The problem with the countless ‘best of’ lists is that you get the same recommendations you get everywhere else. Let’s face it, a lot of online content is ‘recycled’ and hence, out-of-date or never up-to-date in the first place… Let’s just say that we won’t be sending you to that one steakhouse or that one tango show that was a ‘must do’ back in 2010.
If you are the type of traveler who uses Airbnb, travels without an itinerary, avoids tourists zones and wants to experience the city like a local, then this local’s guide is for you. In a city as dynamic and fast-changing as Buenos Aires, this non-touristy guide aims to bring you up to date with the contemporary, edgy, and Instagram-worthy spots and also throw in a few classics for good measure.
Where to Eat
The Hip-hop Parrilla
(Carols Calvo 471, San Telmo) Otherwise known as Freddy’s Parrilla or Nuestra Parrilla is a little hole in the wall parrilla (BBQ) just outside the San Telmo Mercado (on Carlos Calvo) that does amazing choripan, morcipans and bondiola sandwiches. During the day it is a hang out for old fellas (now open only sporadically), but at night, a couple of young guys take over the barbecuing. They also do an amazing bondiola al plato – a hunk of barbecued pork on a wooden platter.
Note that I call it the “Hip-hop Parrilla” because the young guys that run the show at night are usually playing Dre or NWA or Snoop, or else Cuban or Venezuelan hip hop, while they work the grill. A great hang out spot for late night San Telmo locals.
(Aráoz 1676, Palermo) – This is Buenos Aires casual dining par excellence. Open kitchen, shared plates of delicious seasonal dishes, good wine and music. More hipster buzzword adjectives – locally-sourced, organic, communal tables. Modern Argentine cuisine with choice meats, seafood, sauces and vegetable options (believe me, after a few days of steaks, pasta and pizza you will crave something like Proper). No reservations so turn up early to avoid waiting (the restaurant opens at 8pm which is early for Argentines who tend to eat dinner from 9 pm onward). Check out their Instagram for a sample of the menu.
(Thames 2317, Palermo) – A traditional Argentine parrilla with a new twist in a modern setting. Reasonably priced, top end beef and unique sides accompanying their daily smoked or grilled options. Definitely worth a visit if you want to skip the tourists lines at La Cabrera or Don Julio without missing out on the Argentine steak quality. The location is small though so make a reservation and try one of their gin and tonics. Argentine gin “Príncipe de los Apóstoles” is making a name for itself internationally.
(Gascón 1272, Palermo) – For lovers of natural wines, this little puerto cerrado (closed door restaurant) in Palermo is a godsend. The restaurant is set in a little converted garage with a loft and open kitchen. Guests sit a communal table, on the island bench right beside the kitchen or on little tables made of giant cheeseboards. The food is home-styled French cooking and is written up casually on a whiteboard. The service is very, very relaxed and it feels like you’re at a dinner party hosted by a particularly strange, but wonderful friend of a friend. And it’s a one-man show.
Nicolas, a former sommelier from Brittany, France, is as kooky as it gets. He yanks the corks out of wine bottles with a dramatic flurry, speaks broken Spanish in his heavy French accent, sips from a glass of wine between preparing dishes and serving them up to tables, and at one point ducked out of the restaurant to do a quick shop leaving me to man the front door… aside from the whole novelty of the whole thing, the major draw-card are the rows and rows of natural wines. Nicolas knows his business and has an excellent selection of natural wines which are produced by very few winemakers in this very traditional wine making country. Los Divinos is reservation only, so contact them on Facebook here.
(Juan Ramírez de Velasco 401, Villa Crespo) – Tiny neighbhourhood pasta joint in Villa Crespo. Hand made pastas, good vibes (buena onda). A real neighbourhood feel. Bring your phrasebook or a google translate as you’re likely to be the only English speakers there. It’s a small place that gets busy quickly so be prepared to wait for a table if you arrive late.
El Banco Rojo
(Bolivar 866, San Telmo)- Meat, pasta and pizza gets pretty old pretty fast (not to mention ‘obstructive’ for the ol’ digestive system…). El Banco Rojo is a classic spot that has just moved to a larger space. This is a great casual lunch and dinner spot for fresh sandwiches, wraps, kebabs and felafels. Make sure you try their empanadas – the spicy cordero (lamb) is sooo good.
should go to El Desnivel (Defensa 855, San Telmo) For steak or choripan, Chan Chan (Hipolito Yrigoyen 1390, Microcentro) for Pisco Sours and Peruvian cuisine, Gran Dabbang (Scalabrini Ortiz 1543, Palermo) for modern Argentine-Indian fusion, Las Pizarras bistro (Thames 2296, Palermo) for a farm-to-table bistro styled menu in a moody setting and Burger Joint (Jorge Luis Borges 1766, Palermo), the original American cheeseburger spot that kicked off the craze in BA.
There are many beautiful old cafes in Buenos Aires, but few that actually make good coffee that hasn’t been burnt all to hell. Thankfully, a quality coffee scene has been slowly building over the past few years, and as local tastes changes, more and better cafes are popping up all the time. The following cafes do something rare in BA in that hit all three criteria for what makes a good cafe (in my opinion)— 1) aesthetics 2) good music AND 3) great coffee
(El Salvador 4580, Palermo) is the latest addition to the growing barista coffee scene. Cosy, stylish interiors with high-ceilings and sunny outdoor seating, right near the heart of Palermo. The setting is casual and good for a quick hangout or takeaway – they have a simple food menu; baked treats, tasty toasts (with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, sundried tomatoes, cheese) and a good range of espresso and cold brewed coffee options (the frio white aka iced flat white is killer).
Negro. Cueva de Cafe
(Suipacha 637, Centro) – Downtown Buenos Aires is great for its historic architecture but hit and miss for non-touristy places to eat and drink. While the cafe notables such as Cafe Tortoni are pretty, the coffee sucks. Negro Cueva is a great oasis for your caffeine fix downtown (they make amazing flat whites for all you Aussies out there), conveniently located near sights such as Teatro Colon, the Obelisco, Casa Rosada and Plaza de Mayo.
(Humboldt 1542, Palermo Hollywood)- The space is bright, minimalist and open. Coffee is made by bean geeks who are obsessed with every step from roastin to presentation. And the baked goods are pretty tasty too. Their second venture LAB New American Cuisine (Echeverría 1550) in Barrio Chino (aka Chinatown) is an excellent addition to the coffee scene in BA, combining friendly customer service (not always a given in this city…), barista-quality coffees (espresso and cold brew) and a refreshingly light breakfast (avocado on toast finally!) and lunch menu of fresh salads and sandwiches (the corned beef sandwich is quality).
(in the middle of the San Telmo Mercado, Carlos Calvo 495) – Probably the cafe with the best vibe of all as it is situated right in the middle of the famous covered mercado. Despite much of San Telmo being quite touristy, the Mercado still has a ‘neighbourhood atmosphere’, due in large part to the antique, second-hand clothing and fruit/vegetable stores and other businesses that are still locally owned and operated. Oh, and the coffee is damn good.
(location varies)- Jacob of Sheikob’s Bagel is a New Yorker living in Buenos Aires who makes authentic bagels and then transports these delicious treats via bicycle to various cafes around town where he sells them with your choice of homemade cream cheese, salmon or bacon&egg. Read more about Sheikob here and check out his schedule on his Instgram. Word on the street is that he will have a fixed bagel shop location in the coming months!
Go to Felix Felicis & Co (Cabrera 5002), Full City Coffee House (Thames 1535) and Lattente (Thames 1891) are all in Palermo and all well known for quality coffee. Lattente is an especially popular hub for expats.
Where to drink
(Callao 501, pic above, Centro) – Buenos Aires has almost a hundred heritage listed cafes and many of them are beautiful and traditional and charming but sadly, have not updated their menus in probably a decade or more to catch up with the times. Hence, many of them serve “meh” food and less than okay coffee. And crappy music. Los Galgos WAS one of these but has been taken over by new owners who have brought new energy and creativity but still retaining the old school atmosphere.
At Los Galgos, you will still see the eighty or ninety year old gents and ladies drink black coffee and read the paper beside young hipsters sipping vermouth cocktails. Conveniently located in the theatre district near the Obelisk and Teatro Colon, drop in at happy hour from 6pm-8pm for deals on beers and vermouth drinks. Also make sure you check out the second floor which is a dark and moody cocktail bar, with very serious looking ‘mixologists’ shaking and stirring up damn serious cocktails.
Cafe San Bernardo
(Corrientes 5436, Villa Crespo) The secret is out on Cafe San Bernardo, the table tennis and pool hall which was the Buenos Aires hipster par excellence two or three years ago. It’s still pretty damn good place to go hang out, eat cheap pizzas and drink cheap beer. And check out the locals of course…
La Esperanza de los Ascurra
(Aguirre 526, Villa Crespo) This vermouth and tapas bar in the bohemian neighbourhood of Villa Crespo might be my favourite bar in Buenos Aires. It’s a place where friends, neighbours, family, and hipsters, mingle easily. It has a casual vibe that many bars try to imitate but fail at replicating. La Esperanza just seems to strike the perfect balance with its cozy size, affordable prices, friendly service and a simple, but hearty tapas menu. It makes it easy for you to hang out all night and nibble on papas bravas, tortillas, albondigas all while knocking back Negronis. Due to its popularity two more new locations have opened in Palermo Hollywood and Recoleta. Go to the original though—it is by far the best.
(Gorriti 4389, Palermo) – NOLA (meaning New Orleans, Louisiana) began its life as a ‘closed door’ restaurant and then became one of the earliest craft beer bars in Buenos Aires, preempting the craft beer rage that has now overtaken the city. It’s well-known for its NOLA style chicken – drumsticks, nuggets or the classic sandwich and amazing house-made sauces. Well priced and busy pretty much all week long. Try to grab one of the outside tables; I find the footpath is one of the best spots in Palermo to drink a beer and people watch— for some unknown reason, some of the most attractive cyclists in the city (both men and women) regularly ride past on the bike lane that runs in front of NOLA.
La Cava Jufré
(Jufré 201, Villa Crespo) Jazz and top shelf Argentine wine, this is a true neighbourhood spot in Villa Crespo where you are not likely to bump into many tourists. There’s no list of wines per se. Rather, the owner will pour by the glass whatever bottle he decides to open. And if you feel like a whole bottle, he will be happy to make a recommendation (he speaks a bit of English and he knows his wine!).
(Angel J. Carranza 1670, Palermo Hollywood) This little wine shop in Buenos Aires doubles up as a wine bar. Pick your bottle from the shelves and drink it there and then with a picada (meat and cheese board). Friendly, casual atmosphere that spills out onto the sidewalk on busy nights.
After all the fine wine and dining, you might want a stronger drink and dance floor…what you seek is a boliche (night club):
Buenos Aires Clubs
Makena Cantina Club
(Fitz Roy 1519, Palermo Hollywood) – Makena is a night club nostalgic for a glorious past… it looks like something from a vision of American cool circa 1984. There is stage OVER the bar where rock ’n’ roll cover bands sometimes play. The music is strictly dance to guitars pop-rock from the 80s through to the 90s. No frills, but fun. Just a few blocks away is The Roxy Club (Niceto Vega 5542), the same sort of thing but on a much larger dance floor.
(Niceto Vega 5510, Palermo Hollywood) Club Niceto is a late night musical institution that’s been around since 1998. From drag to electronic to dance to hip-hop, it is still one of the premier clubs in Buenos Aires to host international acts, recently Lee Scratch Perry and Nightmares on Wax. On any given weekend, it is guaranteed to be busy till the wee hours of the morning.
HOT TIP: For those new to BA night life, getting to a boliche at midnight is considered early, so plan accordingly…
And now onto Part 2 of the Non-Touristy (a.k.a. Local’s) Guide to Buenos Aires covering vinyl shops, concerts, cultural centers and the bizarre.