In 2023, we spent (even more) months eating and drinking our way through Buenos Aires and the Mendoza region in Argentina. We also spent plenty of time discovering great food and drink in the Patagonia region and wine country regions of Chile. Welcome to Part 2 of our annual “Best of” posts. Our best food and beverages 2023 post includes an exclusive full moon/new moon dinner in Argentina, an unsung chef near the bottom of Chile, freaky fish, passionately prepared ice cream, a surprise distillery, and much more. Part 1 covers the best adventures of 2023. Part 3 reveals our 13 Top Hotels of 2023.
Best food and beverages 2023 in Chile & Argentina
Eating and drinking in 2023 included fresh fine dining, commute-worthy pizza, vegetables galore, a wonderfully tweaked tasting many, and one dish we probably wouldn’t eat again (guess which one).
Best journey in food: 13 Fronteras, Buenos Aires, ArgentinaIn search of new challenges in new places, chef Dave Soady (pictured above) hopped into his Toyota Tacoma with his wife and two shitsus, left Washington D.C., and started driving south. They ended up in Argentina where that journey–and the people, dishes, and encounters that animated it–inspired the creation of 13 Fronteras in the Palermo Hollywood area of Buenos Aires. Named for the number of border crossings he made during the road trip (fronteras means borders in Spanish), the restaurant serves guests seated at a long communal dining bar which allows Dave to meticulously plate dishes and interact with diners at the same time. Las Trenza de Doña Isa (The Braids of Dona Isa), he’ll explain, is a dish inspired by the act of harvesting potatoes with a family in Bolivia and pays homage to the matriarch’s braids and the stripes of the traditional woven textiles most Indigenous Bolivian women use to carry bundles and babies with rows of colorful sauces topped with braided roasted asparagus. Each dish–including an innovative dessert version of Argentinean asado bbq featuring beef-infused ice cream–comes with its own inspiring backstory which makes dinner at 13 Fronteras a journey for your mind and your mouth. No wonder 13 Fronteras was included in the debut edition of the Michelin Guide to Buenos Aires which was released in 2023.
Best unexpected booze: Tepaluma Gin, La Junta, ChileAndrea Zavala and Mark Abernethy started Tepaluma Gin in a quickly cobbled-together distillery near the town of La Junta on the Carretera Austral in southern Chile in 2017. Today, they make award-winning gin in the London Dry Gin style using water from a natural source within the neighboring Queulat National Park (they’ve also branched out with barrel-aged gin and whiskey). They claim to be the second Chilean gin (the first is Last Hope Gin produced in Puerto Natales) and estimate that there are now about 100 gins being made in Chile. Tepaluma Gin is flavored using 14 botanicals including seven traditional flavor elements (like juniper) and seven hand-harvested botanicals from Patagonia (like pepper from the canelo tree). We may not have tried all of the 100 or so gins being produced in Chile, but we’ve sampled quite a few and Tepaluma stands out for its silky mouthfeel and its clarity–simple and sophisticated at the same time, which makes it easy to sip and to mix. The brand’s oft-copied slogan “Patagonia in a Bottle” is fitting. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by for a friendly tour and tasting and pick up a bottle (reservation required, Spanish and English available). Get more about this distillery in our full post about Tepaluma Gin.
Best unsung chef: Tatiana Villablanca of Martin Pescador, Futaleufu, Chile
People flock to the town of Futaleufu on the Carretera Austral in southern Chile for world-class whitewater rafting and kayaking. That’s hungry work. Luckily, Chilean chef Tatiana Villablanca has been producing notable cuisine at her Restaurante Martin Pescador since the 1980s with a focus on locavore cooking featuring ingredients grown from her own seeds (some dating back 100 years) on two nearby organic and biodynamic farms. Tatiana also forages for edible wild elements which she calls bosque comestible (edible forest). Expect fragrant and buttery squash soup (pictured above, bottom left) and tender conger eel on pureed carrots enriched with earthy hand-harvested nuts of the araucaria tree. Tatiana’s daughter is the restaurant’s sommelier, overseeing an eclectic selection of Chilean wines. For more about what to do, see, and eat in this town, see our post about travel to Futaleufu, Chile.
Best wine country lunch: Rayuela, Colchagua Valley, ChileThe Colchagua Valley is a noted wine region in Chile and Viña Viu Manent winery is a historic part of the valley’s winemaking scene. The winery’s Rayuela Restaurant (located across the street from the winery where tours and tastings are offered) is a culinary bright spot in the region. The word rayuela means “hopscotch” in Spanish and members of the current generation of this family-owned winery believe that the name of a “simple, informal, and fun” game also suits their casual but buttoned-up restaurant. Expect fresh seafood in many forms (much of it brought in from Chiloe Island), homemade pasta, a range of meats cooked in a large outdoor grill area, simple but skilled use of seasonal vegetables (we’re still dreaming of the tomato salad we had, pictured above top right), and elegant desserts like silky flan with homemade mascarpone and lemon. Of course, it’s all served with somm selected choices from the wide range of Viu Manent wines.
Best game changer: Ruda Cocina, Tupungato, ArgentinaThe city of Mendoza, Argentina and the areas around it are experiencing a much-needed food revolution (in 2023, the first Michelin Guide to Mendoza was released including 19 Mendoza area restaurants, four of which received a Michelin star). At the pointy end of this trend is a scrappy little upstart called Ruda Cocina. Opened in 2019 by Carolina Pawlak (sommelier) and Gaston Tratia (chef), who left roles at some of the buzziest restaurants in Buenos Aires to bring their skills to an abandoned golf course country club near Tupungato in the Uco Valley outside of Mendoza, Ruda began reimagining the ingredients and wines of the Uco Valley before many others. Expect veg-centric dishes like tender broccoli florets pan seared with cashews, elegant chamomile vinegar (house-made), refreshing crunchy pickled radishes (house-made), dots of Sriracha (house-made), herby sunflower shoots, and crunchy quinoa (pictured above, middle right). For carnivores, the “star dish” is a softball-sized chewy bread ball called chipa filled with pork shoulder cooked for 14 hours with 14 herbs and served with chili, ginger, and microgreens (pictured above middle middle). Toss in an eclectic selection of big-name (Zuccardi) and lesser-known-name (Finca Suarez) local wines, a great soundtrack, Carolina’s sunshine personality, and indoor/outdoor seating with epic views of the Andes and you’ve got a game-changing winner.
Best new-school old-school: Trescha, Buenos Aires, ArgentinaAt just 25-years-old, it’s tempting to call Tomas Treschanski (pictured above) a “one to watch” chef. However, that boat officially sailed in 2023 after Tomas’s Trescha restaurant in the Villa Crespo area of Buenos Aires landed at #94 on the 2023 list of Latin America’s Best Restaurants (just a few months after opening), and then earned a Michelin star as part of that organization’s debut coverage of the city. Why? Because Tomas, who is Le Cordon Bleu trained and worked at Azurmendi, Frantzén, 108, and Borago, can cook. And dream. And innovate. Though he says he’s still forming his identity, Tomas’s current wheelhouse is fine dining in a style he calls Nordic service which leans on mise en place (with help from his sous chef and team of cooks) to produce a 15-course tasting menu for just 10 guests at a curved dining “counter” facing a sunken station where whimsically-named dishes are plated and presented. Ocean Deep, for example, came in two parts including a small portion of warm and tender carnaroli meloso rice aged with four types of algae for a rich umami flavor topped with pure white bergamot foam along with three slices of sweet and sticky deer loin tataki finished over coals then dusted with a powder of chamomile and lime. The dining experience, which feels both classic and fresh, unfolds at a deliberate pace with each course accompanied by a page featuring sketches from Tomas’s notes and dish descriptions. Innovative mocktails (like a silky, salty, herby, citrusy, riff on Milk Punch made with chamomile, algae, and muña syrup over a handmade pyramid-shaped ice cube), an international wine list (very unusual in Argentina), and craft cocktails mingle with each course. Some dishes change weekly and the entire menu is reinvented quarterly following intense R&D in the upstairs test kitchen that’s equipped with a climate-controlled fermentation and spore area, a medical centrifuge, and a mini still. For more about where and what to eat in the Argentinean capital, see our post about acclaimed restaurants in Buenos Aires and our post about new wave and emerging chefs in Buenos Aires.
Best wine country dinner: Full moon/new moon dinner, La Estocada, Uco Valley, ArgentinaThe Uco Valley near the city of Mendoza, Argentina is home to some of the most innovative winemakers in the country and members of many generations of the Michelini family are among them. Matias Michelini makes natural wines adhering to organic and biodynamic principles at his Sitio La Estocada vineyard and winery. This is also where 10-course full moon and new moon dinners are hosted each month. What started as private events for friends and industry partners is now offered to a small group of guests around a communal table. The meal, loosely inspired by the four elements and crafted almost exclusively from ingredients from the property, features simple perfection (a mini baguette with butter made from the milk of a single cow infused with salt and basil pictured above, top right) to ambitious creativity (a deconstructed French onion soup pictured above middle left and delicate and crispy sliced sweetbreads with a Brussels sprouts salad drizzled with fermented honey with garlic). Of course, each dish is paired with Michelini wines (some quite obscure) and guests are encouraged to discuss the wines and even guess varietals and vintages as the evening continues.
Best semi-secret lunch: Avataras, Lake Meliquina, ArgentinaIt’s worth the drive from San Martin de los Andes, in the Patagonia region of southern Argentina, to nearby Lake Meliquina to enjoy the 6-course lunch served at Avataras. Here, Susana Fernández Langlois and a team of talented women (including her daughter) turn out delicious preparations featuring produce from their large and varied organic garden and orchard. With more than 20 years of experience in the kitchen, Susana is an easy and relaxed host overseeing an elegant table, pouring wine (included), and sharing stories about her life and the genesis of this unexpected dining experience which includes winners like an organic greens salad with morsels of brie, spiced walnuts (made in-house), and asparagus (pictured above, top right), a medallion of juicy and tender venison with a bracing blackcurrant sauce (pictured above, bottom middle), and a light ice cream made by infusing milk (from their own cows) with fig tree leaves. Reservations are a must at least 24 hours in advance (Monday through Friday only). See our post about travel to San Martin de los Andes, for more.
Best neighborhood bar: 878 Bar, Buenos Aires, Argentina878 Bar opened in the Villa Crespo neighborhood of Buenos Aires long before that area became hip and they’ve been turning out craft cocktails ever since. There’s also a long list of 878 specials including the Manhattan Argentino (pictured in the stemmed glass above right) which is a riff on a Manhattan poured at the table then spritzed with a bit of orange rind to add to the grown-up marmalade element of this potent yet sippable drink. The Fernet y al Margen cocktail(pictured above in the rocks glass) involves Argentina’s beloved and bitter Fernet with Margen gin brightened with lemon juice. But it’s the sprig of fresh and pungent huacatay herb that really makes this zingy cocktail. Toss in dim lighting, lots of tables, a welcoming bar, a mix of locals and tourists, a great funk soundtrack, casual but buttoned-up service, and a fairly fleshed-out food menu with plates that are easy to share on dates or at tables full of friends and you’ve got the kind of bar every neighborhood deserves. For more about bars in the Argentinean capital, check out our post about drinking in Buenos Aires.
Best tweaked tasting menu: Angélica Cocina Maestra Restaurant, Catena Zapata Winery, Mendoza, Argentina
Tasting menus are, by design, rigid affairs involving one dish with one pairing in strict combinations pre-ordained by chefs and sommeliers. Not at Angélica Cocina Maestra restaurant at the Catena Zapata Winery near Mendoza, Argentina. Things start off fairly predictably with a 9-course tasting menu (think pork belly with tart green apple pictured above and homemade pasta filled with peas and mint with a goat cheese sauce also pictured above) and a range of pairing options to choose from, each representing a different level of Catena Zapata wine. And here’s where the tasting menu experience at this lauded winery’s first restaurant takes a turn. Instead of presenting one dish with one wine, each course comes with multiple pours giving diners the freedom to sample each different wine with the dish in front of them to find their own perfect pairing. This is fun and freeing but also a pretty good way to get to know your palette. Angélica Cocina Maestra was also included in the debut edition of the Michelin Guide to Mendoza which was released in 2023.
Best ice cream: Obrador Florida, Buenos Aires, ArgentinaArgentineans are mad for ice cream and gelato (blame all that Italian heritage) and Buenos Aires is full of ice cream shops. Most sell commercial, industrial-level crap, but there are a few people who are hand-crafting high-quality frozen treats from high-quality ingredients. Few bring as much passion to the project as Mercedes Román, creator and empress of Obrador Florida in the Palermo Soho neighborhood of the city. Mercedes and her team of chefs craft seasonal ice creams based on what their tight circle of (mostly organic and mostly Argentinean) purveyors are producing. Seasonal spring flavors included a crisp mint chip made with hand-harvested mint delivered at 4 am and processed immediately (Eric calls it “Farm to Freezer”) flecked with shaved chocolate that melts in your mouth. A favorite perennial flavor is called Limón Obrador and it’s made from preserved lemons for sunny zing year round (Mercedes worked for months to perfect that recipe). But they don’t stop there. The large and open kitchen at the back of the bright and welcoming Obrador Florida shop also creates all of the toppings (including chocolate from Ecuadorean beans, gummy candies, crumbles, etc. pictured above left) and makes specialized ingredients such as yogurt, ricotta, and cashew butter. And there’s more! Mercedes–a trained graphic designer–designs the shop’s ice cream cups which also change with the seasons. For more about where and what to eat in the Argentinean capital, see our post about acclaimed restaurants in Buenos Aires and our post about new wave and emerging chefs in Buenos Aires.
Best veg dish: Riccitelli Bistro, Mendoza, ArgentinaUnder the guiding hand of chef Juan Ventureya, the largely veg-driven food coming out of the Riccitelli Bistro kitchen is every bit as innovative and unpredictable as the notoriously mold-breaking wines coming out of the Riccitelli winery near Mendoza, Argentina. Though many dishes were stunning (springy and pliable homemade pasta stuffed with potato and sauteed Brussels sprouts with whole garbanzo beans and carrot puree in a buttery and bright lemon broth was far and away the best homemade pasta dish of the year), one plate seemed to sum up Juan’s way with vegetables: Cabbage braised for four hours (which delivered the mouthfeel and satisfaction of meat) topped with a peanut cream sauce and garnished with crunchy pickled red onion and toasted peanuts (pictured above). A glass of Riccitelli Bastardo 2022, made from grapes planted in Patagonia, was the perfect fruity, grassy, roughly elegant partner. Riccitelli Bistro was also included in the debut edition of the Michelin Guide to Mendoza which was released in 2023.
Best big swing: KōnāCorner, Buenos Aires, ArgentinaThe brainchild of celebrity chef Narda Lepes and celebrity bartender Ines de los Santos, KōnāCorner is not like anything else in Buenos Aires. This two-level stunner in the Belgrano neighborhood was inspired by the artistically simple satisfaction of Japanese design and cuisine (both of which they nail). The low-lit downstairs dining room is Narda’s domain and it stuns with Japanese classics in an easy serene setting rolling forth from an open kitchen. The elegant upstairs bar, where Ines reigns, is full of views, intimate nooks and crannies, and drinkable surprises (a martini riff made with soju and pickled bamboo, for example). Opened in early 2023, KōnāCorner has already been recognized in the very first Michelin guide to Buenos Aires which was released in 2023. For more about where and what to eat in the Argentinean capital, see our post about acclaimed restaurants in Buenos Aires and our post about new wave and emerging chefs in Buenos Aires.
Best freaky fish dish: Puyes, Puerto Raul Balmacada, ChileWhile in the charming coastal town of Puerto Raul Marin Balmaceda, just off the Carretera Austral in southern Chile, we ordered a local specialty called puyes which are an uncommon type of tiny river fish that are eaten whole (bones and skin and all). At Isla de Palena restaurant they cook these odd little fish with lots of garlic pil pil style and serve them in a heap on top of white rice. It’s not pretty, but it is tasty. For more about enjoying this little-visited gem of a town, see our post about travel to Puerto Raul Marin Balmaceda.
Best pizza: Ti Amo, Adrogue, ArgentinaNeapolitan pizza–some of it officially certified as authentic by various pizza purist organizations–has become a hot thing in Buenos Aires. The best version of Napoli-style pizza that we had in 2023, however, requires a train ride to the suburbs of the capital. In the small and historic city of Adrogue you’ll find Ti Amo Pizzeria. On a quiet street off a leafy plaza, two sisters and their indomitable mother turn out a short list of pizzas from a wood-burning oven. Here, chewy, cloudlike, fermented sourdough crusts are topped with classic ingredients (sourced in Argentina). Don’t miss the rich, indulgent, yet somehow light Sorrento pizza topped with sliced potato, flor de latte mozzarella, mascarpone with lemon, and a sprinkling of rosemary (pictured above, right). Order the Diavalo pizza extra spicy for a zingy delight of melt-in-your-mouth thin-sliced pepperoni and rings of sweet and spicy pickled red pepper (pictured above, middle). For the perfect pizza partner, order a bottle of excellent sparkling wine from Philippe Caruguel off the pizzeria’s all-Argentinean wine list. It’s all well worth the hour-long commute on the train–and you’d never know they learned to make pizza on the internet. NOTE: an outpost of Ti Amo has opened in Buenos Aires, but the pizzas there (pictured left top and bottom) are not quite the same.
Here’s more about travel in Chile
Here’s more about travel in Argentina