Buenos Aires for Visitors
It’s impossible to get good spicy food in Buenos Aires, grumble most of the guidebooks. Wrong. You may have to chase a little harder for your chilli, but as Dan Perlman explains, it’s out there.
“Dull, tasteless, and bland” Those were the words out of the mouth of an ex-pat who has lived here for many years, in reference to local cuisine. I beg to differ. I really do. I’m not going to say that if you frequent your same corner café or parrilla all the time that you aren’t going to find that it isn’t the finest or best seasoned cuisine on the planet, but the same could be said of the same sort of spot anywhere in the world. For those of us who live here and love to have food that hits the high notes of spice, a bit, or a lot, of picante on a regular basis, it’s a common supposition that we simply have nowhere to go eat. I’m here to claim that that’s balderdash, a load of hooey, complete nonsense. You will have to seek places out more than you might in some major cities in the world, but if you stop taking the words of folks who simply haven’t made the effort, it’s really not that hard to find good, spicy cuisine in Buenos Aires.
Let’s start with some of the obvious suspects – the southeast Asian cuisines. While it’s true that there’s a limited number of good spots that offer up reasonably authentic fare, they are here. You want a good, spicy green curry? Right in the heart of Microcentro is the well known Empire Thai, at Tres Sargentos 427, where you can happily slurp away at a bowl filled with broth that’ll make your scalp sweat. They also offer up a fiery mixed saté that will have you reaching for the closest cold beer, even if it’s not yours. Equally well known, out in Las Cañitas, is Lotus Thai, Ortega y Gasset 1782, where an array of curries and other dishes are just waiting to sizzle your taste-buds. In a similar vein, the new kid on the block is Sudestada, Guatemala 5602, out in Palermo Viejo, where a blend of Vietnamese, Thai, and Indonesian “inspired” cuisine comes flying out of the trendy kitchen – their rice stir-fries are noted for their chili-laden qualities.
Moving north, on the globe, is the world of Korean cuisine. I’d venture to guess that not only most tourists, but a large number of long time residents, are unaware that Buenos Aires has a Korea-town, out in Flores along Carabobo street, where a variety of venues from small lunch counters to elegant dining rooms turn out food that could be an endurance test for some – it can sometimes be difficult to gain entry to some of these spots, as the local Korean community is somewhat insular, but friendly smiles and banter will generally get you through the door – finding any spot by name, unless you read Korean, is an impossibility – just follow your nose. For much more accessible Korean food, Bi Won, at Junín 548 just off the west edge of Recoleta, is a great spot to drop in when you’re craving a bi-bim-bop, rife with hot bean paste. If you really want to put yourself to a test, order their spicy squid stew.
On the Chinese front, while the vast majority of local restaurants are Taiwanese in style, there are a few that offer up the spicier cuisines of Szechuan and Hunan provinces. Among the best, Shi Yuan, Tagle 2531, in the heart of Barrio Norte for their great rendition of Kung Pao Chicken, and Dragon Porteño, Arribeños 2137, where you can order up a fiery Eggplant Yu-Xiang (they’ll even make it extra spicy on request).
Moving to the southwest, there’s of course, Indian cuisine, and the local set was long dominated by primarily watered down versions – but, in the last couple of years, some spots that don’t stint on the spice have sprung up – the strangely mixed Italian and Indian spot called Bengal, at Arenales 837, in Retiro, where they offer up probably the best Indian chicken curry in the city, the “Brick Lane Curry House” style pub found at Bangalore, Humboldt 1416, in Palermo Viejo, where they offer some interesting dishes not seen in many spots – including a great Tuna Jafrezi, seasoned with chilies, cumin, and coriander. The newly opened Tandoor, at Laprida 1293 in Barrio Norte is still a bit of an unknown entity, but promises to deliver some much desired hot versions of Indian regional cuisine.
Leaving Asia aside, it’s not hard to find Cuban restaurants here – there’s an entire strip of them along Salta in Centro, as well as scattered other spots. Easily accessible and in a popular spot for visitors, El Tocororo, at Alicia Moreau de Justo 1050 Dock 7 in Puerto Madero offers up great ropa vieja and masitas de puerco, arriving already fairly well down picante lane, and with side offerings of fiery habanero sauce.
Possibly the easiest spots to find are the Peruvian restaurants, and also a few scattered Bolivian restaurants (a higher concentration of the latter can be found out in the commercial center of Liniers, a short train ride away, for those feeling adventurous). At the top of the heap for Peruvian cuisine is easily Moche, at Nicaragua 5901, on the far reaches of Palermo near to Belgrano, where the former Peruvian embassy chef turns out beautifully creative authentic and spicy fare. For more home-style cooking from the heart of Peru is the wildly popular Contigo Perú, located behind the Barrancas del Belgrano train station at Echeverría 1627, where you can dine on anything from spicy ceviches to steaming platters of chili, onion, garlic, and ginger laden fish, chicken, and meat dishes. There are also many Peruvian restaurants in Once, the best of which is probably Sabor Norteño, La Rioja 186, with the extra added fun of summer weekend live music from local Peruvian musicians. On the Bolivian front, if you’re not headed for the far suburbs, your best bet is simply stopping in for the classic fiery Bolivian empanadas, or salteñas, and stews at La Paceña, Echeverria 2570, in Belgrano.
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.