As a Thanksgiving tribute, I felt I should honor food with a blog post— specifically, in this case, Argentine cuisine. While you are probably skimming this with a full load of cranberry-soaked turkey in your belly, my singular goal with this blog is to make you more hungry.
Food is an essential part of Argentine culture. Argentines are very ethnocentric in their cuisine: there isn’t a single Chinese, Mexican, or Indian restaurant in Tucumán (a city of 800,000 people). Jimi told me before we left: “If you don’t like Argentine food, we might have a problem.” (Side note: I brought a jar of peanut butter, in case of emergencies.) Much of their food has Italian roots, but there are a lot of “Argentine twists”.
So, here it is. From the dozens of restaurants and hole-in-the-walls we have visited during our travels so far, these are the top ten authentically Argentine meals we have enjoyed:
- Doña Julia’s, La Boca, Buenos Aires. I have to start with Argentine “Street Food”. One of the highlights from our recent trip to Buenos Aires was visiting La Boca and devouring the best choripan ever with our new Swiss friend. Choripan is grilled sausage on a roll, doused with chimichurri sauce and salsa golf (a mixture of mayo and ketchup). I could compare it to the American bratwurst, but that would not do choripan justice. It is juicy, flavorful, and utterly satisfying.
- Antares, Córdoba. The lomito sandwich is a staple of the Argentine diet. It is traditionally thin pieces of steak, layered with lettuce and tomato on two large pieces of bread. The Lomito Completo also includes a fried egg. While it is hard to find a bad lomito in Argentina, Jimi and I have created a very specific rating scale based solely upon one factor: can you bite through the meat as easily as the bread. This country has the most tender meat in the world.
- Homemade, Tucumán. Alongside the lomito is its close cousin, the milanesa sandwich. The key ingredient here is a thin slab of breaded steak. The texture is divine (but tends to be a bit more dry than the lomito, thus a serious need for some salsa golf). Milanesa also comes in a more uniquely Argentine form, the milanesa napolitana. The breaded steak is used as a base, and then layered with tomato sauce, ham and melted cheese. It’s like a pizza— only with a steak-crust (I’m already picturing Pizza Hut advertising steak-crust pizza)!
- Delivery, Tucumán. Pizza! Forget about ordering pepperoni or sausage here. In Argentina, it’s the traditional Italian Caprese and Napolitana pizzas. One popular pizza in particular is called Fugazzeta. It features sweet onions underneath a layer of melted cheese— no sauce necessary!
- Mi Nueva Estancia, Tucumán. Yes, more steak. Jimi has spent years telling me that his favorite restaurant in Tucumán is Los Negros. And it is quite wonderful. However, within a week of arriving in town, we followed our Lonely Planet guide to a restaurant called Mi Nueva Estancia. It rocked Jimi’s world. For our first lunch there, Jimi and I ordered a “Filet para Compartir” or a steak-to-share. Only an image will do this one justice:
That beautiful steak we had at lunch? That was $12 (180 pesos). A bottle of delicious Malbec? $8 (120 pesos). I have never been more excited to look at a bill!
- La Querencia, Posadas. Switching gears a little bit! On our way from Iguazu Falls to Buenos Aires, we stopped in the city of Posadas. Our guidebook said that they were known for their speciality galeto. Jimi had never heard of it, but we figured we’d give it a shot. Helllllloooooo chicken/bacon/parmesan on a sword. We literally died and went to Cielo de Pollo. Posadas is about 12 hours from Tucuman, but we are seriously considering going back for more!
- Aqva, Puerto Iguazu. Speaking of Iguazu Falls, I enjoyed an amazing birthday dinner at one of the nicest parillas (or steakhouses) in town. Jimi had another monster steak and I had mouth-watering Patagonian lamb on top of sweet potatoes. But the real star was our appetizer. It was a unique dish with all local, traditional ingredients. Since Puerto Iguazu borders both Brazil and Paraguay, we were able to get a little mix of all three countries in this dish. Combining the corn bread with palm hearts and slathering it all in the tomato-vinegar was absolutely delightful.
- Oviedo, Recoleta, Buenos Aires.Our fanciest meal to date was in Buenos Aires. The restaurant was given rave reviews in our Lonely Planet, which also noted that their speciality was suckling pig. Of course, we had to try it! Our server was delightful and informed us that they had just received a shipment of besugo (a fish? yes? yes.) from La Plata that was out of this world. We said, “Let’s do it” and handed in our menus before plunging into their bread and mysteriously delicious pink dipping sauce. The suckling pig was, in fact, divine. The flavor was rich and smooth, reminding me of pork belly appetizers (without the layers of fat). And the fish was great, but it was the rich, yellow sauce that was truly mind-blowing. After our feast, we debated whether or not spending 900 pesos on this meal meant it was truly 36x better than our 25 peso choripan. The jury is still out on that one.
- Cafe San Juan, San Telmo, Buenos Aires. In Argentina, you can’t judge a restaurant by its size. We were surprised to see that Cafe San Juan, run by celebrity TV-chef Leandro Cristobal, was a tiny hole-in-the-wall. Small wooden tables were crammed inside on the black and white checkerboard floor and our waiter held up a chalkboard with the day’s menu. We decided to try two of the tapas options and then split a main dish. First out was the smoked salmon. Each bite delivered a crunch of toast, a slip of salmon and a rich, pesto-like sauce. Then came the pastrami dish. My gosh. The most tender, flavorful strips of pastrami were complemented by a lightly garnished arugula salad and a small bite of tangy pickle. We were dying of happiness. Then our main dish, molleja canneloni, arrived. Smothered in a chunky marinara sauce, this canneloni was filled with delicious meat (a little Argentine twist). For you Spanish speakers out there, you might have already figured out that yes, molleja are cow tonsils (most English translations call them “sweetbreads” instead— I wonder why!). After enjoying molleja several times at parillas, I had gotten over my slight phobia of eating weird cow parts (why is it any different than eating flank?). It was a fantastic way to end our meal.
A Final Toast
- El Mentidero de Güemes, Córdoba. While Malbec is the traditional alcoholic beverage of choice in Argentina, there is a very unique hard alcohol that originated from Córdoba: fernet. Fernet is spicy— not hot spicy but rather layered with spices that prick your tongue when you drink it. It is typically mixed with coke and… well, I don’t like it nearly as much as a good ol’ Jack and Coke. But it’s different and local (and Jack is really expensive here because it’s imported), so cheers!
- La Brigada, San Telmo, Buenos Aires.— Cult favorite steakhouse in BA with a very classic, football theme
- Don Julio’s, Palermo, Buenos Aires. — Possibly the best steak in BA, but they don’t put ANY salt on their meat (a specific decision by the chef); add a little salt and it’s divine
- Il Postino, Tucumán.— One of our favorite spots in Tucumán to eat pizza and authentic tiramisu
- Setimio, Tucumán. — Our favorite wine bar in Tucumán; also happens to have the best pasta in town
- Alcorta, Córdoba.— Best steakhouse in Córdoba (but I’ve already told you about it, so it didn’t make this list)
- Cafe 25, Tucumán. — Possibly the world’s best quesadillas
- Cafe Filipo, Tucumán. — Best medialunas in Tucumán