I was a little unprepared at how much I would fall for the city of Buenos Aires. We did a scrap of research prior to hitting up Argentina’s capital, so just about everything we came across was found purely by accident.
An unconventional approach to discovering a new city, especially when you’re used to being armed with a list of must-see’s and must-do’s.
It doesn’t take long before you’re gazing up grand, tree-lined boulevards or into expansive parks and plazas.
Is it a South American city or is it a cosmopolitan European city? Well, I’d have to say that BA feels like a combination of both.
And then there’s the architecture. An art nouveau apartment building sits near a Parisian mansion down the road from a baroque-style palace. This is a city that holds onto it’s architectural heritage, even if a lot of it looks like it’s about to crumble into a heap – ahem San Telmo.
Walk through the city’s barrios (neighbourhoods) and you immediately notice this is a town that embraces street art; especially around San Telmo and Palermo Soho.
Grungy old resto-bars share streets with contemporary cafes and fashion boutiques. Wooden crates of fruit sit piled on street corners and dog walkers perform miracles at keeping up to 15 pooches on leashes in absolute control.
Don’t take your eyes of the pavement for too long, though, as one of those uneven or broken tiles is bound to tilt and splash filthy water all over your foot. It will happen to you!
Porteños love a drink, so finding a watering hole in this port town isn’t the greatest of tasks. The old barrio of San Telmo was our first port of call, so why not down a few pints at the oldest operating restaurant and bar in the city?
Bar El Federal has been going at it since 1864 when it was nothing more than a grocery store that soon started to serve drinks and food.
As soon as you set foot on the original tile floor you’re taken back a century, or so, to a space that time forgot. The sweeping bar is crowned by a wood and stained glass arch, with wall shelves filled with bottles, old tins and jars of pickled onions, olives and peppers.
Take a seat in the main bar or in the two side rooms and flick through a menu with almost as many pages as an encyclopaedia. Italian food, local, croissant sandwiches, picadas (finger foods), traviatas (sandwiches made with crackers and a whole lot more.
To go with our rubia beers, the most stupendous Spanish tortilla (67). It’s made fresh to order, it’s full of chunky potato, peppers and chorizo and is delightfully moist on the inside.
This grand old lady joins a list of over 70 bares notables, or historic bars, that grace the BA landscape. Well worth checking out.
Craft beer fiends and aficionados need look no further than this hip little joint nestled in an old mansion that serves up over 40 artisanal brews – many from Argentinian micro breweries plus some imported.
Sorry Quilmes, Stella and Isenbeck fans, there’s nothing here for you. Those that do want to stay need to buy tokens at the bar, then take a pick from the dazzling selection.
You can’t go wrong with a 5pm-8pm happy hour from Monday to Saturday, either.
Food-wise, expect to see beer worked into all of the dishes. Bondiola (like coppa) braised in red ale, meatballs in witbier or pizza with dough made using malt beer, anyone?
Happy hour continues along Avenida Chile (east of Defensa) early each evening at a string of resto-bars with plenty of street-side seating. The best approach to taking advantage of the cheap booze, or what we did anyway, is to check what happy hour drinks are going at each bar, choose your favourites and start sloshing.
Happy Hour tends to run from 4pm to 10 pm, which is ample time to do a little bar hop, as well. Our favourite – the mojitos at Zoom. They do food, but quite frankly, we never made it further than the complimentary bowl of crispies.
Palermo Hollywood and Soho are both saturated with drinking holes for all tastes. If you’re in your twenties, then anything around Plazoleta Julio Cortazar may be right down your drinking alley.
After dark, this area teems with young folk up for a good night of boozing, eating fast food and hanging out with mates. It’s noisy, crowded and full of bars and eateries for all tastes.
Just off the plaza is Valk Taproom, a nice little set-up with indoor, outdoor and upstairs seating. There’s a fantastic selection of craft beer on tap – about 20 of them – with a handy illuminated menu board listing each beers characteristics. Flights of beer can be purchased (5 beers), plus there’s a menu of burgers, fries and bar-style food.
On the other side of Palermo is the sub-barrio of Las Cañitas, a small area known for its upscale shopping, restaurants and bar scene. During the day its a sleepy little place full of dog walkers and locals wafting about cafes, but come night the main drag of Calle Báez springs to life with people filling outdoor seats at bars; pumping booze-fuelled energy into the barrio.
Their outdoor seating may be on the lean side, but step inside Antares and you immediately feel at ease. About a dozen of these hints can be found across Argentina, one of which is over in Palermo Soho.
If beer is your preferred drop, then you’ve come to the right place. Antares is a micro brewery, after all, and their range covers the likes of imperial stout all the way through to a light honey brew. Can’t go wrong with 2 for 1 beers, either.
The food has a slight American bent. Think onion rings, burgers and nachos.
Thanks to not being all that hilly, Buenos Aires is a very walkable city. The long streets, avenues and boulevards seem to sprawl in all direction, so it can get pretty damn exhausting! At least the buses are regular enough and the metro, despite being stiflingly hot at busy times, is handy to get from A to B. All you need is a SUBE card and you’re set.
A good place to kick off exploring this city is Plaza de Mayo, a leafy public space that’s flanked by impressive architectural icons like the Metropolitan Cathedral and Casa Rosada – where Eva Perón (Evita) stood on its balconies and made many of her speeches. And how’s this – the pink colour comes from it being painted with a mixture of cow’s blood, lime and rendered fat (tallow).
There may not be a great deal to do at Pasaje de la Defensa in San Telmo, but it is worth stopping into for a little look around. This small section of Avenida Defensa is dotted with antique stores, and the theme spills into this grand old house known as La Casa de los Ezeiza – or the House of Ezeiza.
When yellow fever struck the then wealthy barrio of San Telmo in the 1850’s and ’70’s, its well-to-do residents moved out of the area and left much of it abandoned – including the Ezeiza’s. Their house became a hospital, an institute for the deaf, then in the Great Depression it became home to 32 families.
Today the worn down La Casa de los Ezeiza houses antique and bric-a-brac shops on its two floors, so if you like the dusty stuff, come take a look.
Do an online image search for Buenos Aires and you’re bound to start seeing pics of colourful houses. This is part of La Boca, the port barrio about 4 km south of Plaza de Mayo; an area originally settled by Italian immigrants that worked in the shipyards.
Many share-houses known as conventillos were built using scraps found at the shipyard – a method adopted to help keep up with the influx of people moving into the barrio – examples of which you can see today.
Its touristic heart of Caminito – a colourful street that’s built over what used to be a stream – is where you’ll find the recreation of how La Boca used to appear.
Whilst it may not be our favourite part of town, due to it all feeling and appearing incredibly contrived and thematic, but it may be worth checking out if you like colourful architecture, touristic restaurants and tango dancers that quite literally thrust themselves upon you, put a hat on your head and fleece you of pesos for the privilege.
Take a walk out of the Caminito area, head west along any of the residential streets towards the barrio of Barracas, and things become a whole lot more real – yet still beautifully colourful.
This tree-lined residential area may appear a little rough around the edges, but its colourful houses constructed of masonry, corrugated iron and wooden shutters are a pleasure to look at. You come across small parks, cafes and plenty of locals going about everyday things. Lots of dog shit, too, but that applies to all of Buenos Aires.
Not too far away, in a more industrial part of Barracas, is Calle Lanin. It’s longer than Caminito, almost as colourful and there’s not a tourist or peso-hungry tango dancer in sight. Local artist Marino Santa Maria is the guy that first started colouring up his house with mosaics and paint in 1990, then neighbours invited him to do the same on their abodes.
More than thirty houses have jumped on board with the financial help of the local council, UNESCO and the Museo de Bellas Artes.
If food’s more your scene, then Mercado de San Telmo ought to be visited. This block-sized market provides the locals with fresh fruit and veg, plus carne and smallgoods every day of the week.
Hit up the markets for very decent coffee, antiques, bric-a-brac and more. For more info and pics, see my previous post.
For the city’s ultimate market day experience, look no further than Feria de San Telmo. This weekly Sunday market spans numerous city blocks, is jam-packed with antiques, collectibles and whole lot of stuff you don’t need.
More on the feria here.
When there’s a cemetery in a city, it’s probable that this pair will want to go check it out. Up in the high-brow Recoleta barrio is where you’ll find the aptly named Cementerio La Recoleta – home to almost 4700 mausoleums.
Its maze-like layout is a fascinating place to walk around, where you can gawk at stunningly designed vaults and even cobweb-covered coffins – some of which have fallen and are slightly ajar.
Many notable figures are resting here, including presidents, writers, actors, artists and – probably the most popular – Eva Perón, aka Evita.
You don’t have to travel far for a spot of retail therapy in this town. San Telmo has you covered for antiques, pedestrian-friendly Calle Florida in Centro is lined with shops and shopping centres and Recoleta has its fair share of upscale boutiques.
Crowds of locals flock to Palermo’s Distrito Arcos for outlet shopping and simply hanging about in the open-air shopping areas. Great pace to snoop out a bargain.
Dive deeper into Palermo Soho and you discover many unique gems like this fantastic set-up.
At number 4865 on Gorriti you’re tempted to follow the trolley tracks down a narrow, leafy passage into an enclave of style.
Here you can pick up fresh blooms from Tatu Flowers, grab a coffee and snack from Decata Bakery kiosk and sample or purchase a multitude of teas from Tealosophy. I’m not a tea drinker, but the smell of some of the wares is out of this world.
For some top shelf homewares at top shelf prices, poke around in Paul French Gallery to deck out your pad, get some inspiration or pick up a dinner plate for $60.
Back in Palermo, there’s a handful of places that specialise in all things delicatessen. My kind of shopping! One such place is the petite Franco Parma Deli, a fab little providore that’s packed with charcuterie, heavenly cheeses, pickled vegetables and condiments.
Great place to come in for a quick takeaway baguette filled with freshly shaved prosciutto and cheese. Nice prices, too!
Some may say that good coffee in Buenos Aires is hard to come by. I’d say you just need to know where to look. Sugar-roasted cafecito can be found pretty much everywhere you turn. Argentines seem to love the stuff, so there’s no issue there.
If you’re after the ‘third wave stuff’ – i.e. something that’s more about high quality beans, their flavour and where they’re grown, then a little more research may be required.
The Coffee Town kiosk in the middle of San Telmo Market is one such place. They use a sizeable selection of international fair trade beans, their baristas have done time in Centro de Estudios del Café and they’re absolute pros at working the espresso machine.
Aside from coffee, the kiosk has your morning medialunas (little croissants), muffins, cakes, sandwiches and juices; even blocks of top quality dark chocolate.
Riding on the success of its larger sibling down on Puerto Madero, OL’DAYS in San Telmo is an intimate space that’s more focussed on coffee and a few snacks or sweets.
The fit-out is very now – subway tiles, blonde wood, painted chalkboards, industrial pendants – and quite frankly, the coffee is downright fantastic. The quality and craftsmanship is on par with Coffee Town up the road, and the only difference is that more people know about the latter.
Given some time, the newer OL’DAYS outlet will be pumping very soon.
Featuring shelves laden with gorgeous food products from all over Argentina – plus some homewares – Almacén Bevant is a one stop shop for all things gourmet.
The design is pretty fab, the cakes, tarts and sandwiches look irresistible and the coffee hits the right spot. If you feel like settling in completely, head upstairs into Casa Bevant – a rather lush place to spend the night.
There’s a tiny piece of France on the corner in leafy Palermo; a small patisserie called Boûlan. Whilst the coffee may not come from a super duper shiny espresso machine, it does have the guts we like in espresso and it does come with a winning smile.
Aside from the coffee, these guys do breads and pastries just like the ones in France. The croissants are the real deal here, not those medialunas you get at cafes in this part of the world. Although I do have a soft spot for those, especially the vanilla custard variety.
They do sandwiches to go, even croque monsieur.
Find their other branch several blocks away at Ugarteche, 3045.
Palermo happens to be the largest barrio in the city, so this neighbourhood of neighbourhoods has names for each of its 10 sub-barrios. We’d visited Palermo Hollywood, Palermo Soho, Palermo Nuevo and Palermo Pacifico, so here we are in Palermo Zoologico – so called because this well-to-do sub-barrio is near the zoo.
Come here on the weekend and all the cafes spill out onto the pavement, heaving with locals sipping vino and feeding scraps to their designer pooches.
Our attire may not have met the pastel and white linen brief, but that wasn’t enough to stop us perching at the pavement benches at Bedford Station for some rocking espresso.
Not that the designer set hang out here yet. Bedford Station is still pretty new, so it may take a while for the locals to tear themselves away from ever-popular Birkin or the nearby cafes to give them a burl.
There’s ample seating inside at the central communal table beneath dangling Edison globes, or surrounding tables where you can tuck into your eggs benedict, burger or mountain of nachos.
One of my favourite parts of Buenos Aires is this little pocket of Palermo Soho. Reason being it felt exactly like being back at home in Sydney’s inner city. Narrow, tree-lined streets, graffiti, murals, quirky shops and tattooed urbanites hanging out at cafes.
LATTEnTE is small on size and big on producing the perfect cup of coffee – using none other than single origin beans, of course. Espresso, V60, aeropress and virtually all the coffee favourites – macchiato, Americano, even flat whites for those Aussies and Kiwis that like it milky.
Food-wise, expect to see a cabinet filled with alfajores, cocada, medialunas, maybe even a real boiled bagel.
Part cafe, part roastery, part cupping room, part barista training lab – this cafe means business. All filter methods are used at this handsome two-storey space – V60, chemix, aeropress, syphon, clever, kalita and good old espresso.
Aside from an armchair and handful of bar stools, seating in this place is pretty lean. At least there are power sockets for plugging and recharging those essential devices as you sip your caffeine and nibble on one of the few snacks available.
In a city and country that’s somewhat obsessed with parrilla, our time spent in Buenos Aires barely involved a grilled hunk of meat. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to eat in this town. Quite the contrary. There’s plenty going on in the food scene, something for all tastes and preferences.
Whilst it may be more at home in New Orleans or American food-obsessed Sydney, chowing on waffle con pollo frito (140) and gumbo (120) in the backstreets of Palermo seemed like the right thing to be doing.
Every Tom, Dick and Hipster was out in full force at this boozy hotspot, filling the tight insides and spilling onto the pavement – even around the corner.
The beer is good and very well priced, the atmosphere is electric and that food is damn fine. Man, that teeth-shattering chicken and rich gumbo were top notch.
In the much quieter residential enclave of Barracas is another member of bares notables, an historic corner cafe that’s been going strong since 1906.
The new owner has put an Italian spin on the menu at La Flor de Barracas (The Flower of Barracks), although there are some local classics like milanesa, grilled meats and empanadas.
Service here was the warmest we’d experienced anywhere in Buenos Aires, despite our lack of Spanish and their lack of English.
Loved their canelones de verdure (vegetable cannelloni 110) and beautifully fluffy homemade ñoquis de papa con pesto (gnocchi with pesto 110).
Porteños are late eaters when it comes to dinner – say 9pm to 11pm is more the norm – so unless it was a restaurant frequented by tourists (or locals having a very late lunch), we were often the only occupied table in the restaurant.
Spotting an Indian restaurant whilst walking through San Telmo reminded us it had been many months since our last fix, so in we went to sample a couple of the set meals advertised on the pavement blackboard.
The inside of Delhi Masala is typically Indian – bright lights, elephants and statues dotted about a long, sterile room that’s lacking in warmth.
Salmon curry or lamb curry (160/150) with naan, starter, rice and dessert. For starters, a very nice plate of mixed vegetable pakora – lightly spiced and deliciously crunchy. Both curries were missing the depth and spice that we’re used to, although they were still quite nice. A few cooling semolina-based desserts finished it all off nicely.
We were on the hunt for a cheap lunch whilst traipsing around Palermo Hollywood when we stumbled upon this corner parrilla displaying a wallet-friendly menu of the day for 110 pesos. Not bad for a main, dessert and beer, wine or soft drink.
Absolutely loved the fit-out – wood, rich maroon walls, leather seats and copper pedants. Kind of reminded me of being somewhere in New York.
The regular menu is of your typical parrilla variety – meats, offal, provolone etc, but we weren’t here for that. For our 110 pesos we got a pre-cooked and lukewarm, very lightly battered steak with mash and a slice of boiled carrot. Admittedly the steak was very tender and flavoursome.
Dessert was your good old flan, or crème caramel, as I would call it.
While the young ones are sloshing it up at one of the bars on Baez Street, the older generations are here tucking into home cooking, an enormous glass of vino and a good old catch-up.
Los Mellizos, or ‘The Twins’, feels like it hasn’t changed since it opened its doors in 1969. Old photos and prints on the walls, television jabbering in the corner and locals dropping in to say hi. Everyone seems to know each other.
The menu’s filled with tortillas, plates of chicken, steak, a couple of burgers, pizza, empanadas, you name it. I didn’t actually take note of what I got as I changed my mind when I saw a plate go to one of the old dudes. I needed to have it. An enormous joint of chicken slow-cooked with onions and peppers and a side of roast potatoes. Absolutely divine – with a huge glass of vino tinto, of course. We’re loving the heavy-handedness when it comes to pouring wine in this country!
No too far from Los Mellizos is an eatery that’s been around for almost as long, and quite literally hasn’t changed since opening in 1977. Plywood walls, black ceiling, disheveled frames along the wall and a larger patio out back where the parrilla resides. A refuge and time capsule-in-one from the gentrified neighbourhood outside.
Service is relaxed and unhurried, yet friendly at the same time. You’re meant to linger in a place like this – sit, drink, eat and spend time with your mates, loved ones or simply watch the television on your own. A home away from home.
The food is classically Argentine – meat, meat and more meat. Maybe a provoleta topped with peppers, tomato and basil or huge crumbed milanesa.
Our two choices were mighty fine. Bife de costilla (85) – a great lump of rib eye steak on a wooden board, potato mash on the side. The winner, though, was the carne al forno (85) served with potatoes and topped with sautéed peppers and onion.
Arrive early at El Desnivel in San Telmo and you won’t be the only table there. Yes, it’s frequented by tourists, but the locals come here for exactly the same reason.
That parrilla and the glorious smells it emits at the front of the restaurant.
At least one of the waiters speak English, which makes ordering a tad easier, and aside from that, they’re as friendly as can be.
The house wine isn’t too shabby, the surroundings are comfy and traditional and there’s something for almost everyone – especially any offal-lovers amongst us. Sweetbread, tripe, kidney, take your pick.
Provoleta Desnivel (85) was an absolute must – a play on the traditional grilled disc of provolone cheese, with the addition of bacon, peppers and tomato.
Grilled morcilla (blood sausage 38) made it to our table, as did a quarter chicken (95) and bondiola barbacoa (pork collar butt with chips 165).
To say we were stuffed afterwards would be an understatement.