Slap another steak on the parrilla, it’s time to get nasty with some Argentine steak. As a former vegetarian once perplexed by this meat obsessed culture, I can regretfully say that I am beginning to understand the appeal of eating fleshy beef carcass. Known as the land of beef, Argentina has the world’s highest consumption rate of beef, with the average consumer scarfing down a yearly average of more than 140 pounds of cow parts galore. Before we get into the nitty gritty of the best Buenos Aires restaurants to dive knife first into a juicy piece of barbecued steak, it’s crucial to learn about the Argentine cuts of beef and the correct Spanish meat translation.
- Bife de chorizo – Sirloin Strip Steak
- Bife de lomo – Tenderloin
- Chinchulín – Intestine
- Chorizo – Sausage*
- Entraña – Skirt Steak
- Molleja – Sweet Bread
- Morcilla – Blood Sausage
- Ojo de bife – Rib Eye
- Riñones – Kidneys
- Tira de asado – Short Ribs
- Vacío – Flank Steak
- Other important condiments: Salsa criolla & chimichurri are essential to enjoying your entire meat experience. Salsa criolla is a vinegar based sauced made with tomatoes, onions and peppers. Chimichurri has several variations, but most often made from finely chopped parsley, garlic, olive oil, oregano, red pepper flakes and vinegar.
So what are the best steak restaurants in Buenos Aires?
Once in a city with a great parrilla on every corner, in recent years due to soaring inflated prices and lower quality beef, it’s too common to fall victim to an overpriced piece of chewy meat. But if you do want to really know what all the fuss is about meat in Argentina, it’s time to visit one of these great parrillas:
Parrilla Peña (Rodriguez Peña 682, Recoleta/Congreso): Far from Palermo’s overly trendy restaurants, Parrilla Peña remains one of the last standing authentic bodegones in Buenos Aires. It’s not a place to be seen, nor should you go if you are looking for a chic ambiance. It’s a steakhouse for meat lovers who want to be transported back to the good ole days, where waiters deck themselves out in their classic crisp white shirts and dapper bow ties and the average dining age might not dip under 60 yrs old. When you arrive you’ll be served an empanada that dreams are made of — flavored beef stuffed inside a perfectly fried dough. Then, keep the night going with a bife de lomo (tenderloin), ojo de bife (rib eye), thick steak fries, Malbec wine and homemade tiramisu. If you are all about substance over style, Parrilla Peña is your spot.
Don Julio (Guatemala 4691, Palermo): My go-to spot when I have guests in town: great service, always top notch meat, a massive awesome wine list and it’s in Palermo. While food writers who describe food as “melting in your mouth” should be sent home, I’m going to break the rule since their bife de chorizo is like the fucking M&M of meat cuts.
La Brigada (Estados Unidos 465, San Telmo): This parrilla has moved into a close second to becoming my top choice. If you are visiting BA for a short time and find yourself in San Telmo, La Brigada is a quality parrilla that rarely fails where the waiters are infamous for cutting the steaks with spoons. Gran Parrilla del Plata (Chile 594) comes in a close second as another great San Telmo parrilla.
Lo de Paka (Congreso 2011, Belgrano/Nuñez): Classic and simple way outside the tourist track, this is what neighborhood parrillas are all about. Tourists and foreigners who yearn for an authentic experience, get yourself to Lo de Paka.
La Lechuza (Uriarte 1980, Palermo Soho): It’s the kinda cheap, casual place you always look for in a parrilla – with good service and decent quality meat. It’s probably one of the only non touristy parrillas that is still decent.
Parrilla Marucha (11 de Septiembre 3702, Nuñez): Parrilla Marucha receives constant praise from local serious meaters for a reason: their steak is DA BOMB. If you ever wanted a place to pop your molleja cherry, give Marucha your flower.
El Pobre Luis (Arribeños 2393, Belgrano near Barrio Chino): A Buenos Aires famous establishment in Chinatown, some people say the meat quality has gone down, but I say stick a meat IV in my arm, Luis, because this parrilla is the tops. Fun, lively, family environment, be expected to wait as this steakhouse gets extremely packed (with locals).
El Trapiche (Paraguay 5099, Palermo Hollywood) Another classic bondegón with a quite extensive menu filled with pastas, seafood, and of course, meat. My favorite is a brochette (skewer) with lomo and vegetables. I know this is a post about meat, but I must note they serve a real good grilled salmon – which is a hard thing to find in this city. NOTE: While this used to be my favorite parrilla, the quality has noticeably gone down in since my last few visits in 2011.
La Cabrera & La Cabrera Norte (Cabrera 5099 & Cabrera 5127, Palermo Soho): OK, This place has had so much hype, it’s always busy, and you will rarely hear a table speaking in Spanish because everyone there is a tourist BUT it’s popular for a reason: the meat is pretty damn good. Massive portions, La Cabrera is all about the sides with each dish coming with about 8 small plates. You can easily order one dish to share, a bottle of wine and dessert – that’s all you need. Since it’s ALWAYS busy, get there early, or late in the night, or else expect to wait a while for a table. LA CABRERA SECRET: every night from 7pm – 8pm they offer a “Happy Hour” menu where everything is 50% off. YES, EVERYTHING.
One word of advice, stay away from Puerto Madero tourist traps (exception: Le Grill). Cabaña de las Lilas ain’t all that, unless someone else is paying. A good slab of meat should never cost more than 150 pesos. Never ever. Unless it comes with a side of gold and a potload of hallucinogenic drugs.
Other great parrilla recommendations:
Tito’s Secret Parrilla
Looking to cook your own meats? Buy it at one of my favorite Buenos Aires butchers – here’s a list of some of the best places to buy meat.