Asunción may not the world’s number one foodie destination, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be disappointed at the city’s best restaurants. Like diamonds in the rough, you’ll find some culinary gems in Paraguay’s capital – eateries serving up a surprising variety of cuisines, from traditional barbecue to modern Italian fusion.
Diner, South American, $$$
An Asunción institution, Bolsi is Paraguay’s answer to the beloved American 24-hour diner. This classic cafe serves up door-stopping tuna and palm heart sandwiches alongside slabs of rib-eye steak and Lebanese-inspired beirutes (stuffed pitta bread). Paraguay’s river fish surubí is plated with flair – try it stuffed with sautéed shrimp in a creamy coconut sauce. Bolsi claims to make the best caipirinha in the city and has some tasty local reds on the short wine list. The place is often packed with families on the weekends, so head over for an early lunch or dinner to secure a coveted table.
Restaurant, South American, $$$
If you’re after a juicy Paraguayan steak, La Cabrera is where to head. It’s not the cheapest joint in town, but it’s certainly up there in terms of service and ambiance. It has an old-timey feel, drawing on its Argentinean roots – the original restaurant still stands in Buenos Aires. It has an impressive wine list packed with South American grapes, while the wagyu beef is a must-have, served with mini salads and crispy fries. Try the paper-thin panqueques with apples and ice cream to round off a perfect meal. This smart restaurant is a popular spot, so call ahead for a reservation.
Bar, South American, $$$
Perfectly placed opposite the Panteón de los Héroes downtown, Lido Bar is the place to stop for a bite in the city centre. Always bustling with locals at lunchtime, it’s a great spot for people watching and for trying out some traditional Paraguayan cuisine. Dig in to a dish of caldo de pescado (a hearty fish and vegetable soup), accompanied by traditional sopa, or Paraguayan corn bread. The empanadas are served piping hot, filled with lomito and mandioca. Service is brisk but friendly and the atmosphere casual. Grab an icy beer, an outdoor table and spend an afternoon sampling Paraguay’s culinary delights.
Bistro, Brazilian, Buffet, $$$
If you think you can take on 15 cuts of meat and all manner of salad, pasta and sushi, head to this all-you-can-eat restaurant just south of the city centre. This cavernous eatery is not intimate or romantic, but it more than makes up for it with as many succulent steaks and tiny desserts you desire for less than US$20. The side bars prepare everything fresh, including lasagne and creamy potato salad. Waiters wander around with skewers of grilled beef, pork and lamb, filling plates as they go. Don’t miss the speciality chorizo picante and roasted pineapple with cinnamon.
Restaurant, South American, $$$
This classy bar in sophisticated Villa Morra is a new hit on the capital’s dining scene. The details are what make this place – the menu is etched into wooden chopping boards and the wine list features some fantastic Argentinean grapes. For dinner, choose from a selection of homemade pastas and upmarket fish dishes, including citrus-infused salmon and surubí with caviar, served with sopa and mandioca on the side. Portions are generous, but don’t leave without trying the spectacular volcan de chocolate – a smooth chocolate tart served with thick cream and a touch of lemon.
Restaurant, Italian, Salad Bar, $$$
This buzzing pasta bar chain has a great concept: choose a type of pasta (think spaghetti, linguine, penne and gnocchi), a rich sauce and toppings and they’ll throw it together for you in typical Italian fashion. This place is perfect if you want something to dig into as you wander around the centre of town. The dining area is bright and airy, with a few wooden tables if you don’t want to take away. Bellini does a roaring trade at lunchtimes, when it’s packed with local business people and curious visitors – stop by between 2-3pm to beat the crowds.
Reminiscent of a Brazilian steak house, Churrasquería Acuarela is another meat haven in Asunción. It was revamped last year and now boasts a contemporary look, with efficient service to match. It’s huge, with seating for over 600 (so it’s great for groups) and waiters that approach your table with slabs of fire-grilled meat. There’s a salad bar packed with inventive mixes, fries and roasted veggies, as well as a variety of traditional desserts. It’s just south of the city centre, around ten minutes in a taxi, and definitely worth the ride.