Buenos Aires: A Two-Sided Tale
by Dave & Noelle
March 26 – 29
Noelle made her first trip to Buenos Aires in 2010, while this was my maiden voyage to the Argentine capital. So we thought it’d be interesting to share the favorite parts about this bustling city from both perspectives. With that, I give you the He Said/She Said of Buenos Aires.
He Said: Palermo Soho came highly recommended and seems to be a popular spot for gringos. After spending four nights stationed here we can see why. Earning its name from the Soho neighborhood in Manhattan for the area’s resemblance to its American idol, the tree-lined streets are littered with inviting cafes and restaurants marked by sidewalk seating areas. Whether it was dinner and drinks with friends, exploring the weekend market at Plaza Serrano, seeking out the ever-present red meat offerings, searching for a tango lesson or just aimlessly wandering around the colorful and charming streets, we were happy with our decision to stay here.
She Said: I agree with Dave – Palermo Soho is where I’d suggest spending most your time, and it wasn’t a neighborhood I’d explored much during my last visit. However, my heart is pulled to the bohemian flavor of San Telmo – the oldest barrio in the city with quaint cobblestone streets lined with cafes, Tango parlors and antique shops. Head to Plaza Dorrego to stroll the market stalls and catch street Tango – grab a seat and a bottle of wine and enjoy the show!
He Said: Rey de Copas in Palermo Soho. Our first night in BA kicked off with meeting my friend Tim (who runs an amazing blog worth checking out if you’re coming here – A Gringo in Buenos Aires) and his wife Cynthia at this cocktail bar in our ‘hood. Translated, the name means “King of Cocktails,” and what it lacked in crowds (it was a Tuesday after all), it made up for in atmosphere and creative touches. For instance, our bill came with four crisp playing cards with, you guessed it, a king (presumably the king of many cocktails himself) on it. In addition to its hip atmosphere (is that what the kids say these days?), it was memorable for the fact that they had an amazing bloody mary, helping curb my withdrawal a little longer until we get home to Chicago where the bloodys flow like wine. Noelle went with a tall glass of…something with vodka. Definitely worth checking out for a fancy beverage before a night out on the town.
She Said: Anything in Palermo Soho. Plaza Serrano is the main party square with a ton of open-air bars ringing the plaza, but we preferred the streets a few blocks off for their cute, cozy cafes, perfect for relaxing with a bottle of wine. We visited Temple Bar with its funky Tomb Raider resemblance with Tim and his beautiful wife after dinner for a few pitchers of beers. With artisanal beers on tap, it’s a good pick for beer lovers. If wine is more your speed, we enjoyed a stop at a wine bar on Gorriti where we personally selected a bottle of wine from their cellar and enjoyed it at the refurbished wine barrel tables.
Favorite Stop on the Tourist Trail:
He Said: Plaza de Mayo. Many of the bigger cities we’ve been to this year seem to have been built out from a central square or plaza, and Buenos Aires is no exception with Plaza de Mayo providing the heartbeat for this lively metropolis. A great spot for people watching or just taking in the historic buildings on its outer edges, Plaza de Mayo is a good spot to start any sort of urban exploration. The most notable building here is easily Casa Rosada, the building from which Madonna Evita pleaded for Argentinians to hold back their tears, but not keep their distance (don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about). It currently serves as the Argentine equivalent of the White House. After becoming so accustomed to the extreme security measures for such buildings in the U.S., it was equally disconcerting and refreshing to see how up close and personal to the PM’s office everyone can get every day.
She Said: La Recoleta Cemetery was a haunting visual I couldn’t shake after my 2010 visit, and I was happy when it was just as eerily beautiful as I remembered. After a false start (note: don’t arrive at the gates at 5:30 pm…it closes at 6, but they stop taking visitors a half hour before. Tragic.), we took a morning stroll through the rows of mausoleums, the bones inside enclosed in an array of marble, glass, stone, brick and wood. Many graves stand in various stages of disrepair, while some maintain their immaculate air, even some 100 years later. It’s really a sight to see.
He Said: La Boca. The colorful neighborhood provided some great photo opportunities, but it had tourist trap written all over it. Street performers, retail shops in all directions and thick crowds give off a sort of amusement park feel. After about 15 minutes of walking around we were ready to jump back on a bus to the city center. It’s an easy place to guiltlessly skip if you’re crunched for time (or even if you aren’t).
She Said: Bingo. The memory of my last visit consisted only of the vibrant colors, cold beers and staged Tango shows, but a second visit revealed La Boca to be a bit gaudy.
Favorite Steak Restaurant:
He Said: La Cabrera. One of the main “touristy” parrillas (BBQ grill restaurants that run rampant in BA) in Palermo Soho, La Cabrera not only had amazing food, but they offer a “happy hour” of sorts if you’re willing to grab your dinner between 6:30-8pm. What may seem like an abnormally early meal for Argentinians conveniently fell in, you know, the normal dinnertime window for most of the world, so we got the 40% happy hour discount on our bill. My giant ojo de bife was delicious, but Noelle’s bife de chorizo was otherworldly. The meat (appropriately marbled with fat, because Argentina) practically melts in your mouth. We also had our introduction to proveleta here. What’s that, you ask? Simple – fill a cast iron pot with a giant portion or provolone cheese, mix in some seasonings and throw it in the oven. The result is a mouthwateringly delicious melted cheese blob just waiting to put you into a joyful food coma. We left full – borderline painfully full – and I’ve found myself daydreaming about the meat and proveleta regularly ever since.
She Said: Don Julio, the much recommended and much deservedly raved about parrilla, earned the gold star in my book. The old school atmosphere was charming, the wine was superb and the service was friendly. But more importantly, the bife de chorizo was excellent. Cooked to perfection and served with the perfect steak knife, we were seamlessly sawing through our portions with gusto. The only black mark on the experience was the lackluster proveleta, but the chorizo we ordered alongside it more than made up for it. Topping the meal off with a mouth-watering dulce de leche pancake, Dave had to roll me home.
He Said: Fourteen hours on an overnight bus and a 45-minute sweat fest of a commute across the city from the bus station found us still about 15 minutes from our airbnb apartment. We were tired, sweaty, hungry and moving through this crowded metropolis like backpack-wearing zombies. And then we saw a pizza in the window and time stood still…for about 10 seconds before we both agreed “I could eat if you could.” And that was that. Kentucky’s simple, succulent and perfectly-timed provolone pizza was just what the doctor ordered. Fresh from the oven in a cast-iron pan, it was a proper introduction to the surprisingly vast Italian offerings around Buenos Aires.
She Said: A favorite among taxi drivers, Güerrin has been a Buenos Aires institution since it opened in 1932. Enjoying a slice of Fugazza (thick-doughed pizza topped with a profusion of parmesan cheese and onion) standing at the front bar with a crowd of locals was an experience drenched in tasty tradition.
Favorite Non-Red Meat Meal:
He Said: Tacos at La Fabrica del Taco. I love me some Mexican food and we’ve been limited in that department for a while. La Fabrica’s al pastor and al asado tacos (along with some amazing chips and guac) hit the spot for us. It didn’t hurt that we ate right at the taco bar on the sidewalk that faced into the kitchen. Great spot if you’re craving good Mexican food.
She Said: The empanadas in South America have been a favorite snack of ours, eaten any time of day. Güerrin (the same place that scored my favorite pie) took it a step above, offering deep-fried empanadas. Cholesterol be damned, it was delicious.
He Said: Café Tortoni. Touristy? Without a doubt. Still worth the stop? Absolutely. The miniature coffees served by old-man waiters were a bit overpriced, but I couldn’t resist after taking a look inside and being transported back to our days of café und kuchen in Vienna (and really, I just wanted another excuse to say and write the word “kuchen”).
She Said: Clasica y Moderna Libros. Exposed brick and delicious café made for an enjoyable escape from the rain. Plus, there’s a bookstore inside. Easy win.
Favorite Unexpected Moment:
He Said: Our second night brought us a surprise homemade empanada dinner with our lovely airbnb hosts, Damian and Laya. We’ve become fans of these sorts of meat and/or veggie filled treats ever since we had our first momos in Nepal. It continued in Chile and we were happy to keep the empanada train rolling in Argentina. Laya invited us to make a couple batches with her, and there was no chance we were saying no. Noelle carried much of the conversation from our end (per usual), which was good for me since I’m pretty sure I may have blacked out from deliciousness a few times after tucking into the homemade deliciousness.
She Said: Our short-lived tango lesson! We knew we wanted to catch a show while in the home of the famously sensual dance, but decided in the end to attend a mélange instead. While still technically a “show” (aka the less coordinated watch those who can actually tango), it’s really a dance hall where locals gather to dance each night. We impulsively decided to head to La Viruta on a recommendation from Tim and Cynthia the night before, to take advantage of the brief lesson they offer to beginners beforehand. Great idea, right? Well, take into account it’s in Spanish (which we do not speak) and that TANGO IS REALLY HARD (to an extent we didn’t expect), and you’ll see why it may have been a bit presumptuous. But we sure have the first catorce (that’s 14, of course) counts DOWN. Upon which Dave suggested we get a bottle of wine and watch the rest of the class from our seats. Sigh.
Favorite Local Custom:
He Said: Medialunas for breakfast. Marked by nothing more than a simple tweak to the always-reliable breakfast croissant, I would not be opposed to welcoming these ever-so-slightly glazed treats to the U.S. We found some amazing ones around Buenos Aires after our introduction to this Argentine staple in Mendoza. Fresh-out-of-the-oven batches at an unassuming corner café and a small, neighborhood bakery in Palermo Soho showed us the way these are supposed to taste, and croissants have been less fulfilling ever since.
She Said: One of the more most rampant local customs is the consumption of maté, a tea made with leaves from the local yerba maté plant. Consumed from the traditional gourd cups or just your standard mug, the beverage is everywhere. People literally carry around thermoses filled with the stuff to sip as they walk down the street, enjoy lunch, work at their desks…wherever and whenever, really. As the ninth largest tea-producing country, it stands to reason it’s so common, but the devotion to the drink by the locals borders on religious.