Word of Mouth: Buenos Aires
Word of Mouth: Buenos Aires
Cocktail lounges, craft coffee bars, the best meats and more in the bustling Argentinian city
by Ari Bendersky
A cosmopolitan city bustling with energy, Buenos Aires is a jewel in South America that not enough North Americans visit. It seems far—it is almost directly across the Atlantic Ocean from Cape Town—but just a nine-hour overnight flight from Miami feels more like a quick jaunt when you get to sleep most of the way. Known for tango, robust malbecs, supple steaks and Evita, the city offers a European feeling—especially with the beautiful French architecture prevalent around the capital—yet is entirely unique. From Palermo to Recoleta and San Telmo to Boca, it's easy to get around, either on foot or by subway while you explore shops, world-class restaurants and sophisticated cocktail lounges.
Set in the heart of Palermo Hollywood, the design-forward all-suite Fierro Hotel offers spacious rooms starting around 430-square-meters each with super cozy beds and crisp, white linens; free and fast Wi-Fi; a sitting area with a couch to kick back; free coffee, tea and mineral water; and a stocked mini bar with a solid selection of local wines. There's a dipping pool and sauna on the roof and a ground floor back garden set off the hotel's Uco restaurant. There, you'll get breakfast with just-squeezed juice and strong espresso, fresh baked breads, in-house cured bacon, jams preserved on site and eggs or a full Irish breakfast made to order. Yes, the neighborhood has loads of great restaurants, but you wouldn't be wrong having lunch or dinner here, especially since Uco has a stocked wine cellar and a bar featuring small-batch spirits. With all it offers, it's surprisingly affordable with suites starting around $140.
Coffee lovers pay attention: You must make the pilgrimage to LAB. This awesome café in Palermo sources fair-trade beans from around the world, including Tanzania, Peru, Congo, Colombia, Kenya and Sumatra and roasts on site. They brew in a variety of styles (various espresso drinks, cold brew) and methods like Kalita, Chemex, Aeropress and V60. When we ordered the Tanzania Kilimanjaro roast, it came in a wide-bottomed 500 ml beaker with a small espresso cup and offered subtle fruity and nutty notes. LAB recently added a farm-to-table menu, including all-day breakfast serving dishes like gravlax waffles and a breakfast quesadilla, salads including a shrimp salad and bacon and kale Caesar; and sandwiches like a veggie burger with polenta, quinoa and grilled vegetables.
For some of the best-made cocktails in Buenos Aires, if not all of Argentina, envisioned by one of the country's best bartenders (that would be owner Seba Garcia, who also happens to be an incredibly sweet guy), head to Presidente. It's a gorgeous, sophisticated establishment in the upscale Recoleta neighborhood. Grab a spot at the bar beneath the chandeliers or hide away in one of the smaller side rooms, but be sure to get one of their house cocktails or a classic. Ask to have a drink in the Library, the bar's speakeasy hidden behind a door in the back, where you can cozy up in plush couches and drink among a vast collection of old books knowing you're in a space not just anyone can access.
Nestled beneath a flight of stairs, behind an unassuming door in a fragrant wine-meets-flower shop (yes, it's a working shop) you'll find one of the world's best bars. Quite literally. At number 23 on the 2017 World's 50 Best Bars list, Florería Atlántico pulls inspiration for its eclectic and seemingly boundless cocktail list from Argentina's immigrant culture of the early 1900s, notably the French, Spanish, Portuguese, English, Italian, Polish, German and even Turks—and the booze they brought with them. Drinks emerge through creative concoctions, combining ingredients you might think wouldn't mesh, but do—and easily go down making way for another.
Make a reservation at this tasting-menu spot in San Telmo for a real treat. El Boequano is one to seek out if for no other reason than to get the llama tartare with tri-color quinoa. The sleek and modern restaurant sources many ingredients indigenous to Argentina, including rhea (sort of like ostrich), viscacha (a rodent from the Pampas that looks like a rabbit met a chinchilla) and a variety of local vegetables. And the mostly white wine pairing matches perfectly to the menu.
Don Julio Parrilla
If you want grilled meat—and you're in Buenos Aires so you definitely want grilled meat—there are fewer places for an authentic experience than Don Julio. They source the meat from grass-fed cattle raised in the countryside just outside BA and do very little to it in terms of seasoning, in order to let the meat shine on its own. You can get the choice cuts you recognize, but treat yourself and enjoy the cuts the chefs prefer: rump, skirt and those crispy delicious sweetbreads. And never, ever, pass up the chance of having empanadas no matter where you're eating. If it's hot outside, don't be tempted to sit on the patio; you want to take in the full parrilla experience and sit in the main Old World colonial-feeling dining room to watch the grill masters at work from their open kitchen.
If you're in the upscale Recoleta neighborhood, pop in for a meal at Elena, which certainly delivers an experience far greater than your typical hotel restaurant. If you love breakfast, the European-style buffet (about $25 with the current conversion rate) can't be beat. Gorgeous cured meats, house-made yogurt, fresh-squeezed juices and smoothies, waffles and omelets made to order, beautiful breads and pastries and more. You'll definitely want to plan a long walk or nap after. Lunch and dinner step things up with house-cured charcuterie and cheese, mixed grilled seafood served over rice with squid ink, dry-aged bone-in ribeye and other grilled beef, and an incredible wine cellar that includes sommelier-selected malbecs that highlight some of the best wines in the country.
No trip to Buenos Aires for any lover of art is complete without a visit to MALBA—el Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires. The modern building set down the street from the Japanese gardens has a wonderful café on the first floor, but head upstairs to take in the collection of art spanning all of Latin America. You'll see select works from Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco alongside social and political photography, painting and sculpture, much of which captures the revolutionary aspects of South America from the 20th century.
MALBA exterior and exhibition image by Javier Agustin Rojas, Don Julio image by Jonathan Epelbaum, ELENA and El Boqueano images courtesy of respective venues, all others by Ari Bendersky