Buenos Aires for Visitors
If you can’t stand the meat get out of the parrilla. Dan Perlman goes foraging.
Look, it’s not easy being green here. A simple admission that one “doesn’t eat much red meat” brings on a range of responses from abject criticism, to concern for your well-being, to an all pervading suspicion that something’s just not quite right about you. A flat out statement that you don’t eat any meat at all is tantamount to a request to be put in a psych ward for a 72-hour suicide watch.
All I hear about is beef, there must be something else to eat?
There’s a bizarre conception here that the mere elimination of beef from the diet somehow automatically makes you a vegetarian – no consideration will be given to your consumption of lamb, pork, fowl or fish. So, those who want to dine green find themselves in a quandary. What many restaurants consider vegetarian cuisine here contains chicken or beef stocks, bits of panceta “for flavor”, eggs, fish, shrimp, and anything else that someone who doesn’t understand your world thinks they can slip onto your plate.
So how do I avoid that without long discussions with waiters?
I almost hate to recommend it, but the simplest way is to stick with things that are overly basic. Virtually every restaurant here offers fresh salads, many of them with some great combinations. They’re fresh, they’re cheap, and you can pretty much guarantee nothing from the animal kingdom. Pastas are extremely popular in Buenos Aires, and the standard fileto is a basic tomato sauce, no meat, the blanco, which is a bechamel sauce, contains dairy, the scarparo is an onion, garlic, and tomato sauce, and pesto is common, though a pale imitation of it’s Italian roots, here generally being a basic puree of basil and olive oil, mixed with chunks of garlic.
Okay, but I’m not going to live on salads and pasta, what else?
Interestingly, even at the most hard-core bastions of red meat there are often offerings of a parrilla de verduras – a grilled vegetable platter, of course keeping in mind that it comes off the same grill as your neighbor’s steak. Many places have a milanesa de soja, which is the tofu or tempeh, or sometimes seitan, version of a milanesa – Argentina’s version of a weiner schnitzel. Most of these aren’t all that exciting, but then, generally neither are the meat versions. Pizza is also quite good in Argentina, in fact easily the best in Latin America, and in some places as good as anything you’d get in Italy, and it’s quite easy to get an individual sized pie at many places, topped with just the things you want.
Alright, so there are some possibilities when I go out with friends to the places they want to eat, what about when it’s their turn to tag along?
Here’s where it starts to get interesting. There are surprisingly quite a few possibilities. The most common are the Chinese vegetarian buffets. Most ubiquitous are the tenedor libres (all-you-can-eat), which are often good bargains, with unlimited trips to the salad bar, hot food tables, and dessert trays, for under AR$10. That said, most of them offer the sort of food you might expect for the style and price – decent salad bars, lots of fried foods that keep well on a hot tray, vegetable tarts, and stir-fries. The best of these is probably Los Sabios (Corrientes 3733, 4864-4407) in Almagro. (Take the subway “B” line and get off at Medrano.)
And that’s it? Chinese-Argentinian all-you-can-eat buffets?
There are also a small number of non-Chinese spots of this sort. Without question the best of these is Granix (Florida 165, 4760-0307) on the first floor of the Galería Güemes which has the added advantage of being central. This place is run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church, but there’s no preaching happening, just really high quality food and drink for a flat AR$18.
How about non-buffets?
There are the better quality setups where you pay for what you order, more cafeteria style – often with a more intriguing and appetizing selection. These are a little less common, and for some reason lean towards the world of macrobiotics. The best known is La Esquina de las Flores, but it’s neighbor, Lotos, Córdoba 1577, in the Centro area, 4814-4552, is far and away a better option, with an incredible salad selection, a wide variety of hot dishes, and some great tofu based desserts.
Okay, there’s got to be something that’s more of a traditional restaurant, yes?
There are the better quality setups where you pay for what you order, more cafeteria style – often with a more intriguing and appetizing selection. These are a little less common, and for some reason lean towards the world of macrobiotics. The best known is La Esquina de Flores, but its neighbor, Lotos (Córdoba 1577, Microcentro 4814-4552) is far and away the better option, with its incredible salad selection, a wide variety of tasty hot dishes, and some great tofu based desserts.
Okay, there’s got to be something that’s more like a traditional restaurant, yes?
Possibly our two favorite vegetarian spots are in the more creative, eclectic vein. Bio (Humboldt 2199, 4774-3880) in the heart of Palermo Viejo, serves up some amazingly creative macrobiotic cuisine based on whole grains and vegetables. They’re not big on the tofu score which is a nice change of pace. They also make some great fresh juice drinks (here known as licuados). Across town in San Telmo there’s Flor de Lino, (Pasaje San Lorenzo 356, 4362-0128), a vegetarian catering company has opened up a dining room offering truly inventive, delicious pizzas, pastas, and other main dishes, along with an extensive wine list and full bar.
Are there any options for going more upscale or elegant?
As of right now, just two. The first is Artemisia (Cabrera 3877, 4863-4242), where they offer up beautiful presentations of some wonderfully creative vegetarian dishes in an elegant white-tablecloth setting. There’s also the advantage, if you want to take non-vegetarian friends along, that they offer a small selection of fish dishes. The second option is verdellama (Dorrego 1588, 4778-1889), a new venture from well-known chef Diego Castro, who for the last year or so ran a one night a week in-home raw food vegan restaurant. By popular demand he’s closed up the in-home version and renovate a nearby building top open a full restaurant serving the same kind of food.
In mid-2006, I started writing for Time Out Buenos Aires. With changes in their way of conducting business, I decided to part company with them after my last article and set of reviews in mid-2009.