Buenos Aires: Faded Elegance, High Design

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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.

Abuela Pan

(Macrobiotic)
Bolívar 707
4361-4936
Open Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (delivery noon to 3:30 p.m.)
Lunch prices: $6 per person

An island of macrobiotic vegetarianism in a sea of meat, Abuela Pan (“Grandma Bread”) serves wholesome lunches. There are three separate set, multicourse lunch menus to choose from (one is low-calorie) that offer dishes like vegan brown-rice sushi with cucumbers, carrots, and tofu; or vegetarian chop suey (flash-sautéed vegetables like mung bean sprouts, cabbage, and celery bound with a starch-thickened sauce), fresh-squeezed carrot juice, and homemade milanesas de soja (soy patties) that are a far cry from the frozen, cardboard vegetarian options served at most BA restaurants. Abuela Pan’s bread is hand-kneaded and made with whole-wheat flour: dark, nutty, and a welcome relief from the ubiquitous soft white rolls that you’ll find at other places.

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El Desnivel

(Traditional Argentine Parrilla)
Defensa 855
4300-9081
Open Monday 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Tuesday-Saturday noon to 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Sunday noon to 1 a.m.
Prices: lunch $5 to $6 per person; dinner $6 to $7 per person

The vibe of El Desnivel is bigger, busier, and more fun than at most other parrillas. Sides of beef and whole goats are carted from the butcher store next door and thrown on enormous grills, then served family style to rowdy Malbec-drinking groups. The bustling waiters have 20-table sections, so service is no-frills: You order your meat; the waiter comes with a platter and slaps it down on your plate, then walks away. The thick, caramel-custardy homemade flan for dessert is a far cry from the wobbly, watery dish most North Americans know. Be sure to request a table in the main restaurant rather than on the newly remodeled patio if you want to be up in the mix. You might be able to get fancier meat elsewhere (like at La Brigada, see “High End”), but you won’t get the party experience you get here.

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Territorio

(Modern Argentinean)
Estados Unidos 500 (corner of Bolívar)
4300-9756 / 4307-0896
Open daily 10 a.m. to 2 a.m.
Prices: $8 per person

Equally appropriate for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a 1 a.m. snack, Territorio is both a café and a bar. We’ve included it under restaurants because the proprietors brew their own beer, bake their own bread, and cure their own charcuterie, and it’s all delicious. The house-made honey mead and barley wine are excellent, high-alcohol relief from the omnipresent, watery national beer of choice, Quilmes. Territorio also has the best artisanal imported beer list in the neighborhood, with plenty of Scottish and Belgian varieties. Patagonian specialties such as cubed goat cheese, pastrami, smoked deer, and wild boar prosciutto (in BA you’ll usually just find salami when it comes to charcuterie) are served on a board with small loaves of the home-baked bread. The specialty house sandwiches, on more of the same tasty bread, make excellent fuel for people-watching and intellectual café talk.

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