In a city with so many Italian immigrants and their descendents, it’s surprisingly hard to find authentic Italian restaurants in Buenos Aires. While there are countless “Argentinised” pizzerias and pasta places (and mighty fine ones may I add) sometimes, you just need a taste of home…
As an Italian myself, moving to Argentina was an exciting prospect in the culinary sense. Not only would there be copious amounts of incredible meat, but handmade pasta and pizza would be readily available if home comforts were needed.
Upon arrival to Buenos Aires, however, I found things were very different. The so-called ‘mozzarella’ on pizzas is in actual fact a thick, yellow(ish) layer of “cheese” that covers the entire thick mattress-like base.
Pasta, you say? Any Italian will tell you that you do not serve sauces on top of pasta – it is supposed to be mixed with the sauce and served as such. It is also all-too-easy to get a plate of overcooked pasta…. a real ‘no, no’ in Italy. And the terminology is confusing: ‘calabrese‘ refers to a type of salami topping (as opposed to the original mozzarella and tomato I am all too familiar with) and ‘quattro stagioni‘ isn’t the artichoke, egg, ham, and cheese variety. Even some of the restaurants of the most Italian barrio of them all, La Boca, seem to have fallen into this trap.
While I do love a good slice (or five) of Kentucky pizza after a heavy weekend, I decided to begin my quest in search of the city’s more authentic Italian restaurants. Because, as my grandmother, says: “to be Italian is to be psychotically passionate about Italian food.”
Siamo Nel Forno
Owner Nestor Gattona, a true ‘pizziauolo‘, has cultivated a hustling and bustling authentic Neapolitan pizzeria in the heart of Palermo Hollywood. The restaurant itself is an homage to Gattona’s Italian roots and family, with pictures of both decorating the walls as you enter. The main attraction, however, is the impressive wood fire oven prominently displayed behind the bar table; the central point of the entire place.
It really is a beautiful oven – and I never thought I would say ‘oven’ and ‘beautiful’ in the same sentence – and it cooks glorious pizzas! Neapolitan-style thickness – as opposed to the Roman thin crust – a pizza here has all the right levels of crispiness and doughiness, together with the perfect proportion of tomato sauce and toppings.
Gattona also offers a variety of ‘specials’ to cater to those with a more adventurous pizza-streak. These included an amazing brussel sprout, emmental cheese, and bacon pizza, as well as an onion, smoked provola, and sausage variety. To start your meal, try out the burrata with prosciutto crudo, which is gloriously rich and delicate at the same time (it also comes with freshly baked focaccia bread so… why not?)
While you can’t get Italian beer (due to import restrictions) you can get a wide variety of Italian wines, which perfectly complement the traditional pizzas.
Costa Rica 5886, Palermo. Open from Tuesday to Sunday 8pm to 12am/1am.
This southern Italian restaurant feels like you are walking into an Italian-American place in New York. Don’t let that put you off though, as the food is all “nonna’s home cooking.” Italian owner Guido Sosta has given the place a real eclectic Italo-Americano feel, with pictures of old movie stars (both Italian and not), sports stars, and famous visitors (Francis Ford Coppola has a prominent place in the window of the restaurant.) A big Italian flag and old school Italian sayings – some are too rude to replicate here – give the restaurant that homely feeling I crave.
The best thing about this little place though is the ‘Italian-roulette’ of food you are served immediately upon sitting down. No menus, no choice: the serving style is the Italian classic “ci penso io” (I’ll think about it…)
Each table gets a selection of different antipasti, followed by hot dishes. Then it is straight to pastas – one portion of cream-based goodness and the other with a tomato based sauce. If you happen to get the creamy truffle and mushroom pasta you have truly hit the jackpot.
You can’t help but look around at the other tables to see what they’ve been given. A word of caution: if you often suffer from ‘food-envy’ this is not the place to go!
The great meal is all topped off with desserts, coffee, and a homemade limoncello. Perfetto!
Republica de la India 2843, Palermo. Open from Monday to Friday from 8am to 4pm and from 8pm till close. Saturday open from 8am to 4pm.
Another great pizza contender is Filo, based in Retiro. This funky place has a magical feel to it, with Klimt-inspired wall paintings, great music coming from a DJ booth, and delicious varieties of pizza sliding from one table to the next. You can’t miss Filo for not only great food, but also a wonderful evening with friends in a vivacious environment.
The traditional Venetian-style cuisine means you can get some of the best antipasti out there. Truffle-smells mixed with traditional porchetta (roasted pork cold meat) and piadine and baccala‘ dishes will make you feel as though you’ve just stopped for a bite in Piazza San Marco – without the hefty prices!
The pizza is perfect – chewy dough with just the right amount of crisp to it, covered with wonderful traditional (and non traditional) ingredients. I particularly appreciated the ‘white pizzas’ (pizza bianche) section, which gave me the feeling as though I was back in Rome. No tomato, just fresh ingredients thrown on top of the perfect base. A dish not to miss is the pizza bianca con burrata e peperonata – you won’t even remember your name after eating it, you’ll be so intoxicated with the taste of the peppers and gorgeous cheese.
There are also great pasta and meat dishes on the menu for those who need a pizza break.
San Martin 975, Retiro. Open from Monday to Sunday 12pm to close.
This restaurant is definitely the most contemporary of the five. Chef Leonardo Fumarola, born in Puglia, has created a menu that oozes Italian goodness with a modern twist. Classic Italian actors stare back at you from the walls and add to the comforting feel of the place. A definite thumbs up from me was the picture of famed Roman actor Alberto Sordi, which many of the other places didn’t have (yes, I was checking.)
But back to the food, which was exquisite. All the pastas are homemade and have an authentic feel mixed with some serious creativity. Truffles, rocket, perfectly cooked seafood, and lots of porcini mushrooms are just some of the ingredients that make the dishes positively Italian and extremely satisfying. A particular favourite of mine was the caprese torta, a chocolate and almond cake of goodness, that was just the right amount of moist and chocolate-ness. That’s always a hard dessert to find, so after verifying that it was also awesome, I left one very happy customer!
The atmosphere is buzzing, in part thanks to the delightful Italian music, and the restaurant has a family feel to it. A wonderful place to spend a lunch or evening with the family – finished all off, of course, with another round of limoncello.
Bulnes 1248, Palermo. Open Monday and Wednesday to Saturday from 12 to 4pm and from 8 to 12am.
In this restaurant, the owner has a few simple rules (and this is how I knew it was going to be good…) You can’t ask Mauro for pasta that is not ‘al dente‘ and don’t even think about asking for grated parmesan if you have ordered spaghetti con le cozze (with mussels) or penne con gamberi (prawns.) A clear cut sign that the owner is an Italian through and through, he just won’t accept alterations to the cuisine.
This place has a bit of a reputation for ‘treating you badly’, given all the conditions you must accept before ordering anything. But for me this is also what makes it so good, in a way. While many people will find it frustrating that they can’t get exactly what they want, I was very happy to hear waiters say “no, you can’t have cheese with your fish-based pasta.” If you try the sauce, you’ll know why.
The simple menu, with only a handful of dishes and the traditional style of cooking, means you can always count on a good pasta or lasagna dish. With influences from the north of Italy, the dishes are rich, creamy, and full of goodness. The well-known sauces that will delight any palate are on the menu – amatriciana (chill, tomato, and bacon) and a great puttanesca! For a simple, yet effective Italian meal – this is the place to go.
For dessert, you can’t miss the classic tiramisu or the affogato. To finish off the evening, a nice shot of grappa always works.
11 de Septiembre 2465, Belgrano. Open Monday to Saturday from 12 to 3:30pm and from 8pm till close. Saturday open from 12 to 4pm.