WARNING: This contains info on not just restaurants, but also hotels and activites. It was info we would have wanted when planning our trip, so we included it.
We were in Argentina 10/5-10/15/07, and here is our trip report. A word of thanks to all of the posters on this group, and your advice helped us make many planning decisions. Note: All of the prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.
The 5th-10th, we were in Buenos Aires. We stayed at the Hotel BoBo in the Argentina Suite, and really enjoyed it. The staff was extremely helpful in organizing all of our needs both before and after we arrived, and the included breakfast was good. On our first night, we had dinner at Casa Saltshaker. This was a perfect experience for our first night in the city, as we got to eat some very good food with other English speakers, some of who had lived in BA for many, many years. The dinner itself was 5 courses with available wine pairings, and with wine and tip it was about $90 total for two people. According to Dan (the chef), he often cooks on a given theme, and our night was Portugal. It was a well-done menu, but come prepared to try something new as the menu is set the same for everyone.
On our second day in BA we went for a personalized day-long tour of the city which had been arranged through BoBo. We had two guides, one to drive/comment in Spanish and one to give us the dialogue in English. This was a wonderful experience—they drove us all over the city and we could stop whenever we wished. To us the highlights were the Recoleta cemetery where we saw really interesting things that we would have definitely missed on our own, and we also were guided through the colorful Boca area. The guides, Fernanda & Pablo with GHMA tours, were very knowledgeable about Argentine history and politics and put many things into perspective for us. The tour was $180 total for two people including the tip. That night we ate at Tomo 1. The food here is very good, but I would not say that it was outstanding. We began with a salad (hazelnuts, soft cheese, vinaigrette) and the soup, and both were very good. The main dishes were merely acceptable: a decent but unimaginative pasta with truffle sauce, and lamb with green “beans” (which are actually peas) and a light sauce that was okay but was not really special in any way. That desserts were easily the highlight of the meal: a molten chocolate cake with gelato and a dulce de leche gelato with a nut sponge cake and cream. This dinner was $126 for two people including wine.
The third day in BA was a lot of fun. Through BoBo, we were able to get great seats for the River vs. Boca soccer game. This was very expensive ($400 US for two, but this may be less for other games) but it was a once in a lifetime experience. This got us seats at the game, as well as transportation and a guide to and from the stadium. The pageantry surrounding the game was amazing with loads of confetti, balloons, etc. There are four things to know if you go: 1) They do not allow intoxicated people into the games and they do random breath check on those entering the game. 2) There is a limited selection of food and drinks and you must have cash. It is best to just eat before you go. 3) There is no toilet paper in the bathrooms, so you may want to take some Kleenex. 4) Do not plan on a quick event. They do not let the home fans leave the River stadium until all of the other fans have left—this took about 40 min—and then you have to deal with the crowds and traffic leaving the area. That night, we wandered down to San Telmo and decided on a whim to attend a tango show. We wound up at a place called Michealangelo’s. The show was mediocre and the food was worse, so it is not something that we would recommend.
On our fourth day, we just meandered around Palermo. We went to lunch at Sudestrada as we were craving spicy food. The food here is Pan Asian, and was of decent quality. They have a lunch special for 26 pesos that included a drink, and appetizer and main dish. One lunch was curry, that was definitely more Indian in style than Thai, and the other was a Vietnamese beef dish. Both were flavorful, but not really spicy. They did provide raw jalapenos to add some heat. For dinner, we went to La Cabrera. This may have been the best meal we had in Argentina, as it was outstanding. Everything you have read about the portions being huge are true. There is no need for appetizers or extra side dishes, though we foolishly ordered appetizers, as we had no idea of the bounty to come. We each ordered a cut of beef (rib eye and tenderloin, both done medium) and they came served with sides, totaling 15 different little dishes in all. The sizes of the meat portions were huge, about a pound of meat each. As though this were not enough, there was also bread. The quality of the beef was very, very good and it almost melted in your mouth. The sides were also very tasty, but the beef is the star of the show. Dessert was out of the question given how full we were. This meal cost $91 US including a bottle of wine, but not including the tip.
On the fifth and last day in BA, we did some shopping. We ate lunch at Piola, which had some pretty decent pizzas. The selection of pizzas is huge, and we got a classic Magerita and a pizza with ham, cheese, egg, and mushroom. The pizzas have a thin-ish crust with a nice red sauce. They were very similar to good pizza in the US.
We then traveled on to El Calafate, where we stayed in the Design Suites Hotel. The hotel itself was very nice with a modern design and feel. We booked a full lake and mountain view, so the vista out our window was fabulous. The hotel room was very clean with plenty of space. One word of caution: do not leave papers lying about with financial information. One night when we returned to the hotel, we discovered all of our reservation papers were missing. We informed the front desk and they were able to quickly track down the papers via the maid and get our papers retuned to us. However, there was another traveler’s papers within our stuff, so we know we weren’t the only one this happened to. We still have no idea why they were taken, but we decided to chalk it up to a misunderstanding.
On the first day, we went on a 4x4 excursion up a local mountain that we booked via the hotel. This was a lot of fun, as you get pretty high up and the views of the Andes were really outstanding. This was about $40 US per person, including tip. That night, we went back early to eat dinner at the hotel and watch the sun set over the Andes from the restaurant. The food in the hotel is pretty good, but it is very expensive for that area. We had risotto and lamb prepared two ways, and both were acceptable. The real attraction was the view of the sunset, which definitely worth the price. With appetizers and wine, the meal was around $100 US.
On the second day, we took the mini-trekking trip across the glacier. This was another once in a lifetime experience for us, and we were grateful that they had English-speaking guides. It is one thing to order dinner in Spanish; it is quite another to try and be taught how to hike on ice in Spanish. The scenery was amazing, unlike anything we has ever seen. We also got to see the occasional ice sheet crack off and fall from the glacier, which was really a sight to behold. As for the gear, you can rent all of that for the day in town for 220 pesos total for two people, so there is really no need to try and cram it in your luggage. The mini-trekking was also arranged through the hotel and was about $100 US per person not including tips. For dinner, we ate in town at La Tablita. The food here was much more basic than the other places we had eaten, but the portions were huge and filling. The cordero was particularly good, and was brought to the table on a coal-fired hot plate, to keep it really hot while you ate it.
We then pushed on to Mendoza. Here we stayed at Las Cavas Wine Lodge, and it was really a beautiful property. The room itself was spectacular, with a private plunge pool and viewing deck with fire place. We also had another wonderful view of the mountains from our suite. We had booked the package, so all of the food was provided, as were the drivers and the tours. We arrived late our first night (see below note about Aerolineas), so we just ate at the Lodge. The food was fairly good at the hotel restaurant but not really memorable.
The second day we set out to see some wineries. The first place we want was Landelia. This place was a real find. There were only four of us on the tour and the tastings were free and very generous. We brought back two bottles of this wine for $30US total. What a steal. The then went on to the CAP Vistalba winery and had lunch at La Bourgogne. The lunch experience was a nice one. The restaurant had a nice ambience and good service. The food itself was very good—we started with two of the appetizers, the salmon and the octopus, both of which were superbly prepared with a silky texture to the meat. For the mains we had pumpkin pasta and the lamb, which were also delicious. We topped it off with a delectable dessert of ducle de leche done three ways. I do not know the cost, as it was included in our hotel package. The winery itself, though, left much to be desired. We were rushed through a 10 min tour and then charged 25 pesos for a tasting of their low end wines, none of which were very good. Needless to say, we did not buy anything. For dinner, we ate at 1884, a local favorite. The “chocolate for fanatics” desert was very nice, and the food here was very good, but it was not anything different than we had at Tomo 1 or La Bourgogne. It all fairness, we were starting to suffer from too many meals that tasted the same.
The third day we started at Carinae winery. This place was interesting as it was a French couple who retired to Mendoza and started up a winery. The owner himself gave the tour so we got to ask a lot of questions before tasting the wines. The low end tasting was 5 pesos and the high end 15 pesos. The low end wines were good values, but nothing you couldn’t find in the States. The high end wines, though, were special. They had a great structure and complexity and could age for many years to come. We bought of bottle of each of the two high end offerings for a total of $65 US. The next stop was lunch at LaGarde, another winery. This was very different than La Bourgogne, but great in its own way. When we were walking in, we could see then roasting different meats on open pits. We were sat in a private room, and the procession of food and wine started. We were served 3 different Viogniers and 4 different Malbecs throughout the meal. The food was straightforward and satisfying: sausages, rib eye, potatoes, bread. We were full and happy. We ended at Achaval Ferrer, which produces only Malbecs. This place reminded us of the specialty producers of Pinot Noir in Oregon. They are passionate about their chosen grape and focus on high end, single vineyard wines. We did some barrel tastings, but as the wine was still in early aging, they were difficult to appreciate. The top bottles here were $110 US each, and they were already sold out of most of it. For dinner that night, we were burned out on Argentine style food, so our hotel sent us to Francesca’s, a local Italian place. This was a good move, as they make most of all their pasta fresh daily, and you could really taste it in the meal. We had baked pasta plates of lasagna, spinach with ricotta and cream sauce, and a tortellini like pasta with a pink sauce of tomatoes and cream. Yum. Again, no price as it was included in our package.
The next day, we grabbed a light but fresh and filling lunch of salads and empanadas at the hotel before heading back to the US. Mendoza was great.
A few side notes on Argentina in general: The taxis are very cheap, so you can take them often if you wish. Try to have the exact amount you want to pay, though, as few drivers will give you change; and always take radio taxis that have the phone number on the top, as the other taxis tend to not use the meters and try to overcharge you. Second, currency is somewhat of a difficult proposition. You will encounter many people and places who only take cash and few have change. To get cash, you have to go to the ATMs but these generally dispense 100 peso notes and no smaller bills. Additionally, there is a limit on how much cash you can withdraw at a time—900 pesos (To get 900, you must withdraw 300 three times, as there is also a limit on each withdrawal). This may seem like a lot, but when you are paying cash for most things, it goes very quickly. This is especially true as most restaurants will not let you add a tip to the bill to charge to your credit card—you must leave any tip on the table in cash. We felt as though we were on a constant quest for change to use for taxis, etc. We were very glad we had brought some smaller bills with us so that we could use them at that beginning of our trip. Third, the country is pretty casual as far as dress is concerned. Jeans are very common, even in the more expensive restaurants. Fourth, you may have noticed that we did not mention the wines that we had a dinner. The reason for this is simple: most all of them were good, and most all of them were the same. Argentina excels at big Malbecs, and that is what they focus on. Simply spend 80 or more pesos and you will probably be fine. Finally, the Aerolineas Argentinas airline just sucks. We really had no choice, as LAN Airlines (the only real competitor) did not offer flights that fit our schedule. If you are in that same boat, be sure to build in 2-3 extra hours to your travel schedule – we always took off late and landed late. Also leave plenty of time to make your international flight—we had over four hours of “buffer time” scheduled in the Buenos Aires airport for our flight home, but only made it to our gate with 30 minutes to spare due to the horrible Mendoza-to-BA flight on Aerolineas.