Please see the previous post for things to see and do in Salta. Here’s my Google map showing all the places mentioned. Please click on the place marks for more info.
Salta is famous for its empanadas and as I was under orders from my friend Anthea in BsAs to procure her some, I set out to find the best Empanadas Salteneos in town.
A good starting point according to my web searches was El Patio de la Empanada, on Avenida San Martin on the corner with Esteco.
The patio is a collection of seven vendors, each with a numbered stall, grouped around a pleasant courtyard filled with sun umbrellas and tables covered in brightly coloured cloths.
I managed to sample the wares of four of them, slaking my thirst on a very hot day with chilled bottles of Salta lager (B) at each stop. Here are the results:
At Vendor 7 I began with the classic Empanada de Carne (minced beef) and the also very common Empanada de Pollo (chicken), both of which were deep fried as opposed to being baked, the more delicious option in my opinion, especially doused with tomato salsa, flavoured with salt and aji chilli. They were the best I’d ever tasted (A+ and A respectively), which was a promising start. I wasn’t keen on the unsmiling lady who ran the place though as she tried to overcharge me, albeit just a few pesos.
I liked the people at Vendor 5 much more and their Empanada Charqui (dried beef) and Empanada Picada a Cuchillo (diced beef as opposed to mince) were also excellent (A and A+).
Next at Vendor 2 I sampled the Empanada de Arabes (a special spice mix) and the Empanada de Matambre (a specific beef cut), opting for the baked versions for a change (both A).
Finally at Vendor 3 I had a fried Empanada de Carne and an Empanada de Queso (cheese) also very tasty (A- and A) if a bit hollow. The Arabes won it for me though and I came back on my last day for a half dozen (along with three Carnes and three Matambres) to take back to Anthea, to much acclaim.
It was quite a pleasant way to spend a hot sunny afternoon, watching the funky vehicles passing on the street out of the door and fending off knife and baby guitar sellers. There were a few musicians amongst the clientele who seemed to be writing songs over lunch and would burst into song every now and then.
This place also came up in web searches and local recommendations as a good spot to eat Empanadas Salteneos:
La Criollita (Intermediate B), 306 Zuviria, Tel. 431 7342
I was first brought for lunch here by the local teacher I was working with. The restaurant specialises in local foods and we had the classic trio of baked Empanadas Carne, Pollo and Queso, all excellent again of course (A).
I came back one evening and tried a couple of the classics of Andean cuisine; Tamales (maize flour shells filled with Charqui dried meat) and Humitas (mashed maize), both of which are steamed in little parcels made of maize husks. They were fine but not something I’d go wild for (B).
I also had Locro, the famous Andean stew which the menu said was made of sausage but in fact had chunks of beef and rings of intestine instead. Again it was ok but I wouldn’t have it here again (C+) although I’ve had other versions elsewhere that I’ve enjoyed.
The local Nanni red wine was similarly unremarkable (C+) as was the well-known dessert Quesillos con Miel de Cana (thin slices of tasteless cheese in sugar syrup (not honey despite the name). This all came to a very cheap $259.
I wanted to give Andean cuisine a proper try though, so I went to this more upmarket place on another evening:
Restaurante Jose Balcarce (Advanced C), 912 Mitre, on the corner with Neochea
Things started well with the Llama Carpaccio, which involved wafer thin slices of the rich red meat piled high with curly lettuce leaves and an oil dressing. It was ok (B) but the taste of the meat didn’t really make it through the other flavours on the plate.
Next I went for the Pejerrey, a sea fish used in Andean cuisine, battered and fried and served with a small maize and goat cheese ‘pie’, and a cauliflower puree. I sent it back though (D) as the fish was very dry, the pie was singed and the unpureed cauliflower just tasted horrible.
My young Glaswegian waiter (!) was very apologetic though and asked that I wait while the owner (also a chef) taught the kitchen staff to make the dish again properly so that I could taste how it should be. The results were much better and I enjoyed it a lot more although I still found the fish quite dry and the sweetness of the corn wasn’t a good marriage with everything else on the plate (C+).
The local white Piatelli Torrontes I drank with the food was ok (B) but not as good as others I’d had. Total cost $349, not too bad I suppose.
After these disappointments I needed to eat well to restore my good humour and as usual it was a parrilla that did it:
La Monumental (Intermediate A), 202 Entre Rios
Don’t confuse it with the big restaurant with the same name that’s on the other side of the road.
I like this place so much that I came here three times in four days! I even got on first name terms with my friendly young waiter Fernando as we practised our rudimentary knowledge of each other’s languages on each other.
To start you always get a few little dishes of accompaniments; black beans, butter beans in a sauce, mayo flavoured with a local herb , stewed aubergine and coleslaw, which are all ok but nothing special (B for the beans, C for the rest). You won’t get Chimichurri or Provencal sauce in this region.
I came hungering for meat in large amounts and asked for a parrillada for one, but the waiter flatly refused to accept my order as it was too much! (I’d confused the restaurant with Viejo Jack, another parrilla recommended by Lonely Planet where a parrillada for one is allowable but rejected by the local teacher who’d two bad experiences there). At Monumental the parrillada (only $202) is meant to be for two people so to assuage the waiter I enlisted the help of Martin, a passing German tourist from Munich.
The parrillada involved chorizo, morcilla, butifarra (a Catalan sausage), mollejas (sweetbreads), chinchulines (small intestines), corazon (heart), ubre (udder) and indeterminate steak. Despite Martin’s assistance though there were still a few leftovers due to the enormity of the task.
My favourite from the parrillada was the Chinchulines (intestines), so I had a whole plate of them to start on my second visit.
They were still great but oversalted and too numerous to finish (B).
To follow I had the huge Churassco de Filet (A-) which I asked them to butterfly as I wanted it rare.
On another occasion I had the equally large Bife de Chorizo (sirloin) with chips and an Ensalada Tradicion (lettuce, tomato, white onion) (B+). Both these steaks were recommended by my teacher friend.
My favourite wine here however was a fantastic 2007 Laborum Malbec (A) www.elporvenirdecafayate.com which was around $200 I think.
Acqui Me Quedo Yo (Intermediate A), 421 Santiago del Estero, Tel. 471 4901
This was a favourite lunch spot for me and my teacher colleague as they serve healthful salads made with super fresh ingredients (B+). I also really enjoyed their corn pie (A) which was like a cottage pie but made with mashed maize rather than potato.
They are open all day 07.30 to 24:00 Monday to Thursday, 07:30 to 13:00 Friday, 09:00 to 13:00 Saturday and 11:30 to 15:30 on Sunday. It might potentially be a good spot for vegetarians.
At the weekend the top end of Balcarce is the place to be, with all the restaurants opening up their pavement terraces, including…
Café del Tiempo (Intermediate B), 901 Balcarce, Tel. 432 0771
I quite like the old world ambience of this place, but not the small shot glass ($40) of very strange tasting ‘El Abuelo’ Limoncello (C). Not sure what the food is like although the teacher said it’s best for emapanadas.
La Estacion Bebidas, 983 Balcarce
The biggest wine shop in town, so in theory a good place to come to look for local wines. However they didn’t have the ones I wanted as they only carry recent years it seems. It’s the same business as the restaurant of the same name just down the street which is a LP recommend, although I didn’t like the impersonal feel and expensive wine list.
Well I hope I weeded out the bad places and dishes for you! There are lots of restaurants I didn’t try on my Google map above.