It was a tough task, since I truly believe Buenos Aires offers some of the best restaurant choices in the world, but I’ve finally put together a list of my favourites.
Please bear in mind some of these places may have changed since I lived there, but for the most part I’m recommending long-standing popular restaurants, so hopefully they’re still going strong.
BEST GRILLS & STEAKHOUSES
Forget steak. At this laidback but trendy parrilla (steakhouse) it’s all about the Ensalada Jacinta: a mouthwatering feast of a salad complete with huge slices of grilled pumpkin, sundried tomatoes, red peppers and lettuce, topped with grilled chicken breasts, fresh parmesan, sunflower seeds and a tangy-but-sweet mustard vinaigrette.
With a freshly squeezed orange juice and a complimentary bread basket and creamy dip, it’s hard to imagine you’ll still be hungry after this, but just in case, the dessert menu includes such typically sweet Argentine treats as the pancakes with dulce de leche or the Miranda super waffle.
The steak is pretty darn good too.
With a queue to the end of the block every night and a permanently chock-full restaurant, La Cabrera is one of Buenos Aires’s most popular steakhouses, and when you try the steak, it’s obvious why.
This restaurant in Palermo Viejo has a lively, busy vibe to it, with waiters bustling around from table to table and customers packed in to small tables in different nooks and crannies. The walls and ceilings are adorned with decorative plates, chandeliers made from spoons and forks and other random relics, all of which add to the charm and character of the place.
Start with empanadas and provoleta, a mouthwatering dish of grilled cheese with oregano. The steaks come in different sizes to suit all appetites – my fave was a 400g ojo de bife (ribeye) to share between two. Don’t be tempted to order loads of sides – the mains automatically come with oodles of complimentary dishes of different sauces, vegetables and accompaniments and you’ll struggle to find room for dessert.
El Obrero, in the heart of working-class neighbourhood La Boca, is a straightforward steakhouse that’s always been a hit with both tourists and locals. Despite its popularity, the restaurant has kept its prices low in comparison to the parrillas of upmarket Puerto Madero and hipster Palermo, so you can still get a great-value steak and a good bottle of wine for a decent price.
The restaurant has a real down-to-earth, friendly feel and is packed to the seams with diners. The bife de lomo is superb and side orders are enormous.
Just make sure you come by taxi – this is not an area you’d want to be wandering around at night.
Cabaña Las Lilas is one of the most expensive restaurants in one of the capital’s most touristy areas, but it’s still worth a trip. This parrilla is located in Puerto Madero, the old industrial port area that got a major makeover in the 90s and noughties with redevelopment by the likes of Santiago Calatrava and Norman Foster. It’s worth coming here at any time of day or night to see Calatrava’s iconic Puente de la Mujer bridge and take a stroll around the waterfront, and Cabaña Las Lilas is as good a place as any to sit by the waterside and people-watch over dinner and drinks.
Start with the house cocktail of gin, peach pulp and champagne, then check out the different cuts of steak on show in the kitchen as you watch the chefs at work. The starter platters of chargrilled vegetables, cheese and cold meats are a must, and the pollo de campo grilled free-range chicken is a terrific option if you’ve already eaten your own body weight in steak that week.
I’ve been to Cabaña Las Lilas several times over the years and the service has been hit and miss, but the food remains pretty constant, even with the ever-increasing prices.
BEST FOR SUSHI
It’s no secret that Lima is home to Latin America’s best sushi and ceviche, but I’d say Buenos Aires comes a close second, packed with top-quality Peruvian-Japanese restaurants. My favourite of these is Osaka, a pricey, upmarket restaurant in trendy Palermo Hollywood district.
Ask for a seat on the terrace (if you don’t mind the smokers) and order a refreshing pisco sour cocktail and some tiraditos – strips of raw fish served on porcelain spoons and marinated in sauces such as passionfruit and lemon. The ceviche tasting selection and the teriyaki balsamic butter-seared beef fillet also make great choices.
Book in advance on weekends and don’t forget your cash as Osaka only takes Amex or local credit and debit cards.
Tô, named after French chef Toufic Reda, is a trendy restaurant in Palermo Hollywood serving up ‘Frapanese’ cuisine – that’s French-Japanese to me and you. Reda has created exciting dishes such as the red tuna tartare with wasabi, ‘fake caviar’ and quail’s egg yolk, and the Le Kobe Tô trio of kobe beef tartare, mini kobe beef-burger and kobe beef ‘tataki’.
The food is original and excellent and the cocktails are great, but it doesn’t quite measure up to Osaka in ambience and food quality.
This Peruvian ceviche restaurant in Palermo Hollywood offers 25% discount and a complimentary glass of champagne for women-only groups every Wednesday night, so I went with a group of girlfriends for a few cocktails and some sushi.
The decked patio area out the back of the restaurant is great for enjoying warm evenings, and the inside of the restaurant is lined with purchasable art and cool decor. We tried a few of the more creative sushi dishes, including the Honey Mustard Roll of Tempura chicken, lettuce and avocado with honey and mustard sauce and the Golden Roll of Philadelphia cheese, langoustine, mango and passionfruit sauce. There’s also a vast menu of hot dishes, including Peruvian classics such as lomo salteado.
Ceviche is pretty pricey, but there are always discounts available so be sure to check local Spanish-language guide Guia Oleo for vouchers first.
8. Frank’s Bar
Visit this Speakeasy’s Twitter page every Tuesday for their clues to the weekly “secret password”. Once you’ve cracked it, look out for bouncers on dimly lit Arévalo and give them the password in exchange for another code. This will get you through the secret door in the Doctor Who-style phone box, which opens out onto an indoor alleyway and a discreet sex shop.
Once inside the velvet-walled main bar, enjoy well-made cocktails served in jam jars. Table service is provided on the mezzanine level, as are decent bar snacks and tapas.
BEST FOR BRUNCH
Oui Oui, a cute little French café in Palermo Hollywood, is packed to the rafters every Saturday and Sunday for brunch. The short and sweet menu offers simple classics like omelettes with salad, scrambled eggs or a croque madame. Enjoy all this with freshly squeezed orange juice and a pot of tea for a delightful Sunday morning.
Oui Oui doesn’t take reservations so there’s often a wait, but if you’re as lucky as we were, you might turn up just at the right time to get one of the little wooden tables outside in the shade.
Olsen, so popular it doesn’t even seem to need a website or a Facebook page, is a Scandi-cool vodka bar and restaurant that also does a mean brunch.
Book in advance to avoid disappointment and allow extra time to work out the slightly mind-boggling menu system. Olsen’s brunch options include typical Scandinavian smorrebrod open sandwiches, omelettes or potato pancakes. The open outdoor dining area is great for sunny Sunday afternoons and it’s a great option for when you’re all steaked out and fancy something lighter, like scrambled eggs and gravlax.
BEST OF THE REST
Grappa is said to be one of the best pizza restaurants in Palermo Hollywood, but I much prefer Bakano, which does delicious fresh pizzas with basil, mozzarella and rocket. For delivery, book through Facebook and get a 20% discount, and if you’re extra hungry, try a sweet pizza such as dulce de leche and banana.
For coffee and alfajores (chocolate biscuit sandwiches filled with dulce de leche), go to any café in the Havanna chain. You can’t miss it – there’s one on practically every street in Argentina. My favourite is the dark chocolate Havannet, a cone with a cakey, biscuity base and filled with sticky dulce de leche. Order a coffee and you’ll also get some complimentary biscuits.
Finally, if you find yourself in search of a sandwich or light lunch in the downtown Microcentro, head for Green Eat on Reconquista, which does delicious, great-value sushi boxes, takeaway stir-fries and healthy salads.
BEST GIVE IT A MISS
Featured in Wallpaper, Vogue and Condé Nast Traveler for its style, decor and clientele, Isabel in Palermo Soho is easily one of Buenos Aires’s coolest bars. The main room features a seven-metre-long bar covered entirely in mirrors (presumably so the beautiful clientele can check themselves out all evening) and the piece de résistance is the ceiling lined with lights that change according to the music.
We had some fantastic sushi and cocktails at Isabel but we were disappointed to be shoved near the doorway in a booth clearly reserved for its less-cool clientele. The staff were pretty snooty and refused to turn down the air conditioning while I sat shivering in a slinky dress (essential attire for this most hipstery of joints) and the service wasn’t great.
While I’m glad I paid a visit to Isabel to check out the cool interior, I get the feeling if you’re not in the top 1% of Argentina’s most beautiful elite, you’re probably not welcome. (If you don’t believe me, check out the photos on Isabel’s Facebook page). Go at your peril!
Tips for Buenos Aires dining:
- Local Spanish-language online guide Guia Oleo is always worth checking out for discounts and vouchers.
- Details and addresses for all the restaurants mentioned in this blog can be found in the links to the names.
- Finally, beware of sky-high inflation in Argentina. Even if you’ve been to a restaurant before, it’s worth checking out the prices each time because there’s every chance they’ve risen since your last visit.