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.

Café Tortoni

(Traditional Argentinean)
Avenida de Mayo 825
4342-4328
Open Monday-Saturday 8 a.m. to 3 a.m.
Sunday 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Prices: $8 to $10 per person; tango show $20 per person

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As much a part of Buenos Aires’s history as tango master Carlos Gardel or political corruption, Café Tortoni has operated continuously since 1858. The extremely crowded wooden tables span across an endless-seeming marble floor upstairs, and downstairs a cozy salon has jazz and authentic tango shows. Classic Argentine café fare like wooden boards with picadas (cubes of cheese, pickled vegetables, and cuts of meat) and Spanish-influenced “chocolaty churros” (fried dough sticks to dunk in thick, rich hot chocolate) make a great snack any time of the day or night, and there’s rarely an hour when Café Tortoni won’t be packed. Don’t let the crowds deter you: They’re there for a reason.

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Dylan

(Gelato)
Perú 1086
No phone number available
Open daily 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Prices: $1 to $4 per person depending on the number of scoops

Unlike dense scoops of the Italian variety, Buenos Aires’s gorgeous gelatos are piled on a cone with a paddle, so they’re pyramidal, like soft-serve ice cream. One of the best places to try them is Dylan, whose spare white interior and sidewalk benches are filled with people licking a cone year-round. In the summer, the shop’s delivery bicycles pack ice cream into Styrofoam tubs with dry ice on top, guaranteeing it arrives perfectly frozen at your door. Classic flavors are dulce de leche, bitter chocolate, and strawberry; more exotic choices are beer, grapefruit, and Russian cream (a white, creamy flavor that tastes like the Dude’s cocktail of choice in The Big Lebowski).

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Mercado San Telmo

(Indoor Market)
Accessible via Defensa, Carlos Calvo, Bolívar, and Estados Unidos
No phone number available
Open Monday-Saturday 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9 p.m.
Sunday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Prices: vary, e.g., a loaf of bread is about 30 cents, a carton of yogurt is about 75 cents

This three-block-long indoor market is filled with antiques, junk, and secondhand clothes on one side; meat and cheese markets, bakeries, and vegetable stalls on the other. Pick up a couple of soft rolls and some cheese, house-cured salami, tomatoes, and alfajor cookies for dessert, then sit and picnic on a bench in the plaza just outside. Someone will inevitably roll by with a cart filled with thermoses of coffee—ask for a cortado dulce and you’ll get a tiny plastic cup with strong coffee and condensed milk.

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Pirilo

(Pizza)
Defensa 821
No phone number available
Open Tuesday-Sunday 12:30 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Closed Monday
Prices: $2 per person

Classic Argentine pies like deep-dish mozzarella, fugazzetta (onion focaccia stuffed with mozzarella), and cancha (no cheese, eaten cold with ground chile, tomato, and oregano) are the specialties at this standing-room-only establishment. Argentine pizza is completely different from the Italian pies we Americans know, so be prepared for a new experience (it hardly ever comes with tomato sauce, and the thick crust resembles focaccia). Lean against the counter and watch groups of young people heading to the bars putting down a slice, businessmen on their way home for dinner splitting a beer before facing the wife and kids, people stopping to pick up pizzas for a night in with friends, and taxi drivers pausing between fares.

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