You can’t flick a centavo in Buenos Aires without hitting a café or restaurant. And though still dominated by the porteño staples of pizzas, empanadas, and thick steak, foreign dishes are gradually finding their way onto the city’s dining scene.
The port city has been drawing international migrants since its foundation, bringing with them unique flavors from different cultures. While its culinary influences have traditionally come from Europe, food from around Latin America – led by Peruvian and Mexican options – is making its way onto the capital’s dining tables. Buenos Aires also has a growing number of Colombian, Venezuelan, Bolivian, Uruguayan, and Cuban eateries, typically small venues that have developed their own unique take on their national cuisine, mixing traditional plates with innovative options that represent the cook’s interaction with his or her adopted home.
Many up-market Latin American dining options are found on the ritzy streets of Palermo but there are many authentic alternatives hidden throughout the city. Here are some of the best options.
According to the 2010 census, about 9% of Argentina’s foreign-born population is made up of Peruvians, a country with internationally renowned cuisine that is strongly represented in Buenos Aires.
Ceviche, antichucos, and pachmanca are some of the best known dishes and they are found easily in the countries ambassadorial restaurants of Buenos Aires. Ceviche is easily the most popular Peruvian dish in Argentina, perhaps the most important in Peru itself since the country declared it part of its national heritage and recognises a national holiday in its honor. Typically consisting of raw fish marinated in citrus juices, the national hallmark has adapted into many tasty forms.
Status, in Congreso is widely regarded as the best Peruvian food in Buenos Aires, winning top spot on the Guía Oleo online restaurant guide in both 2010 and 2011. Status is a no frills eatery, focused on providing authentic and traditional Peruvian food to porteños seeking their fix of delicacies from the former seat of the Incan Empire.
Hector Estrada is the maître d’ of the landmark restaurant, which has been operating for 21 years. He says that Peruvian food is characterized by its great diversity; the restaurant offers between 70 and 80 different dishes. Chicharrones, ceviche, and seafood dishes are some of the most popular options: “We prepare the meal to the patrons taste… this is the food you would eat in the kitchens of Peru.” According to Estrada, the restaurant’s reputation has spread exclusively by word of mouth from its many satisfied patrons.
Of course there are many other Peruvian restaurants that match the status of Status. Notables include Chan Chan, also in Congreso, and arguably the most upscale of all: Astrid & Gastón by Plaza Sicilia.
Mexican restaurants are the second most numerous Latin American eateries in Buenos Aires. While many of the Mexican establishments fall more into the category of Tex-Mex as opposed to traditional Mexican, there are plenty of options to satisfy the more authentic connoisseur.
If you are craving Mexican fare and a fiesta ambience to gorge in, María Félix is one of your best bets in the city. The restaurant has two locations, one in Palermo at Guatemala 5200 and the other in Martínez.
The Palermo location sports piñatas, flags, and plenty of Virgin Mary’s hanging from the wall to monitor your taco and tequila intake. Raul Cadana, the maître d explains that the restaurant seeks to mirror a dining experience one could find in his homeland (Mexico that is). Fajitas are the recommended dish and by far the most popular. However, the restaurant boasts a menu that offers specialties from all over the country, including mole, tacos, nachos, etc.
There are not as many Ecuadorian options compared to the Mexican and Peruvian selection, yet what they lack in quantity is made up in the excellent quality and price.
One standout is the relatively new establishment, Ecuador 787, conveniently named after its street address. It is an easy place to miss – disguised in an unmarked apartment building – hidden behind the banal façade is a lively restaurant with a large menu and a great homey atmosphere. Owner Fabrizzio Padilla says: “We have food from all over the country, which has many different dishes, and we specialise in food from the coast.”
Padilla says the menu changes frequently according to the best ingredients available. He has been in Buenos Aires for 16 years, and says that more than anything he misses the food from his homeland. Through the restaurant, which opened around five years ago, he hopes to give both Ecuadorians living in Buenos Aires and anyone else in the city a taste of what he misses most.
Las Areperas (Av. Estado de Israel 4316, Almagro) is one of the only truly Venezuelan restaurants in the city. It is relatively new but has quickly become very popular, especially amongst the Venezuelans and Colombians who call Buenos Aires home.
The restaurant specialises in arepas; white corn flour dough wrapped around various fillings. Las Areperas prepares everything on site, even grounding the corn and making the dough. The owners, Alejandro and Florencia, though not from Venezuela, fell in love with its cuisine while living there and decided to bring it back to Buenos Aires with them. Waitress Valentina Rivera recommends the arepas de pabellon (beef, black beans, fried plantain, cheese, pepper, and mayo) as well as the cachapa.
There are few solid options for a taste of Colombia in Argentina. But tucked under a green awning at Uruguay 943 Los Recuerdos (4811-3302) is a homey diner style eatery decorated with black and white snapshots taken all over the country of its cuisine. The menu is packed with various meats, arepas, soups, and seafoods, complete with beans and plantains to round out the plates.
And a bit of everything…
Many restaurants in the city classify themselves as “Latin American” cuisine, offering a little bit of everything. Melão (Castillo 52, 4854-5920) is a popular little establishment in Villa Crespo. The chef/owner Yilan Gil Guzman is from Cuba, but the restaurant has dishes from all over the world. With only five tables packed into a narrow space with an open kitchen, it is an intimate setting where you can watch your food being prepared.
The names of each plate have their origin and ‘inspiration’ written beside them. Inspirations include Pakistan, Ecuador, Brasil, Vietnam, Colombia, amongst many others. A crowd favorite is the Curry Reggae and Callaloo as well as the Marg Mand Pasand.
There are many more Latin American eateries in the city – click the red dots on the map below for details.
Have we missed your favourite Latin American restaurant? Write it in the comments section below.