criolla salsa. The will only serve it rare or medium-rare out of respect. Still ringing in at only 600 pesos for AT LEAST two people, about $39. Are you kidding?
For the traditionalist: you may have heard this before, but Buenos Aires is perhaps be the best place in the world to get a steak, and I am guessing you won´t disagree once you try it. Parrilla Pena is by no means a pretty place – bad lighting, dated décor, and somewhat brisque waiters. But it has a charm all the same and the meat is some of the best you will find. Homemade empanadas are delivered in a flurry upon arrival – with juicy hand-chopped carne and spices inside a crispy flaky crust. The classic cuts are available as in any other parrilla (steakhouse), but the prices are divine. Bife de chorizo, a slightly fattier version of tenderloin, is always a safe bet. The skirt steak is my personal favourite.
For the Hipster: Aramburu Bis. Aramburu Bis is the little sister of Aramburu, considered one of the best restaurants in the city, and with prices to match. Bis, in contrast, is a little grungier, a little rougher, and a lot cheaper. The food is fabulous – a small selection of starters, pastas, meats, and desserts. I had the daily fish, served with eggplant puree and grilled vegetables, while my friend went for the Sorrentinos – an Argentine twist on Ravioli, filled with squash, honey, cheese, and served with leek cream sauce. A single main dish runs about $13, or you can opt for a tasting menu – choice of 2 starters, 2 mains, and 2 desserts, for 420 pesos, or $27 USD. The same menu with 5 matched glasses of wine is 550 pesos, or $35. Seriously. Just writing the prices makes me cry with confusion.
BONUS: Hidden below the restaurant is the seriously hipster bar with the appropriate name of Under. The cocktails are spot on. Go here if you don´t mind very dark spaces, feeling like you are in a bunker, and a bit of edge.
For the Seafood Lover: Roux has been around for a while and continues to delight diners with fresh ideas on traditional plates. They know what to do with seafood and fish, often not a guarantee in Buenos Aires. The Patagonian trout with cauliflower puree, black olive crumble, baby calamari and fresh seasonal vegetables was DIVINE. On my first visit, a first course of squid ink tagliatelli, soft-poached egg, giant squid from the Antarctic, baby calamari from the Maldives, and a finish of lemon, lemongrass, and Patagonian trout caviar. . . let´s just say I was blown out of the water. Bad joke. The chef is an expert at taking local ingredients and making them jive so well together. Main dishes run between $13-21 USD.
For the Modernist: Puratierra in Belgrano is the ticket for delightful twists on traditional Argentine recipes. Chef Martin Molteni has won all kinds of awards and Puratierra is his laboratory.
We tested the waters during BA Food Week, a yearly event offering 3 course special menus at selected restaurants, including aperitif, for 390 pesos. Definitely a luxury for less pricetag. Glasses of champagne were whisked to our table and a basket of warm bread with lemon butter followed.
I started with the terrine – a creamy combination of chicken, pistachios, and spices, served with herbs, pickled onions and cabbage. The other starter option was burrata, creamy rich mozzarella served with bell peppers and tomatoes. The main event was one of the best things I´ve tasted in the city. Rich roast pork, slow cooked to the point of fork tender, served in a spiced honey glaze, together with spicy organic arugula, glazed purple cabbage, roasted plums, and spring onions. The combination of fatty meat with sweet and spicy was out-of-control. The finale was also perfection – we all wanted to lick the plate. A generous scoop of bitter chocolate mousse was balanced with a citrus lemon curd and sweet chocolate crumble. The other option, though nobody at my table tried it, was likely just as good – red berry mousse with lemon cream, marshmallow, and cashews.
The balance of flavours and service at Puratierra is spot on – definitely worth a visit.
For the Sweet Tooth: Smeterling patisserie is a shop expert in proper French baking. Odd, since the name means butterfly in German, but OK. If you want a damn fine macaron, a perfect little apple tart, or an éclair, come here. Even come just for the smell – the scent of melted butter and roasted coffee beans surrounds the entire shop.