My mission to eat at all of the most famous steak houses in Buenos Aires started in San Telmo. The neighbourhood has a couple of well-known parrillas that need to be ticked off the list. You’ll find them both on my city map).
La Brigada (Advanced A-), 465 Estados Unidos (between Bolivar and Defense)
Back in 2011 La Brigada was described to me by several locals and Time Out magazine as ‘the best Parrilla in town’, and this is in the capital city of a country which, with some justification, believes that it has the best beef in the world. Given the fanfare, 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 half an hour later whereupon I had the good fortune to meet Chris, a friendly American also dining alone. We joined forces, shared a table and had lots of good conversation.
We were hoping for a parrillada, a mixed grill, but unfortunately each meat item on the menu is sold and served individually. I started with a tiny link of Morcilla (black pudding) which was one of the moistest and tastiest I’d ever eaten (A+). It had a fair bit of garlic in it which added heaps of flavour. I followed this with a solitary Chorizo (paprika sausage) which was tasty but needed several dollops of Chimichurri (a salsa made of chopped parsley, garlic, olive oil, oregano and red wine vinegar) to bring out the flavour (B).
I followed the sausages with two steaks, both cooked rare; a Bife de Chorizo (sirloin) followed by a Lomo (tenderloin), both of which were fantastic (A+) but with the sirloin having a bit more flavour. The boast here is that the meat is so tender that you can cut it with a spoon which the waiter demonstrated as he served us.
With 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 wine list at $70, but wonderfully full-bodied and easily 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. You’ll find it everywhere in Argentina and Chile (where it’s called ‘manjar’). It was nice, but so sweet that it made my teeth hurt (B-).
Finally a shot of Grappa Luxardo from Italy, finished the proceedings nicely (B+). The only downer was the waiter who could only cope with doing 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.
In 2011 I tried another famous local steakhouse…
Desnivel (Elementary B+), 855 Defensa
Although ‘The Snivel’, as I like to call it, can seat a lot of people, this famous parrilla quickly fills up with both locals and tourists, so I advise arriving early during peak times. There is no attempt at finesse here, expect plastic tablecloths and bendy cutlery, but the waiters are all great personalities, which is more than can 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 if it is served in a cute Penguinito (a small, penguin-shaped wine jug, a great souvenir). After tasting it, 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 money 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 yet more Dulce de Leche, which as ever satisfied my sweet tooth. To go with it, a glass of sweet late harvest Cosecha Tardia, also from Norton but much more palatable that the red (B).
Better food can definitely be found elsewhere but Desnivel is a great choice for those on a budget. It should definitely be experienced in my opinion.
Some other places to eat next…