Steak reigns supreme in Argentina. The country is famous for its grass-fed beef, in all cuts and iterations. The asado is a traditional Argentine meal in which friends and family gather for the better part of a day to enjoy a marathon Barbeque. If you’re visiting Buenos Aires, a trip to a parilla to enjoy a steak and some Malbec is a must.
Buenos Aires has very Italian roots, and they follow the Italian tradition of letting the food speak for itself. You won’t find many different sauces and spices served along with their food.* Instead, restaurants focus on using high-quality ingredients to bring out the foods’ natural flavor. Argentine beef is a shining example of this philosophy. Steak-houses in the area tend to stick to a no-frills philosophy, allowing the food to be the star.
In addition to the high quality of their beef, the manner in which Argentines cook and prepare their asados is a point of pride. Meat is never cooked over a gas grill. Instead, the chef will prepare a large fire of wood and/or charcoal to cook the meat. This is all part of the ritual of the meal…the asadero meticulously tends to the fire to ensure the coals reach exactly the right temperature to cook the perfect steak. The “grill” is called a parilla (pah-ree-sha). You will see them in various forms, from a brick chimney structure to a large open fire pit. When you see a restaurant called “Parilla ____”, you can guarantee they’ll be serving up some steak and tasty traditional fare.
The art of preparing the meat is a very careful practice. You’ll see seasoned asaderos show up to prepare Sunday barbeque with their own grill tools and knife set. After working for hours over the coals, when everyone sits down to enjoy the meal, it is customary to applaud the chef for their hard work.
Steak is typically cooked “low and slow” over the coals on the parilla, so steaks tend to be cooked a little bit longer. If you prefer your steaks on the rare side, be sure to indicate this to your waiter. When ordering a steak, you can ask for the following:
– Medium Rare: Jugoso (who-go-so)
– Medium: A Punto (ah poon-toe)
– Well-Done: Bien Cocido (bee-yen co-see-doh)
The cuts of meat in Argentina are different than what you’ll find in a standard supermarket. They also tend to use the WHOLE cow, for better or for worse. Below is a guide of what and how to order to get a delicious steak dinner when you’re out and about on the town.
Cuts of Meat:
Bife de Lomo: This cut is close to Tenderloin or a Filet Mignon, order it on the rare side and you can’t go wrong
Bife de Chorizo: This is like a Sirloin – big and beefy, cooked with the fat in so the buttery flavor melts in
Asado de Tira: Beef Short Ribs
Bife Ancho: Ribeye
Costillas: Baby Back Ribs
Costillitas de cordero: Rack of Lamb
Chorizo: (Spiced Sausage) A trip to Buenos Aires isn’t complete without trying a Chori-Pan (this sausage on a sandwich). Even the pickiest palette will love this tasty treat.
Morcilla: (Blood sausage) I’m a big fan, but it’s not to everyone’s taste. It comes in sausage-form, and the best way to eat it is to cut it open and spread it over bread like a pate.
Mollejas: (Sweetbreads) Very tasty when they’re grilled and crispy. Try with lemon and salt.
Chinchulines: (Instestines) This might be for the more daring foodie. They can be very good when prepared correctly (cleaned out and crispy off the grill)
Riñon: (Kidney) I am NOT a fan personally, but give it a try if you’re feeling adventurous!
Best Steak Restaurants in Buenos Aires:
Cabaña de Las Lilas: Puerto Madero, Alicia Moreau de Justo 516: This upscale restaurant in the modern and bustling Puerto Madero neighborhood provides an incredible steak dinner in a fine dining atmosphere. Cabaña is arguably the most well-known and respected steak-house in the city.
Don Julio: Palermo Soho, Guatemala 4691: Don Julio offers a high quality meal with a very classic old-school Argentine vibe. It is an upscale steakhouse located in the trendy Palermo Soho neighborhood, but still maintains its authentic feel. This is my favorite steak restaurant in the area, as it combines fantastic food with a great atmosphere.
La Cabrera: Palermo Soho, Cabrera 5127: This is a steak restaurant staple in Palermo. I’ve brought everyone who came to visit me here. Only order one steak for two people…I PROMISE! They’re sized to be shared. The restaurant will also bring you all these tiny dishes of sides that come with your meal. I strongly recommend making a reservation (although while you wait, they’ll serve you champagne and chori-pans…bonus!)
Desnivel: San Telmo, Defensa 821: Desnivel is in the historic, bohemian San Telmo neighborhood. Here you’ll find a young, hip mix of locals and tourists tucking in to some traditional fare at this casual parilla. This is a great stop for a late lunch or dinner after perusing San Telmo’s famous Sunday market.
* One exception to the sauce rule is chimichurri…which you should definitely apply liberally to your Chori-Pan (description above).
Inspirato’s hotel partner the Four Seasons is located in the heart of Recoleta. If you’re craving a South American foodie adventure, contact your PVA for more details.