As 2022 drew to a close, we packed in two solid months of eating in Buenos Aires. You’re welcome. Many of those experiences, along with some highlights from Chile, make up part 2 in our Best of the Trans-Americas Journey 2022 series–our guide to the Best Food and Beverages in Argentina and Chile including ribs, empanadas, sweetbreads, an excellent bar at the end of the world, and something called a meat happy hour. Part 1 covers our top travel adventures of 2022 and part 3 reveals the best hotels of the year.
Best Food and Beverages in Argentina and Chile 2022
We’ve been eating our way through Latin America for a lot of years now and we can tell you that the food and drink offerings just keep getting better. Here are the eating and drinking moments that made our list of best food and beverages in Argentina and Chile in 2022.Best meat happy hour: It’s not elegant, but it is nearly half price. Every day between 6:30 pm and 8:00 pm the La Cabrera annex in Buenos Aires, Argentina (located across the intersection from the original La Cabrera location) offers 40% off everything on the menu (including wine) and they’re not skimping on portion size. Everything we ordered–mollejas (sweetbreads), morcilla (blood sausage), arugula salad, and a butterflied bife de chorizo (strip steak)–was huge. Pro tips: Since you will literally be kicked out at 8 pm (at which point staff reset the dining room for an evening of patrons paying full price), it’s best to have your order ready when you sit down so your meal is not too ridiculously rushed. And you can’t make a reservation for the meat happy hour, so turn up by 6:15 to get a spot in line.
Best surprise: It honestly didn’t look like much, but our main course of tender, mild, moist goat slow-cooked then baked inside a savory dough and served on a bed of smoked potato cream infused with thyme and garnished with sliced malbec-marinated garlic was an unexpected show-stopper at Restaurante Club Tapiz in the Club Tapiz Hotel outside of Mendoza, Argentina.
Best Italian: In a town full of Italian immigrants, La Alacena Tratoria is an Italian food standout. Helmed by a young female chef, this scrappy restaurant is not beholding to terms like “classic” or “nouveau”. Instead, they’re in hot pursuit of “simply delicious” with dishes like baby calamari on a bed of creamy white beans with a dollop of pesto (pictured upper right) and bucatini Arrabiata with sausage (pictured lower right) coming out of the tiny open kitchen. All pasta is homemade, the wine selection is quirky and well-priced (this is a great place to try a new-to-you bottle), and there are fantastic fish dishes and meat dishes too.
Best Mexican: We miss Mexican food Every. Single. Day. So when we hear murmurings of a joint doing legit Mexican-inspired dishes we jump. That’s how we ended up at a place called Lolita Jones in Santiago, Chile where we chatted with Chilean owners Nicolas and Alexandra Inzunza. They say they were inspired to open Lolita Jones as a nod to Mexico’s culinary influence after working in kitchens in the US, often alongside Mexican employees. Also, Alexandra wanted a place to get a good margarita. Nicolas and Alexandra are quick to make it clear that they’re not trying to make authentic Mexican food. What Lolita Jones serves is an earnest and delicious version of it. All sauces are made in-house (including a truly spicy habanero salsa). Cocktails riff on mezcal and serrano chile. There’s a guacamole cart. The shrimp aguachile was truly spicy and fresh and wonderful with minced vegetables and chiles and a broth like a Mexican version of leche de tigre. Tostadas with smoked mushrooms on vegan beans with sweet potato pure and a chimichurri made with jalapeno peppers was addictive. Octopus tacos came topped with guacamole, peanuts, and a mango and jalapeno sauce that gave them almost a Thai twist. All good. All festive. All from the heart.
Best seafood: Seafood is not a big thing in much of Argentina where the excellent local beef usually provides the protein. However, our most recent exploration of Buenos Aires unearthed more seafood restaurants than ever. Top of our list for seafood in Buenos Aires is Ajo Negro where we were wowed by inventive dishes like tender morsels of marinated raw fish in a spongy bao bun with salsa verde, peanuts, and julienned ginger. Rich and moist sardines came with crisp and sweet sliced onion, and fresh herbs on a slab of hearty rye bread (pictured top left). And baby calamari with toothsome bits of pasta mingled in a silky and elegant broth (pictured bottom right). It wasn’t seafood, but we’re still scratching our heads about how the kitchen turned sliced pineapple into tiny raviolis before filling them with whipped white chocolate for dessert.
Best sandwich: Slap generous slices of housemade pastrami onto a bagel, slather with grainy mustard, and add pickles. It’s a classic recipe, but at Corte Charcuteria in Buenos Aires the resulting pastrami sandwich is a smoky tender, rich masterpiece. While you’re there, also order up another masterpiece: a wedge of faina (a dense chickpea-based foundation) topped with half of a ball of divine burrata (not too runny with a nice firm skin) and thin slices of mortadella. Honestly, we could eat these two things daily for the rest of our lives. On the other hand, we had a disappointing experience at their sister restaurant Corte Comedor where our meal was marred by very inattentive service and overcooked meat.
Best bar: A good bar is a thing of beauty. A good bar at the end of the world is a God send. Enter Last Hope Distillery in Puerto Natales, Chile. Here in the extreme southern reaches of South America, an enterprising Australian couple (Kiera Shiels and Matt Oberg, he’s pictured above) distills gin out back and serves up inventive cocktails (made from their products along with a massive selection of other gins, whiskeys, and spirits) in classy stemware to patrons nestled in booths and perched at tables around a bustling bar out front. The place attracts locals and travelers with great prices for great drinks in a great atmosphere served by great people. It’s everything a bar should be.
Best pizza with a twist: The last time we were in Buenos Aires we fell in love with Mishiguene restaurant for its high-end yet raucous celebration of the traditional Jewish recipes of the chef’s grandmother. At Cafe Mishiguene, a more laid-back approach prevails but the food remains buttoned up. Take, for example, their version of lajmayin which is a kind of Middle Eastern pizza. It comes piping hot out of a real Italian pizza oven topped with fresh tomato sauce, an herby green sauce with a mild jalapeno kick, and a very generous portion of lamb sausage. It’s delicious and filling and you can eat it with your hands.
Best salad: We did not expect a salad to steal the show during our lunch at El Preferido Palermo in Buenos Aires. After all, this place has been a go-to spot for beloved classic dishes like enormous milanesas (pounded and breaded beef or chicken), homemade pasta dishes, Spanish tortillas, and French fries since 1952. Those dishes were all fantastic (and part of the reason why El Preferido is at #22 on the 2022 list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants), but we took one bite of the radicchio and walnut salad and we were blown away. This salad is made using the longer leaves of the milder strain of radicchio (like a cross between radicchio and endive) and the walnuts aren’t just sprinkled on top like gravel. Instead, the nuts are shaved to create delicate morsels that are sweet and creamy. Topped with vinegar for brightness, this salad is tender, sweet, bracing, salty, crunchy, and satisfying. And, yes, it’s ironic that the best salad of the year comes from a place that’s now run by the team behind the Don Julio meat temple.
Best dinner and live music date night: Los Galgos Bar is one of a handful of historic bars in Buenos Aires that have earned the right to be part of an exclusive group called Bares Notable. In recent years, Los Galgos has been rejuvenated by Julian Diaz who continues to infuse fresh energy and ideas into the place by reviving the tradition of presenting dinner and live music events in the room above the ground-floor bar/restaurant and we were there for one of Julian’s first upstairs events. With a capacity of just 45 people, it’s an intimate affair with a set dinner menu which is served before the music starts. In our case, the music was provided by a six-piece jazz band called Escalandrum which is led by Pipi Piazolla, the grandson of legendary band leader and accordion player Astor Piazolla who is often credited with creating avant-garde tango. The history the music, the setting, the food, and the vibe combined to create a magical night. See a bit of the magic in our video above, and check the Los Galgos website and Instagram page for upcoming upstairs events.
Best wine bar: Yeah, Buenos Aires has fancier wine bars but gritty Naranjo Bar won our hearts with a large and quirky selection of Argentinean wines and staff members who know their way around the selection (hello, Gaston). Toss in fair prices, a great soundtrack, and a laid-back indoor/outdoor atmosphere and it’s a winner in our book.
Best empanadas: The empanadas at Roma Bar in Buenos Aires are proof that the dough is just as important as the fillings. Re-born as an homage to Argentinean-style pizza, Roma is most known for turning out elegant pies that tweak tradition. But you should absolutely be eating their empanadas too. Seven types of fillings are offered (including a vegan one) and they’re all made with the same dough used to make the pizzas which bakes up tender, thin, and pliant (not bulky and heavy). The fillings are fresh and we especially appreciated the carne picante (spicy beef) empanadas which were plump, juicy, and actually spicy.
Best ribs: You’re lucky there’s a “before” picture of the gochujang pork ribs at Na Num in Buenos Aires. The smell of these short ribs (but way meatier) was hard to resist long enough to take a shot. Slow-cooked and finished in a Big Green Egg, four big ribs come to the table glossy in a spicy glaze that’s sweet, caramelized, and sticky. The meat is so tender it falls off the bone so it can mingle nicely with white rice. A salad of greens and candied peanuts in a light creamy dressing balances the plate which is big enough to satisfy two, though you’ll be tempted by many other dishes on the menu at this upstart Korean restaurant. Come hungry and adventurous.
Best vegetarian restaurant: It’s no longer a surprise to find good vegetarian food in Buenos Aires. However, Chui is the kind of vegetarian restaurant a city like Buenos Aires deserves: daring, unexpected, never done pushing. You will not find a “veg burger” on the menu. The treatment of vegetables here does not rely on attempting to stand in for meat. They do their own fermenting, foster a wide range of mushrooms, and seem to be genuinely curious about how far an all-veg ethos can go under chef Leonardo Govetto Sosa. Standouts include a complex, bright, sweet, and almost fatty green pea hummus with mint, Patagonian extra virgin olive oil, and a topping of fired raw peas. A charred avocado half came with kimchi and leche de tigre (made from a base of nuts instead of fish) is gorgeous to look at (pictured bottom left) and full of nuttiness, fattiness, and deep flavor. A large variety of evenly browned, softened, and seasoned mushrooms on a bed of pureed lentils and green apple with crunchy dry Yamani rice got a jolt from fresh lime and we couldn’t stop eating it (pictured bottom middle). And don’t get us started about the fantastic pizzas…
Best vegetable dish (at a non-veg restaurant): There’s plenty of meat on the menu at Bodegon Mengano (where chef Facundo Kelman turned out to be the best chef in Buenos Aires we’d never heard of). However, one of the star dishes is deliciously meat-free. Smoked artichoke hearts are filled with a falafel-esque chickpea mix and topped with slightly sweet sabayon sauce then dusted with paprika. The artichokes are perfectly cleaned and trimmed to ensure sweet and tender goodness in every bite, the chickpeas add texture, and the thin custard-like sauce brings out the sweetness of the artichoke without being cloying. The sheer audacity of the combination of ingredients is as thrilling as the flavor.
Best mollejas: This is not up for debate: even if you think you don’t like sweetbreads (mollejas in Spanish) you must try them anew when in Argentina. These morsels (typically the thymus gland of a calf or lamb) are a beloved staple of many traditional asado meat-fest barbecues and a handful of chefs have elevated the dish to fine art. At Niño Gordo in Buenos Aires, they slather fresh lamb mollejas with a tangy, spicy, deeply red mix of chili and miso before grilling them to perfection: crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside. It’s mollejas done ala General Tsao style and they’re just perfect served with grilled corn as a sweet partner to all that chili and crispy Hokusai cabbage for refreshing crunch. This should not be a surprise. Niño Gordo, which calls itself an Asiatic Parrilla, is owned by the same team behind La Carniceria which is a previous recipient of our Best mollejas award in 2019.
Best bar snack: CochinChina is probably the hottest bar in Buenos Aires right now with its savvy fusion of the foods and esthetics of France and Vietnam, graphic decor, great soundtrack, beautiful patrons, and talented bartenders (these are all reasons that CochinChina debuted on the 2022 list of the World’s 50 Best Bars at #42). Fuel your craft cocktail adventures with a Sando de Cerdo and enjoy crispy, juicy, hot, pounded, and breaded pork between rectangles of toasted and buttered bread topped with zingy pickles and a jolt of cilantro. This pork sandwich is easy, satisfying, and fortifying as all bar snacks should be.
Here’s more about travel in Argentina
Here’s more about travel in Chile
Here’s more about Eating & Drinking in the Americas