The chatter and the clinking of knives and forks envelop you. As does the smell of beef straight from the grill at this Buenos Aires steakhouse. The waiter uncorks a bottle of Malbec. You smell its aroma in your glass. You detect a hint of cherry. Or is it blackberry? Your taste buds tingle in anticipation. Its earthy flavors will complement the beef you just ordered.
Argentina is known in the epicurean world for its beef and Malbec wine. The best place you can experience both is a parrilla, Spanish for both a steakhouse and the traditional Argentinean charcoal grill. There are countless parrillas in Buenos Aires, the country’s capital, from no-frills, neighborhood holes-in-the-wall to award-winning, high-end establishments.
A meal at a steakhouse is not comprised of just meat. Oh no. Argentineans like to start with a provoleta, a grilled slice of provolone cheese, golden and crispy outside and soft and melty inside. Deep-fried meat empanadas are also a popular starter, head to head with a matrimonio (which means married couple). A matrimonio consists of a chorizo (pork sausage with spices) and amorcilla (black pudding). You can order them separately.
Offal grilled until crispy outside and creamy inside are also a steakhouse staple starter: mollejas (sweetbreads), chinchulines (chitterlings), and riñón (kidney) are the most popular. Don’t be timid; order these “funky bits” for a truly Argentinean experience.
Some Argentinean cuts are different, but some may sound familiar, like bife de cuadril (rump steak), entraña (skirt steak), lomo (tenderloin), matambre (flank steak), bife ancho (ribeye), tira de asado (shortibs), or vacío (flap steak).
But how do you order beef? If you prefer it very rare, order it vuelta y vuelta. Jugoso is medium rare, a punto is still pink in the middle, cocido is well done, and bien cocido is cooked to almost a crisp. The Argentinean method consists of using the heat from the embers, as opposed to using open flame. The meat is seasoned with salt only.
Don’t Miss These Parrillas
Dry-aged beef is still a novelty, so don’t expect to find it very often yet. Le Grill in posh Puerto Madero is the pioneer of dry-aged beef in Buenos Aires. They dry-age their meat in the basement locker, some of which comes from their own ranch. Their wine cellar, with 3500 bottles, is also located in the basement of the historic 19thcentury building.
La Cabrera has made it to the 50 Best Latin American Restaurants list twice, and deservedly so. La Cabrera has been serving choice Hereford and Aberdeen Angus cuts of beef for over 15 years. Their star dish is the bife de chorizo, juicy sirloin steak with a generous layer of crispy fat that lends the meat so much flavor. Each steak comes with a selection of side dishes served in small bowls. The rather long wait at peak times is made tolerable with a complimentary glass of bubbly and some hors d’oeuvre.
If it’s good for the likes of Michelle Obama, it’s good for you. Gran Parrilla del Plata is located in the historic neighborhood of San Telmo. The parrillatook its name from the butcher’s that originally occupied this building in the 1930s, Grandes Carnicerías del Plata. Some of the features are original, like the floor tiles or the old meat cutting machine. Don’t be fooled by the baby beef, there’s nothing tiny about this one-pound slab of meat.
La Brigada is essentially a neighborhood steakhouse, with framed jerseys signed by famous soccer players hanging from the walls. It’s as porteñoas it gets. Some of the starters are old-time classics, like ensalada rusa (potato, carrot, and pea salad) or vitel thoné (veal with tuna sauce). Take advantage of their meat and wine pairing recommendations, like tira de asado (short ribs) with St. Felicien Malbec, or lomo with Angelica Zapata Malbec. Not many steakhouses serve criadillas (grilled bull’s testicles), but La Brigada does.
Another 50 Best Latin American Restaurants award winner, Don Julio’s tagline is “Restaurante. Carnes. Vinos”. They serve grass-fed, 21-day dry-aged Aberdeen Angus and Hereford beef. If you ask for a recommendation, the waiter will tell you to go for bife de cuadril and entraña. Do it. Any bottle from their exceptional wine list will leave a lasting impression. Patrons sign their empty bottles, which are then displayed on the walls.
With several locations, La Dorita is known for its informal ambience and extensive menu. The tabla de achuras offal sampler includes chorizo, morcilla, riñones, chinchulines, and mollejas. Some of their dishes are big enough to share, like the asado especial, three strips of short ribs per person and a choice of grilled vegetables or fries.
The well-established Cabaña Las Lilas is a high-end parrillalocated in Puerto Madero. The beef comes straight from their 80 year-old-ranch, where they raise Angus, Brangus, Braford, and Brahman cattle. Also, their wine list has won international awards. Cabaña Las Lilas is a place to see and be seen in a coveted location on the riverfront, so their cuts of beef come with a hefty price tag.
You could do worse than going to Parrilla San Cayetano for a homely meal at a no frills, hole-in-the wall place. It doesn’t even have a website or Facebook page. The address is Arenales 3100 at the corner with Sanchez de Bustamante. San Cayetano is very close to Alto Palermo Shopping Center and less than a mile from Recoleta. If you’re in the area, drop by.
A Note on Malbec Wine, Argentinean Beef’s Best Friend
A French agronomist hired by the government brought Malbec vines to the country in 1852. They adapted easily to the different terroirs. Nowadays, Argentina is the world’s largest producer of Malbec. It has some Controlled Denomination of Origin (DOC), like the Luján de Cuyo DOC in Mendoza. The high-altitude producing regions are Mendoza (with 86% of all Malbec vineyards), San Juan, Salta, and La Rioja along the Andes mountain range. Neuquén and Rio Negro, in Patagonia region, have a colder climate and lower altitude.
Ana Astri-O’Reilly is a fully bilingual travel blogger and writer originally from Argentina. She now lives in Dallas, USA, with her husband. Besides writing on her travel blogs, Ana Travels and Apuntes Ideas Imagenes, Ana has published travel and food articles in a variety of outlets. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.