Bounded in the north by red lunar-like expanses, in the west by charming wine regions and in the south by iconic serrated mountains, Buenos Aires is the metropolitan springboard for an overabundance of Argentinean escapades.
Yet, whilst driving the high-altitude mountain roads of Salta, sipping the Malbecs of Mendoza and horseback riding alongside the gauchos of Patagonia are certainly bucket-list-worthy exploits, the nation’s capital is similarly deserving of dedicated exploration.
Nicknamed ‘The Paris of South America’, it is no secret that Buenos Aires is steeped in splendour: captivated by its romantic balconies, colourful façades, street-corner tangos, lively avenues and overhanging concrete gargoyles, millions flock to the capital annually to experience the preserved remnants of the glory days of this rhythmic city.
Amongst this overabundance of cultural and architectural marvels dwell handfuls of little-known artisan bakeries, stylish cocktail bars and fine restaurants that are well-placed to absorb the effervescent atmosphere of this flamboyant city. From aromatic baked goods to Patagonian fine-dining and local-approved fare to panoramic watering holes, read on to uncover a hand-picked collection of the creme de la creme of eateries in Buenos Aires.
Best for Exclusivity: Palacio Duhau
A sophisticated landmark that is scattered with lavish chandeliers and classic artworks, Palacio Duhau is an architectural marvel in the upscale and affluent residential neighbourhood of Recoleta. Featuring a selection of breath-taking watering holes, and boasting an impressive wine list that includes aromatic Torrontés and inky Malbecs, the grand neo-classical palace is frequented by flocks of rendezvousing locals and a handful of in-the-know jet setters.
Softly lit by chandeliers, open fires and candlelight, Palacio Duhau invites patrons to perch in its moody oak-and-leather-clad cocktail bar or sample macarons and petit gateaux in its private patisserie. Those travelling with us for more than one week in Argentina (before March 2020) are invited to a complimentary wine and cheese tasting in the company of the palace’s knowledgeable resident sommelier and fromager, an indulgent and insightful experience that is exclusively offered to clients of Steppes.
Best for Brunch: Salvaje Bakery
Touted as kneading the future of the Argentinean baking scene, the unsuspecting founder of Salvaje Bakery is a punk rock-loving bread-maker named German Torres. With the tantalising adage ‘Born to Bake’ embossed on flour-dusted aprons and inscribed on old-fashioned brown paper packaging, patrons of the eatery can expect to be met with the mouth-watering aromas of freshly baked loaves and tempting wafts of hand-crafted flaky pastries.
Located in the trendy cobblestone sub-barrio of Palermo Hollywood, burrowed in a former mechanic’s workshop, this humble indoor-outdoor eatery presents a scrumptious menu of artisan sourdough, fragrant local preserves, butter-laminated croissants, homemade berry-crowned granolas and smooth flat white coffees. After a visit, expect to spend the rest of your day humming AC/DC’s “it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n’ roll”, the bakeries nonconformist theme song.
Best for Cocktails: Hidden Speakeasies
Occupying concealed passageways and accessible only by uttering secret passwords, the hidden speakeasies of Buenos Aires can be unlocked when roaming in the company of one of our specialist in-the-know local guides. After gaining access by punching the everchanging secret code into an antiquated telephone box, sip a tipple beneath crystal chandeliers at Frank’s, the city’s iconic saloon-style speakeasy.
Move on to the password-protected Harrison, who guardedly list their address as “somewhere in Buenos Aires”, to sample their signature Earl Grey and vodka infused Union Pacific cocktail – served in a smoke-blowing train, no less. Wind up clambering through a hulking refrigerator door, hidden within an unassuming and sweetly-scented florist, to find the Floreria Atlantico tapas bar and try their fragrant eucalyptus and yerba mate gin.
Best for Romance: El Ateneo Grand Splendid
Once a palatial theatre and now a disproportionate bookstore, the ornate El Ateneo Grand Splendid doubles as a majestic soft beverage bar that is somewhat incongruously placed beneath opulent balconies and regal frescoed ceilings. After having pored over a novel in one of the intact private theatre boxes, parched bibliophiles can flock behind the plush crimson velvet curtains to a former tango stage, pull up a seat in the makeshift café and listen to live piano compositions. Try ordering an indulgent El Submarino, a comforting local classic that involves sinking a bar of rich dark chocolate in a glass of warm, frothed milk.
Best for Local Approval: Salgado Alimentos
Those seeking scrumptious and unpretentious fare that is approved by locals ought to seek out Salgado Alimentos, a former pasta shop that now only produces batches for locals on request and with four days’ notice. Now a cherished and somewhat secret eatery with only a few tables and a distinctly low-key approach to both decor and presentation, patrons can order a range of Italian dishes that include ricotta-stuffed conchiglioni, creamy ravioli, garlic and Dijon gnocchi and pesto provolone. Since this hole-in-the-wall bistro is situated far off the tourist trail in the residential neighbourhood of Villa Crespo, visitors should be aware that English is not spoken here: either practise your Spanish beforehand or let us arrange for you to be accompanied by a local guide who can help you with ordering.
Best for Panoramic Views: The Crystal Bar
Situated in the revamped waterside district of Puerto Madero and poised within the tallest building in Argentina, The Crystal Bar absorbs panoramic views of the city from the 32nd floor of the sleek 54-story skyscraper The Alvear Icon. Since it possesses the most remarkable sunset observation point in all of Buenos Aires, visible through floor-to-ceiling glass walls, enlightened patrons know to arrive shortly before dusk to marvel as the cornflower skies metamorphose to many shades of gold and bloodshot auburn.
Afterwards, engage in undisturbed tête-à-tête with an Old Fashioned in hand as the thousands-strong city lights begin to glow within the urban backdrop. Featuring a tasty nibbles menu that includes sharing cheese and nut platters and mozzarella and brie pizzettes, The Crystal Bar is an idyllic pre-dinner spot that is conveniently positioned just one floor above the cutting-edge Kayla Restaurant. Benefitting from the same breath-taking views, this elegant restaurant delivers an unforgettable gastronomic experience with main dishes that include Argentine pasta, homemade bread and tempting desserts.
Best for Nomadic Fine Dining: Patagonia Sur
Owned by the Michelin-trained Argentinean Francis Mallman, a celebrity chef, author and fire-loving restaurateur, Patagonia Sur is an exclusive dinner-only eatery located in the spirited and colourful La Boca neighbourhood. Owing to its location in a relatively underprivileged area of Buenos Aires, which was not formerly associated with fine-dining establishments, Patagonia Sur is a ground-breaking addition to the city’s avant-garde dining scene. Accommodating just 12 diners behind the locked front door of a renovated Italian townhouse, Mallman’s homely culinary outpost serves a multiple-course sampler of gaucho-inspired meat-centric dishes that recall the far-flung reaches of Patagonia.
The intended notion of dining within the chef’s own living room is a concept that comes with a steep price tag, but the service and food are proportionately impressive. Having starred in the celebrated docuseries Chef’s Table and grilled on open flames for the likes of David Beckham and the King of Spain, the nomadic chef has become a highly venerated, albeit idiosyncratic, champion of rustic Argentinean gastronomy. With luck, he even maybe in the kitchen during your visit.
Best for Coffee: Coffee Town or El Gato Negro
The finest café con leche in Buenos Aires is poured at an unassuming stall burrowed within the bustling San Telmo Market. Frequented by bohemian Argentines and wayfarers alike, the acclaimed Coffee Town kiosk is a project launched by roasting masters who meticulously select and analyse an assortment of global coffee beans to curate their world-class coffee selection.
Those who are less concerned with the quality of this fragrant liquid and more intent on exploring the old habits of a nation of native coffee-drinkers can seek out El Gato Negro, one of the government-protected “bares notables” that offers insight into Buenos Aires’ café-culture past. To make the most of the old-world atmosphere of this preserved historic institution, order a fragrant honey-cinnamon infused cafe al jengibre and purchase one of their signature exotic spice tins to take home.
Best for Wine Tasting: Casa Coupage
Those seeking a lingering culinary experience might opt for an evening spent at the gourmet, closed-door restaurant Casa Coupage in the heart of chic Palermo, where seven courses of delicately-prepared cuisine (including desserts and cheeses) and meticulously paired wines can be savoured in the company of chief sommelier Santiago Mimycopulo.
Alternatively, oenophiles can practise their connoisseurship during a blind tasting, where morsels of regionally-inspired finger food are served alongside undisclosed wines to encourage the study of the body, bouquet and aroma of Argentina’s grape varieties. Enthusiastic amateurs need not be perturbed – the expert sommelier will demonstrate age-old tasting methods, ensuring that you depart with an appreciation of the complexities and composition of the nation’s beloved tipple.