I finally got around to the second – and in my opinion – most important part of my gluten-free guide to Buenos Aires – the food. You’ve already read about the journey to and from Argentina in LAN Airlines Premium Business Class but now is the time to talk about the food while on the ground in Buenos Aires.
Now Argentina is primarily known for great steak, empanadas, and wine but there is so much more to Argentinian cuisine. Don’t get me wrong – all of the items listed above were beyond amazing and I ate my fair share but there were also a few surprises along the way that made the trip even more delicious.
First off, Buenos Aires is different that Lima (obviously as they are in different countries) – which, as I experienced a couple of years ago, is fast becoming the culinary capital of Latin America. Lima pushes the food limits and is willing to experiment a bit more aggressively with both new cuisines and elevating traditional fare to new levels. That being said I did not have a bad meal in Buenos Aires. Let’s face it – I am a through and through steak-lover so I knew that I would make this the focus during my stay. I mean real Argentinian beef – sign me up.
I am sure that the first question you are thinking is How was it finding gluten-free options? The answer: Extremely easy. Actually it was one of the most gluten-free friendly cities I have come across. The primary reason being that Argentina has strict gluten-free standards and labeling laws. The testing threshold to be labeled gluten-free or “sin TACC” is 10 ppm and items carry a government approved logo to make items easily recognizable. Fancy that, a government regulated gluten-free product market where logos are easily identifiable and more importantly actually mean something – just like in the good old United States – not! Okay, yes progress has been made here in the U.S. but we all know that there is still a very long way to go. Not to mention that the million or so logos, labels, “certification” organizations, etc. are not helping the matter much. But I digress…back to Buenos Aires.
For this trip I decided to go a bit out of my comfort zone and decided to rent an apartment for our stay. Those of you that follow me regularly know that I am typically more of a fine hotel/full-service kind of guy but as this trip was with my mother we either needed two hotel rooms or a large suite to accommodate us when traveling together. After quite a bit of research I landed on a wonderful multi-story two bedroom/two bathroom apartment in the heart of Recoleta that was owned by an American ex-pat who lived in another apartment in the building.
The apartment was a true gem situated in one of the oldest French buildings in Buenos Aires that was joined by three interior courtyards all set away from the street. This allowed for the apartment to be absolutely silent from the sounds of Buenos Aires. Doormen were on-hand to assist and the owner could not have been a better host. There was every amenity of a five-star hotel including fresh flowers in every room, nicely stocked kitchen (complete with a few bottles of Argentinian wine and gluten-free nibbles), crisp high quality linens, and pretty much anything you could possibly need was just a phone call away. The owner even arranged for all of our transportation to and from the airport and had a gluten-free welcome meal waiting for us on arrival. Stepping out of my comfort zone yielded an amazing experience that I would have not have had otherwise. Not to mention having a fully equipped kitchen was a definite perk — particularly for breakfast and even one dinner (Mom’s gluten-free spaghetti carbonara) when we decided to eat-in before heading out to a late night tango show.
The area of Recoleta that we were staying in really had a small neighborhood feel to it with tons of cafes, restaurants, and markets within walking distance – and Buenos Aires is actually a very walkable city. Of course we had also received a multi-page guide to restaurants, markets, and pretty much anything else we could have asked for from the owner. Of course I had done my typical research in the months leading up to the trip so had a pretty good idea of places to check out.
As I mentioned, finding gluten-free options in Buenos Aires was not difficult at all. I also had the same laminated Spanish celiac and food allergy cards that I took with me to Lima. One side had the celiac description and the other my shellfish allergy requirements. They really came in handy and as soon as I handed them to a server they were quick to make menu recommendations and I did not have a single issue on this trip.
Gluten-free grocery items can be found in Dieteticas or Farmacias which are essentially health food-type stores that cater to a range of dietary needs. There were several within walking distance of where I was staying but I really liked:
Natural Buenos Aires
It is a small space but has a range of gluten-free items, including a nice freezer section where I picked-up some gluten-free empanadas. When I visited I had a lovely chat with the person working there (not sure if it was the owner or an employee) but he had lived in New York and was happy to offer recommendations for must see sights in Buenos Aires. The people of Buenos Aires are truly warm and welcoming and were eager to help you unlock the secrets of their town.
Dietetica Natural/Natural Buenos Aires
Two locations: Ayacucho 1365 and Guido 1629
On one of our first nights we went to La Querencia just a couple of blocks from our apartment. I later found out that the owners actually lived in the same building where we were staying. This is a lovely restaurant that focuses on local favorites and even had all of the gluten-free menu items clearly marked (again with an approved symbol). My mother and I shared a large salad which you could select what ingredients you wanted to include to start. I then had a lentil stew complete with beef, bacon, sweet potato, and chorizo and it was out of this world. I mean how can you go wrong with a trifecta of meats? I also had to try a pork and beef tamale which did not disappoint and had a subtle spiciness to it. My mother had a veal empanada and also sampled some of my dishes. For dessert – which was a tough choice because there was a long list of gluten-free options – but I opted for the chocolate mousse which was a decadent treat that was not too sweet but more on the nutty cocoa-side of the flavor spectrum. My mom went with the Quebrachito – which is chocolate dough rolled around ice cream and dulce de leche.
Junin 1314, at the corner of Juncal
Tel. 4824-4483 / 4821-1888 / 4823-1414
For a quick bite while on the go I really liked Los Maestros. Yes, it is pretty much a temple to all things gluten-filled but there is an Argentinian staple that I discovered called Fainá which is essentially a garbanzo-based flatbread very similar to Farinata or socca. This restaurant offered a plain version and Fainazza (Fainá with scallions) – I of course tried both. It makes for a nice afternoon nibble if you don’t want a large lunch but is quite filling and will hold you over until dinner.
Pres. José Evaristo Uriburu 1035 at the corner of Juncal
Buenos Aires Grill
It is no secret that I am a huge steak fan so I have to admit I was a bit giddy when I would be heading to the land of beef. I had actually done a lot of research on this front and had planned to enter a steak-induced coma at Le Grill in Puerto Madero – alas, during our stay, there was a one day transit strike so we would have to change some of our plans around and the day that we could finally go to Le Grill it was closed for dinner. Oh well, not the end of the world. We had two really good steak meals during our stay. The first was a lunch at Buenos Aires Grill which is a small and modern restaurant that was a favorite of both locals and tourists. We stopped-in during a full-day private city tour we had arranged and the restaurant did not disappoint. I opted for the Bife Ancho (rib eye) and a salad. The meat was expertly prepared to medium perfection and was really very good. It was accompanied by a selection of chimichurri sauces ranging from mild to more spicy options. Just a little note: there were two sizes on offer and we opted for the smaller as it was lunch – but even those were good-sized portions.
Buenos Aires Grill
Avenida Santa Fe 1876
Our second steak meal would be an evening bacchanal that took the place of our original Le Grill plans. Our private guide had recommended this location as it was a Sunday evening and many places were not open.
We went all out with this meal and started with a Caprese salad with fresh mozzarella and olive tapenade that was a simple starter before we moved-on to the meat course. I opted for the Bife de chorizo (strip steak) and my mother the Bife de lomo (tenderloin) with a shared side of mashed potatoes. The steaks were large and cooked to absolute perfection. Again, a trio of chimichurri sauces accompanied the meat and we were in absolute heaven. We decided to share a rather larger flan for dessert that came with a huge portion of dulce de leche and fresh whipped cream.
Avenida Santa Fe 2587
Museo Evita Restaurant
One afternoon we wanted to visit the Evita Museum in the lovely Palermo area. The museum did not disappoint and since we had theater tickets later in the evening we wanted to have a larger lunch and the restaurant at the museum was buzzing and looked quite nice so we decided to stay for lunch. The restaurant is attached to the museum and features a really lovely outdoor patio with quite a few tables. The weather was a bit on the cooler side and even though the patio was very busy we decided to stay inside. The restaurant offers a full menu for lunch and dinner and is not what you would typically think of for museum dining.
A freshly made basket of non-gluten-free bread as the first thing to arrive at the table which my mother sampled and said was very good. I opted for a mushroom risotto with truffle oil that was a huge portion. It was cooked to perfection and perfectly seasoned that allowed for the woodsy notes of the various mushrooms to really shine through. My mother had grilled chicken on focaccia that was also a very large portion as well. Service was extremely relaxed and we lingered for close to two hours enjoying wine and then finishing with coffee. A table of locals was having a business meeting next to ours and decided on a lunch of desserts which when presented looked simply stunning and had my main course not have been so large I would have definitely indulged.
Museo Evita Restaurant & Bar
Juan María Gutiérrez 3926
After an afternoon of shopping near the Recoleta Cemetery we were looking for a little lunch and came across Puerto Montt. This was a large restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating and felt like more of a modern chain. Pizza seemed to be there specialty so I went with my trusted Fainá and a salad with chicken. The Fainá was very good but the salad, while large, was just average – not that I had tremendous expectations. We just wanted a quick bite. My mother had a simple pizza with tomato and mozzarella which she said was good. The place was buzzing at lunchtime and service was fine.
Puerto Montt Restó
Vicente López 2102
Perhaps one of the best meals that we had was a lunch not far from our apartment that the owner had highly recommended. It is a tiny place that you would likely keep walking past if you weren’t looking for it. It is known for fresh and innovative cuisine and a menu that is dictated by what is in season and available.
We were told to arrive on the early-side because the place quickly fills up with those in the know. We arrived shortly after it opened and were shown to a table. Within perhaps fifteen to twenty minutes later every seat was taken. When I explained my dietary restrictions our server (who I am guessing is the chef’s wife) quickly pointed out what I could and could not have. Best of all when she brought some fresh bread to the table it was also accompanied by gluten-free crackers for me – I knew it would be a great experience.
The menu had a variety of dishes ranging from interesting twists on traditional dishes to pastas to meat and poultry. I spied a pork dish that caught my eye and when it was confirmed it was gluten-free and came highly recommended I went for it. Not quite sure what to expect a dish of several slices of pork medallions soon arrived at our table. What made this interesting was that they were grilled in a way that a bündnerfleisch-type slice of meat was on the front of each piece of pork – it was truly interesting. Additionally, this dish was served with a warm salad of lettuce with fresh corn (yes, you read that correctly) that rocked my world. Perhaps it was the contraction of temperature that made it so appealing but the small bit of heat helped to elevate the flavor profile of what would have been just a regular salad. My mother had a recommended chicken dish but I was so involved in savoring my dish that I cannot remember what exactly it was – but she did enjoy it. If you are going to Buenos Aires, this is not to be missed.
Due Resto Café
Juncal 2391 just off Pueyrredón
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in Buenos Aires and ended-up falling in love with the City. It is a vibrant cosmopolitan metropolis that is full of wonderful cultural opportunities coupled with the loveliest people you could hope to meet. It is a city of contrasts and a city of surprises. It is one of the few cities in the world that left me yearning to return.
Here are just a few shots around Buenos Aires (more albums to come later):