Buenos Aires – San Telmo – Places to Eat and Drink
San Telmo is the oldest barrio in Buenos Aires so it has heaps of characterful bars and good quality restaurants. Many have their windows painted with “filetes”, a typical Argentine decorative painting style.
I holidayed here for a week in 2014 and got to know the area quite well.
Please see my separate post for stuff to see in the neighbourhood. This post has reviews of two Parrillas (steakhouses), one expensive, one cheap, a wine shop, a pork restaurant and a Japanese dining room. There are a few bars which also do food at the bottom of the post, and finally the guest house I stayed at. All of them are on this Google map.
La Brigada (Advanced A-) 465 Estados Unidos (between Bolivar and Defense), Tel: 4361 5557/4361 4685
Given that La Brigada was described by several locals and Time Out as the best Parrilla in town (and this in the capital of a country which justifiably believes that it has the best beef in the world) I really needed to try it out, and I wasn’t disappointed.
There was a long queue when I arrived (Sunday lunchtime must be the busiest day due to all the tourists going to the antiques market) but I left my name and came back in half an hour whereupon I had the good fortune to meet Chris, a friendly American also dining alone. We joined forces and shared a table and lots of good conversation.
We were hoping for some kind of mixed grill affair but unfortunately each meaty item was sold and served individually. I started with a tiny link of Morcilla (black pudding) which was one of the moistest and tastiest I’ve ever eaten (A+). I think it had a fair bit of garlic in it which added lots of flavour. I followed this with a solitary Chorizo which was tasty but needed several dollops of Chimichurri to bring out the flavour (B).
For me this was followed by two rare steaks; a Bife de Chorizo (sirloin) and a Lomo (tenderloin), both of which were fantastic (A+) but with the sirloin having a bit more flavour.
As you can see in one of the pictures below, their boast here is that the meat is so tender that you can cut it with a spoon.
I had the steaks a side order of unspecial Papas Fritas (B-) and a bottle of Finca las Moras Malbec, one of the cheapest on the very extensive list at 70 pesos but wonderfully full-bodied and well worth the money (A).
For dessert, it had to be Panqueque de Dulce de Leche, pancakes filled with the ubiquitous sweet made from caramelised milk which you will find everywhere in Argentina and Chile (where it’s called ‘manjar’). Nice but so sweet it made my teeth hurt (B-).
Finally a shot of Grappa Luxardo (B+), described by the waiter as local but actually from Italy, finished the proceedings nicely. The only downer was the waiter who could only cope with one thing at a time and had to run round rather frantically as a result. Overall though, while it was more expensive than a normal Parrilla, it was definitely worth the visit.
Desnivel (Elementary B+), 855 Defensa
This is big famous parrilla that quickly fills up with locals and tourists so you need to get there early during busy periods. There is no finesse here, just plastic tablecloths and bendy cutlery, but the waiters are all great personalities, which can’t be said for the ones I met at La Brigada.
The meat is fine but choose the wine carefully. I’d give the house red a miss (C-) even though it’s served in cute Penguinitos (small penguin shaped wine jugs). I changed mine for a half bottle of Norton thinking it would be the Classico which is usually quite decent (B+). However it turned out to be Norton Coleccion which is also pretty horrible (C+). Doh! I’d spend a bit more on something decent if I were you.
I had the Tabla de Achuras to start. This involved intestinos (intestines), rinones (kidneys), higado (liver) and mollejas (thymus glands aka ‘sweetbreads’). All fine but slightly charred (B-). The following rump steak was great (B+).
To finish Budin de Pan, aka bread pudding with Dulce de Leche which satisfied my sweet tooth. To go with it, a glass of sweet Cosecha Tardia (late harvest) also from Norton but much more palatable (B).
Even if better food can be found elsewhere Desnivel is a great choice for those on a budget and should definitely be experienced.
Parrilla Lo de Freddy aka Nuestra Parrilla (Elementary A), 471 Carlos Calvo
A hole-in-the-wall parrilla (in the outer wall of the Mercado de San Telmo) where you can get excellent Choripán, a butterflied and grilled chorizo in a bread bun. The sausage should be smothered with Chimmichurri (chilli, red pepper, coriander, parsley and more) and Salsa Criollo (onion, bell peppers, vinegar et al). I can also recommend the Morcipan (A). Fast, flavoursome and inexpensive, it’s a must do experience.
Chochan (Intermediate A), 672 Piedras, www.facebook.com/chochanbuenosaires
I really like this place and if I were to open a restaurant it would be just like this one! Everything on the menu is pork based (finally a change from beef) and they have a good selection of wines which the English speaking waitress will be happy to tell you about. The atmosphere is bright and modern and they really should have more customers but being tucked down a side street off the beaten track probably means they don’t get many walk ups.
I started with the Croquetas de Papa y Morcillla, aka potato and blood sausage croquettes, which were unsightly but very tasty! (B+). I followed up with the Panceta Braseada sandwich, pork belly with grated carrots and peanut butter. The first bite, which included some crispy crackling, was a revelation, one of the best things I’ve ever eaten! (A++). However when the crackling ran out it became a bit cloying and hard to finish (B-). More crackling please.
Comedor Nikkai (Intermediate A), 732 Avenida Independencia
I adore Japanese food and when I find an authentic place I’m all over it. What could be more authentic than the dining room of the Asociacion Japonesa en la Argentina, a cultural association where you can also take classes in all things Japanese (martial arts, flower arranging etc).
I always come here for lunch when I’m in town. Their set menus are great value and taste pretty good (B+). On this occasion I had Menu 3 which involved Toriteri (fried chicken with teriyaki sauce), Harumaki (spring rolls with sweet sauce), Gohan (white rice), three pieces of Makimono sushi roll (salmon, cream cheese, cucumber), a salad and a bowl of Misoshiru (soya paste soup) for a piffling cost of $100 which included a 10% discount for paying in cash. A bottle of Crystal beer took the bill to $140, just over £7.
The entrance is along a corridor down the side of the cultural association’s front door and you wouldn’t know it was there unless you looked carefully. It’s well worth the effort of finding it though.
Señor Telmo (Intermediate C), 756 Defensa
I’m a pizza snob and am totally unimpressed by the quality of pizzas in Baires, despite it’s huge Italian immigrant population. Can’t remember what this one was called but it was horrible (C-). Just look at the luminous sausage! Even though it has a good rep this is one to avoid I reckon.
Coffee Town (Elementary A), 976 Bolivar (inside the Mercado de San Telmo), www.coffeetownargentina.com
As the name suggests this place makes some of the best coffee in town. They also do a mean Mexican breakfast of Huevos Rancheros which is generally how I started my day.
The oldest bar in the area is Bar Federal (599 Carlos Calvo), built in 1864. The coffee is ok here so it’s a nice peaceful place to have a medialuna and a cortado.
Bar Plaza Dorrego (1098 Defensa) with its graffiti covered furniture is a good vantage point to watch the goings on in the square of the same name which hosts the famous antiques fair every Sunday and tango dancing the rest of the time.
Just up the road another favourite bar is El Hipopotamo (401 Brasil), built in 1904. I come here for a ‘submarino’ (a chocolate bar melting in hot milk) and a slice of Tarta Manzana (apple tart) Both were good (B).
Also woody and atmospheric if a bit run down is Gibraltar Bar (895 Peru) www.thegibraltarbar.com which has the feel of a British pub. They reckon they serve the best Thai green curry in town but don’t believe them (C).
Many of San Telmos drinking establishments have been listed by the city government as being ‘cafes y bares notables’ (full list here).
Exactly opposite La Brigada there is a great wine shop called Vinotango (at 488 Estados Unidos) which is run by a lovely couple who speak excellent English. If you liked your wine in La Brigada, they’ll probably have it here. They also have regular wine-tasting sessions in the shop during which Huan the husband sings Tango songs.
I stayed at Tango Hogar (Elementary A), 772 Estados Unidos www.tangohogar.com.ar, a guest house with just four rooms in a large rambling family house. It’s very cheap and friendly and a good place to meet other international travellers.
Please see my separate post for stuff to see and do in San Telmo.