Palermo is, without question, the center of innovation in Argentine dining, mostly in PalermoSoho but also in PalermoHollywood, the Botánico, and Las Cañitas.
Among the Botánico’s best, Bella Italia Café Bar (Repúblic Arabe Siria 3330, tel. 011/4807-5120, www.bellaitalia gourmet.com.ar) is the moderately priced (but cash-only) café version of the eponymous nearby restaurant. For around US$7 it has outstanding squash gnocchi with a subtle cream sauce, along with fine cannelloni and salads.
Having recently changed hands, but remaining in the same family, Guido (Bulevar Cerviño 3943, tel. 011/4802-1262, www.guidorestaurant.com.ar) is a trattoria that has expanded an already outstanding menu notable for a nightly risotto (US$10) and a separate three-course dinner (also US$10), as well as inexpensive pizzas. The decor is cinematic, the service is attentive, and there’s an extensive list of wines by the glass.
Mark’s Deli & Coffee House (El Salvador 4701, tel. 011/4832-6244) is a U.S.-style deli, bright and cheerful with indoor and patio seating and outstanding sandwiches (about US$5); there’s a small selection of wines by the glass and large and tasty glasses of lemonade. It closes early, around 9:30 p.m. Monday–Saturday and at 7 p.m. Sunday.
For quality-to-price ratio, the hands-down best choice for empanadas and regional dishes is La Cupertina (Cabrera 5296, tel. 011/4777-3711). The service may be inconsistent, but the chicken empanadas and humitas en chala (similar to tamales, wrapped in corn stalks) are exquisite and so cheap that price is no object, even with wine; there are also individually sized pizzas. Don’t miss the desserts, especially the Spanish custard natillas and arroz con leche. It keeps limited hours: 11:30 a.m.–3:30 p.m. Tuesday–Sunday and 7:30–11 p.m. Tuesday–Saturday; it’s also small, seating only about 20 diners in simple but attractive surroundings.
In the Botánico, cozy Nemo (Cabello 3672, tel. 011/4802-5308, danieljosecid [at] hotmail [dot] com) serves light entrées, including seafood-based pastas (around US$8–12) and a diverse fish menu (US$10–15) that includes at least one freshwater catch. It has limited sidewalk seating. Buenos Aires Herald food writer Dereck Foster calls it the capital’s “consistently best seafood restaurant.”
In spacious new—but slightly less intimate—quarters across Avenida Libertador, Libélula (Salguero 2983, tel. 011/4802-7220, www.libelularestaurant.com.ar) is a Japanese-Peruvian restaurant serving seviche, spicy (on request) sushi, and traditional dishes such as ají de gallina (chicken breast with creamy walnut sauce).
Just when it seems that Peruvian food here can’t get any better, along comes Bardot (Honduras 5237, tel. 011/4831-1112, www.restobardot.com.ar, daily for lunch and dinner), with dishes such as mero a lo macho (grouper with a shrimp sauce, US$13), BA’s best pisco sours (two-for-one on Wed.), and near flawless service. For those who want to sample Peru’s gastronomic diversity, there’s a Sunday buffet (1–4 p.m., US$18) that includes a bit of everything, including the pisco sour.
Unique in the city, Palermo Hollywood’s Jangada (Bonpland 1670, tel. 011/4777-4193, www.restaurantejangada.com) specializes in two-person platters (US$20–25) of Paraná river fish such as boga, pacú, and surubí. Reservations are advisable.
The parrilla of the moment is La Cabrera (Cabrera 5099, tel. 011/4831-7002, www.parrillalacabrera.com.ar), where the bife de chorizo (US$10) is big enough for two hungry diners and comes with a sampler of side dishes including pureed potatoes, pumpkin and applesauce, and several salads. Reservations are advisable at dinnertime, when it has a more formal branch a few doors north, across Thames.
Nearby Rave (Gorriti 5092, tel. 011/4833-7832, www.restaurantrave.com.ar) opens at 8:30 p.m. nightly, but it’s not unusual to find its split levels packed with 2 a.m. diners. Good choices include mollejitas (sweetbreads) and chicken or mushroom risotto. It can get loud, but not deafening.
Sa Giara (Gurruchaga 1806, tel. 011/4832-5062, www.sagiara.com.ar) brings something new to Italo-Argentine cuisine with Sardinian curligionis, which resemble Chinese or Japanese pot stickers but stuffed with sweet potato (US$11) or three meats (beef, lamb, pork, US$13), or other items. The villa-style venue also offers inexpensive sandwiches of prosciutto, artisanal cheeses, and the like.
At the casual Social Paraíso (Honduras 5182, tel. 011/4831-4556, www.socialparaiso.com.ar), the US$7 lunch specials feature items like bondiola (pork loin) with a tabbouleh salad; entrées such as stuffed chicken breast with mozzarella and bacon, or Patagonian lamb with grilled vegetables, fall into the US$8–11 range. It also has innovative desserts and a respectable selection of wines by the glass.
One of Buenos Aires’s most creative restaurants, Palermo Hollywood’s Olsen (Gorriti 5870, tel. 011/4776-7677, olsen [at] fibertel [dot] com [dot] ar) serves what might be called Scandinavian criollo cuisine, with dishes like ravioli with goat cheese and pork roast with raspberry sauce, for upwards of US$10. The bar serves the standard aperitifs but also a literally dizzying variety of vodka-based cocktails. Notable for its ambience as well as its food, Olsen has devoted part of its deep lot to a sculpture garden that replicates a Scandinavian boreal forest of birches, cypresses, and pines. It’s open for lunch and dinner Tuesday–Sunday, and at 10 a.m. Sunday for brunch.
It’s not the fashionable scene that Olsen is, but Hollywood’s Lobby (Nicaragua 5944, tel. 011/4770-9335) is a hybrid restaurant, wine bar, and wine retailer with inexpensive but outstanding breakfast and lunch menus, including sandwiches, vegetarian dishes, and seafood salads. The by-the-glass wine options are excellent, but they also sell bottles off the wall for a token corkage fee, and there is sidewalk seating.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition