For breakfast, espresso drinks, exceptional sandwiches (large enough for two), and rich desserts, it’s hard to top El Café (Huérfanos 2064, tel. 02/6880352), a cheerful corner place that also provides the morning newspapers. Europub (Maturana 516, tel. 02/6721016) has excellent lunch specials (around US$8) in hip surroundings and is also a wireless Internet zone.
Café Cronopios (Brasil 327) is a literary café that serves lighter fare—crepes and grilled sandwiches, in particular—than most of its neighborhood counterparts; the variety of fresh fruit juices makes it really stand out. Prices are low, the furnishings stylishly comfortable, and the music is tasteful and unintrusive.
The misleadingly named Peperone (Huérfanos 1934, tel. 02/6879180) is not a pizzeria but rather an empanadería whose fillings are far more diverse than most of its Chilean counterparts—baked rather than deep fried, they can include such items as crab and scallops for around US$2.50. Fresh fruit juices are also a house specialty.
Long after its opening, Las Vacas Gordas (Cienfuegos 280, tel. 02/6971066) still manages to combine high standards with high volume and low prices, but it’s almost always crowded and noisy except Sunday night—when it’s closed. The fare is primarily parrillada, but pasta and fish are also on the menu. Service is exceptional for such a busy place, but go early or late to avoid the crowds.
Open for lunch and dinner, El Puente de Chabuca (Brasil 75, tel. 02/6967962) serves moderately priced Peruvian food in a classic Barrio Brasil building, but it’s slipped a notch. It also has live music on weekends.
Prepared to a soundtrack of narcocorridos, the bargain-priced Mexican tacos, antojitos (short orders such as enchiladas), and more elaborate dinner plates at Charro de Oro (Av. Ricardo Cumming 342-A, tel. 02/6972695) are too spicy for some Chilean palates, but those who have eaten Mexican food elsewhere will probably not be bothered. Its main drawback is the erratic hours, though it’s ostensibly open for lunch and dinner daily except Sunday, and to 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
The city’s best Mexican option, Plaza Garibaldi (Moneda 2319, tel. 02/6971418) continues to draw diners who once wouldn’t be seen dead in this area. Brightly decorated, it’s operated by the improbably named Jane Holmes, a Chilean who lived many years in exile in Mexico City and once cooked for Salvador Allende’s widow, Hortensia Bussi. The restaurant’s diverse regional Mexican menu merits a visit even for those who live in areas where such food is common. Entrées are mostly in the US$6–10 range; the margaritas and Mexican beers are first-rate.
Under the same ownership, San Gennaro (Av. Cumming 132, tel. 02/6889063) has superb, moderately priced pastas in more spacious surroundings—a mansion with spectacular beamed ceilings and walls painted in Mediterranean pastels—not to mention a walk-in fireplace. While it hasn’t yet caught on like Garibaldi, it’s at least as good and has begun to offer some Mexican dishes, such as camarones al mojo de ajo (garlic shrimp) that Garibaldi’s small kitchen can’t handle.
Sole Mio (Moneda 1816, tel. 02/6726342) is a stylish new but moderately priced Italian choice, in a spectacularly recycled building; the mezzanine is absolutely stunning (though its acoustics are a little too good). It’s spacious enough that, with ample distance between tables, even smokers are not the distraction they might otherwise be. Unusual for a Chile restaurant, the ground-floor kitchen is open to public view.
New in 2006 and under the same ownership as the adjacent La Casa Roja hostel, Platipus (Agustinas 2099, tel. 02/6722762) is an intriguing sushi and tapas bar in a handsomely recycled building with both patio and indoor seating. It’s too early to say, though, that its design success will translate to the food, and the service can be lackluster.
Several seafood restaurants are on Calle Bulnes (not to be confused with Avenida Bulnes, near the Palacio de la Moneda). Caleta Bulnes (Bulnes 86, tel. 02/6988151) has good seafood—US$7 for a tasty chupe de locos—and is open Sunday night when most other barrio restaurants are closed. Across the street, Marisquería Tongoy (Bulnes 91, tel. 02/6971144), in the same range, is a traditional seafood choice so popular that it has another branch just down the block (Bulnes 72, tel. 02/6814329). Service is fast, and the downstairs at the main branch is tobacco-free.
Ocean Pacific’s (Av. Ricardo Cumming 221, tel. 02/6972413) is another seafood restaurant with higher prices than in the past, thanks to an expanded menu that includes deep-sea fish and lobster from Juan Fernández and Rapa Nui, as well as nonseafood game dishes such as wild boar and rhea (around US$14). While there are good values such as the reineta (US$6), the expansion and larger menu suggest the restaurant is trying to do too much, but it is open Sunday evenings, when most other barrio restaurants are closed.
Ostras Azócar (Bulnes 37, tel. 02/6816109 or 02/6822293) has retained its traditional approach to serve a more affluent clientele, with its raw oyster specialty in particular.
The barrio’s newest star is Zully (Concha y Toro 34, tel. 02/6961378), an audacious restoration/modernization of a once-crumbling mansion in Barrio Concha y Toro, an intriguing maze of streets just off the Alameda. Its Chicago expat owner has created an intimate destination-in-itself bar/restaurant with multiple dining rooms, one of which is tobacco-free, plus a spectacular basement wine bar with an adjacent sunken patio and an equally impressive rooftop terrace; the furniture and place settings, though, are ultra-modern. That’s not to mention a creative, visually spectacular menu that changes frequently but includes starters such as grilled scallops over a cauliflower puree (US$6), entrées such as Pacific tuna with sesame and a lemongrass sauce (US$17), and desserts such as chirimoya mousse with cardamom sauce. Open for lunch and dinner daily except Sunday, it’s expensive, with entrées in the US$13–18 range, but the weekday business lunch costs just US$9 (entrée plus dessert only). Starters and desserts both cost in the US$6–7 range, and there’s a big wine list (including a good by-the-glass selection).
In a similar vein, Boulevard Lavaud (Compañía 2789, tel. 02/6825243) has recycled an 1868 building into a combination bar/restaurant that also serves, in daytime hours, its historic function as a barbershop (for men and women). Even that doesn’t say everything, as it has also integrated an antiques shop into the restaurant—much of the decor along its red-brick interior walls is for sale. With all that, the food might seem an afterthought, but dishes such as dados de filete en salsa de frutas secas (beef chunks in a red wine and dried fruit sauce, US$8) are both moderately priced and imaginative. Drinks are fairly expensive—the US$4.50 pisco sour costs twice what it might elsewhere—but Lavaud is still deservedly popular. Unlike most restaurants of its class, it also serves breakfast.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition