San Telmo Neighborhood
Eat, drink, tango, shop, and sleep
Phone Number Note: To reach Argentina from the United States, dial 011 54 11 before all phone numbers listed.
“Estoy cuidandome,” says the beautiful porteño, or “port dweller” as Buenos Aires residents define themselves, as she or he orders a salad at the steakhouse. This means, “I’m taking care of myself,” and when friends hear it, they nod sympathetically. In Buenos Aires, dieting is as much a national pastime as polo. But for a group of people who don’t eat very much, porteños sure love their restaurants—and they like to visit them late.
Dining rooms reach full swing after 10 p.m., and most places serve until 2 a.m. or later. Though you won’t see restaurants described as “Italian” or “Spanish,” the meats, pastas, and pizzas that immigrants brought with them a hundred years ago remain a large part of porteño cuisine, making up a bulk of the menu at many of the both traditional and modern Argentine restaurants we’ve listed.
Service is s-l-o-w (though often much more personable than in the United States), so be prepared to spend a few hours in a restaurant. Locals go for the scene more than the food—why shouldn’t you? A 10 percent tip will be greatly appreciated, and don’t be surprised by the cubiertos (flatware) addition on your bill: Restaurants charge to use their cutlery! Below you’ll find recommended places to eat, organized most to least expensive. At lunch (and sometimes dinner), many restaurants offer a set menu, with a choice of a drink, a main course, and either an appetizer or a dessert. These menús, as they’re called—what we call a menu is the carta—are a much better value than ordering items à la carte.
Defensa 596 (corner of México)
Open Monday 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.
Tuesday-Friday and Sunday 12:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Saturday 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Prices: lunch $11 per person; dinner $15 per person
Complimentary Kir Royales start every meal at this classic French brasserie. While perfectly musky French onion soup, a collection of Ricard bottles, and the owner’s accent might seem cliché in a fancy restaurant stateside, Petanque is one of the only French eateries in BA. And it’s a good one. At dinner, foie gras and tiny, flavorful escargot are fine choices before the evenly crisped crème brûlée. Petanque’s wide-open, high-ceilinged dining room is an excellent Sunday brunch spot (Buenos Aires time: 3 p.m.!), where plenty of daylight, a glass of Chablis, and a croque monsieur with organic greens will transform last night’s hangover into today’s buzz. Or eat crêpes as you watch Sunday shoppers browse the street fair outside the window in the Plaza Dorrego (see Feria de San Pedro Telmo under Shopping).
Open Monday-Tuesday noon to 3:30 p.m.
Wednesday-Saturday noon to 3:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Prices: lunch $10 per person; dinner $15 per person
On a cold winter (June through August) night, this Basque tapas restaurant is a refuge with its cozy fireplace, tiny olives, and jamón serrano. Follow up the toothpicked morsels with a wide assortment of fancy cheeses (somewhat of a rarity in this blue-collar neighborhood, where most people subsist on meat, meat, and more meat) and a bottle of rough red Tempranillo, and you might not even have room for the classic Basque entrées like oxtail stew. Burzako’s got touches of a traditional Spanish tavern (like whitewashed brick walls and paintings by Spanish artists), but the crowd is young and decidedly modern. Excellent, friendly service and tasty, hearty desserts like red-wine-poached pears with ginger ice cream will make you wish you lived next door.
Martha Salotti 445, Puerto Madero
Open daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Prices: $25 to $30 per person
The high-end restaurant connected to the Faena Hotel + Universe (see Hotels) serves molecular-gastronomy-type dishes like caviar in white chocolate foam. We recommend its more low-key cousin, El Mercado, which serves home-style food in a still-posh environment. You dine at one long communal table in what looks like a rich person’s home, with dark china cabinets and wood floors painted with colorful Fileteado, an art nouveau–ish filigree motif found all over BA. Though service can be a little pretentious, the fancified adobe-oven pizzas, homemade breads, and oven-baked empanadas are better here than most anywhere else in BA. That might not sound that special until you’ve tried enough hard triangles of gluey cheese elsewhere.
(Traditional Argentine Parrilla)
Estados Unidos 465
Open daily noon to 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. to midnight
Prices: $15 to $20 per person
For the highest-quality parrilla in the neighborhood (if not in all of Buenos Aires), La Brigada can’t be beat. Unusual beef and veal cuts like chinchulin (lower intestine), marucha (part of the short ribs), and offal (kidneys and udder) are cooked over a huge, open grill and speared from a communal platter onto your plate. Though lots of BA parrillas seem to attract backpackers and screaming kids, this more refined one is filled with upscale Palermo residents on casual dates and businessmen discussing wine. One urban legend has it that the police actually own this place (La Brigada means The Brigade or Squad). There’s always an armed lawman standing at the door. For the equivalent of about $25 per person, you’ll get grilled provoleta cheese (a local specialty in which a disc of this soft white cheese is put in a cassoulet dish and pushed to the back of the grill until it melts), a huge hunk of meat to share, spicy sausages, black pudding, more salad than you can finish, and a great bottle of red wine.