No trip to Argentina would be complete without sampling a true slice of local culture: world-famous prime beef. In Buenos Aires, where the air is laced with the intoxicating aroma of cooking meat whatever the time of day, you’ll find a limitless array of mouth-watering parrillas (Argentine steakhouses) that range from old-world and traditional to sleek and upscale. Here is our pick of the city’s top ten.
Restaurant, Argentina, South American, $$$
Set among the chic boutiques of the trendy Palermo district, the vaunted La Cabrera is tipped as one of the city’s top steakhouses due to its expertly prepared, rosemary-flavoured steaks. They are served sizzling in 200gr or 400gr sizes on long wooden boards alongside an assortment of tasty side dishes, including pureed squash and quail egg potato salad. The eclectic paraphernalia and dapper waiters dressed up in berets, known as boinas, add to the restaurant’s enduring allure. While the opening of the sister restaurant La Cabrera Norte has helped shorten the nightly queues, it’s best still to book in advance to secure a table.
Among the many parrillas that line the picturesque dockland of Puerto Madero, Cabaña las Lilas stands out from the rest for its impeccable service and high-quality fare, including sizzling succulent ojo de bife (rib eye) and chunky lomo (tenderloin) that are sourced from the restaurant’s own herd of pasture-raised cows. In an effort to prove the tenderness of their cuts, the waiters put on a show as they stand tableside and slice each steak with a spoon; a gimmick that doesn’t fail to raise a smile from the most seasoned steak eater.
Found in Buenos Aires’s Palermo neighbourhood, the family-run Don Julio is a traditional parrilla, brimming with character thanks to its rustic-chic decor and smartly dressed waiters. With its exposed brick walls stacked with old wine bottles bearing signatures of past guests, the dining room overlooks an open kitchen where expectant diners can watch their juicy cuts being grilled to perfection. The affable staff are more than happy to explain the various cuts of meat on offer, from chinchulins to (chitterlings) to morcilla(blood sausage) and point out the best wine to complement each cut.
For something a little bit special, try Adentro Dinner Club, a closed-door restaurant hosted by American-Argentine couple Kelly and Gabriel. Their aim is to give visitors a taste of an authentic asado, traditional barbecues that gather friends and families for endless hours of meat-munching and malbec-swilling that have become a cornerstone to Argentine culture. Hosted at their own home, the couple’s convivial dinner parties see guests seated at communal table enjoying endless rounds of melt-in-the-mouth empanadas, tender rump steak and fresh salads, washed down with delectable wines and sparkling conversations. Those non meat-eaters are gifted with a seafood menu option, a rare find in such a meat-obsessed city.
For a timeless dining experience, head to the bohemian district of San Telmo, known for its historic cobbled streets and wonderful street market; where you’ll find the popular La Brigada steakhouse serving slabs of juicy steak and garlic-dripping papas fritas with lashings of charisma. With its white linen tablecloths and elaborate decor, dominated by gaucho memorabilia, you’ll find locals and tourists rubbing shoulders as they tuck into such specialities as wonderful mollejas (sweetbreads) and lomo cooked in mushroom or pepper sauce.
A far cry from the stylised restaurants of the Palermo neighbourhood, the long-standing Parrilla Peña takes a no-fuss approach to steak preparation, choosing to simply focus on serving up sublimely cooked cuts at great value prices which keeps its loyal local customer base returning decade upon decade. In the restaurant overlooking the big open grill of the kitchen, the clamour of cutlery mixes with the chatter of castellano as families and friends sit side by side, tucking into every part of the cow imaginable. Coupled with local wines and a laid-back, unfussy ambience, the place offers a wonderful evening of eating the local way.
Amid the cobbled streets of history-imbued San Telmo you’ll find the parrilla El Desnivel; a once little-known hole-in-the-wall that has now become one of the neighbourhood’s most sought-after culinary addresses; consistently packed out with boisterous diners feasting on chorripan (chorizo sandwich), meat-stuffed empanadas and thick, fat-dripping steaks cooked up on a large grill at the entrance. The restaurant’s name, meaning ‘disorganised’, is perhaps a reference to the haphazard interiors, kitted out with plastic table, mismatched wooden chairs and walls festooned in maps and flags. Come early to bag a table, especially at weekends.
In this snug but stylish joint that dubs itself a parilla-cantina, you’ll find animated family groups rubbing shoulders with suave local celebrities who all come for La Dorita’s show-stealing steak specialities, including the three-meat table de carne and grilled provela cheese. Along with the baffling array of meats, guests enjoy the intimate and atmospheric interiors; all dark wooden panelling and low-lighting with lampshade fittings crafted out of wine bottles. Don’t forget to save room for desserts such as homemade tiramisu and dulce de leche pancakes.
As a contemporary take on a traditional parrilla, Miranda’s marriage of both style and substance makes it a popular hangout for a young, hip local crowd. Enviably positioned on the corner of two cobbled streets in Palermo Viejo, its interiors have a quirky industrial feel with high ceilings, rustic furniture and concrete walls. During the day, most head outside to the tables scattered about the sunny pavement terrace. While the main attraction here is the high quality grilled beef, particularly the ojo de bife, the restaurant’s enormous portions, dangerously delicious cocktails, and innovative vegetarian fare also contribute to making it a crowd-pleasing dining delight.
Those adventurous enough to explore the backstreets of La Boca (the colorful neighborhood home to the La Bombonera football stadium) should seek out El Obrero (meaning The Workman) which opened in 1910 to cater to the thousands of Italian labourers arriving in Argentina. Not much has changed in the century that’s passed; cracked plates, shabby paintwork and mismatched cutlery still characterise the place. But you’ll quickly forget your shabby surroundings once presented with one their juicy prime cuts that far surpass any found in the chic streets of Palermo and come with an authentic atmosphere to match. Football fans will appreciate the memorabilia covering the walls and some lucky diners will dine to live tango music.