Tonight I am hopping on a plane and heading back to my native California. The past year in Buenos Aires has been an amazing experience and it is definitely sad to leave it all behind. But rather than getting all weepy over my keyboard or trying to compose some kind of profound goodbye, I would rather have some fun and hand out some utterly meaningless awards on my last day in town. Let's start with food.
BEST FOOD: Helado!!!
That's ice cream for you gringos out there. Buenos Aires has the best ice cream in the world. It's everywhere, it's delicious and I have no idea why the government hasn't launched some "Argentina: Ice Cream Capital of the World" campaign. Parrilla might get all the hype but helado is always going to leave your tummy happy.
Honorable Mention: Parrilla, Pasta, Empanadas Salteñas
BEST CUT OF CARNE: Bife de Chorizo
This is a tough call, but bife de chorizo is a classic, something that can vary wildly in quality but is usually quite delicious. It also comes with a giant swath of fat on the side, injecting a healthy dose of artery-clogging flavor into the steak even if you don't eat the fat itself. (I usually don't.)
Honorable Mention: Entraña
BEST PARRILLA ITEM (Non-Beef Division): Chorizo
Grilled sausage packed full of yummy italian spices = delicious. A wonderful way to warm up the pallet before dumping a kilo of beef into your gullet.
Honorable Mention: Bondiola de Cerdo
BEST ETHNIC CUISINE: Peruvian
Buenos Aires has a small Peruvian community, much of which seems to be centered in the Almagro neighborhood with its string of Peruvian restaurants along Corrientes. While many Porteños dismiss Peruvian cuisine as "too spicy", the food is a welcome respite from the somewhat bland world of Argentine cuisine. Peruvians actually use spices in their food! (To be fair, Argentines do use a ton of salt, but that's about it.) Delicious soups, ceviches, sautee dishes and surprisingly tasty Asian offerings like fried rice and chow mein are all staple of the Peruvian menu. Many restaurants also offer ridiculously cheap multi-course lunches for around 6 pesos. Although it is situated away from the Peruvian corridor on Corrientes, Sabor Criollo in Villa Crespo is not to be missed.
Honorable Mention: Armenian
WORST ETHNIC CUISINE: Mexican
Mexican food in Buenos Aires sucks. There is absolutely nothing redeeming about it. They use the wrong cheeses. Tomato sauce is substituted for salsa. Meat that should be grilled is boiled. The tortillas are terrible. And of course, nothing is spicy. Just avoid all Mexican food at all costs. Your stomach will thank you.
Honorable Mention: Chinese
BEST ON-THE-GO SNACK: Miga Sandwiches
Cheap, simple, fast and delicious. It is hard to go wrong with simple sandwich combinations on soft bread with no crusts. Ham and cheese is the classic, but many places have a variety to choose from. For days when you have the time to sit down and eat, these things can be toasted up and transformed into tostados, which contain the additional tastiness of melted cheese and the crunch of toasted bread.
BEST ALFAJOR: Jorgito Negro
Those outside Argentina probably don't know that alfajores are these little cookie sandwiches usually stuffed with dulce de leche in the middle. They are basically the official Argentine snack, at least when it comes to sweets. Local shops and stores are loaded with all kinds of alfajores - different brands, different flavors, different concoctions - and after a year I have settled on Jorgito Negro as the best. The cookies are crumbly and sweet, the dulce de leche is tasty and the whole thing is covered in chocolate. Yum.
BEST HELADERÍA: Scannapieco (Córdoba 4826, Palermo/Villa Crespo)
This old-fashioned shop on the edge of Palermo has been serving ice cream since 1938. A family business, the shop is run by a group of old Italian brothers who give the place lots of extra charm with their white coats and friendly demeanor. The ice cream also happens to be outstanding. Don't miss the lemon pie or super dulce de leche flavors.
BEST PARRILLA: La Cabrera Norte (Cabrera 5127, Palermo)
This place is a little touristy but the steaks are massive, delicious and always come with an unusual yet tasty assortment of side dishes. Although La Cabrera Norte hasn't been around as long as the original (which is situated only a block away), its kitchy interior and slightly more spacious environment puts it over the top.
BEST PIZZA: Angelín (Córdoba 5270, Palermo)
This classic Porteño spot that has been serving up pizza since 1938. The crust is thick by Buenos Aires standards, giving each piece a real heft that is usually lacking in other pizza offerings. For best results, go eat in their low-key back room and enjoy the pies fresh out of the oven.
BEST ETHNIC RESTAURANT: Sudestada (Guatemala 5602, Palermo)
The vast majority of Asian cuisine in Buenos Aires is subpar at best, probably due to the relatively small amount of Asians actually living here. There is a Chinatown in Belgrano, but its two blocks of shops don't really compare to the massive Asian neighborhoods found in many major U.S. cities. Even worse, many Asian restaurants have tailored their menu for Argentinian tastebuds, sapping dishes of their flavor. Thankfully, Sudestada bucks that trend and serves up high-end Southeast Asian cuisine packed with authentic flavors and actual spiciness. (In the interest of protecting the delicate Porteño palette, at Sudestada waiters actually warn diners about the spiciness during the ordering process.) The menu covers all the major bases, from noodles and dumplings to curries and sautee dishes.
Honorable Mention: Sarkis (Thames 1101, Villa Crespo)
BEST SANDWICHES/SALADS: Oui Oui (Nicaragua 6068, Palermo)
This funky little French café as the edge of Palermo Hollywood is a great spot to grab a low-key meal with actual greens on your plate. Fresh salads and sandwiches make up the bulk of the menu, but Oui Oui also offers tasty breakfast options and fresh-baked French pastries. The young and hip staff adds a bohemian feel to a place that is a welcome respite from the usual parrilla circuit.
MOST OVERRATED EATERY: Mark's (El Salvador 4701, Palermo)
Stop the Mark's propaganda! It is all lies! They do not, I repeat DO NOT have great sandwiches. Just because they claim to be inspired by American deli does not mean that they make great food or anything resembling a delicious sandwich. The bread is wrong. The flavors are off. Don't fall for it. Even worse, this place is expensive and always packed and someone needs to STOP THE MADNESS!
WORST SERVICE: Miranda (Costa Rica 5602, Palermo)
With its modern decor and fashionable staff, Miranda is a sort of "hipster parrilla". While the food is quite good, the waiters like to spend more time talking about their asymmetrical haircuts and oddly-placed tattoos than they do actually paying attention to the customers.
BEST PLACE TO EAT LUNCH WITH RANDOM BUSINESSMEN AND SENIORS: Rodi Bar (Vicente López 1900, Recoleta)
This little restaurant sits just a stone's throw from the Recoleta Cemetery and has an interesting sort of old-school upper crust Porteño charm. The menu is traditional, as are the waiters and the clientele, but it is fun to settle in for a well-priced menú del día with an assortment of businessmen and local retirees.
BEST VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT: Providencia (Cabrera 5995, Palermo)
I am not a vegetarian and I usually hate vegetarian restaurants, but I love Providencia. Honestly, it is one of the best restaurants in Buenos Aires. While the idea of vegetarian cuisine conjures unpleasant notions of tofu and other meat substitutes, Providencia keeps it simple by relying on fresh, seasonal ingredients. Plates come loaded with vegetables that haven't been pureed or fried (a novelty in Buenos Aires) and the food is not only healthy, but delicious. The menu is small but changes frequently, and the restaurant itself is situated in a converted warehouse space (with no sign outside other than a small note that says "Golpee Fuerte" - Knock Hard) that feels more like a co-op than a fancy eating establishment.
BEST MENU DEL DÍA: La Dorita (Humboldt 1892, Palermo)
This parrilla is a Porteño favorite which unfortunately becomes an absolute nightmare of boisterous families and screaming kids at night and on the weekends. Thankfully, the place is a relatively mellow and adult place during the week, perhaps because everyone is so busy stuffing their face with the menú del día. Although the price has started to creep up slightly with inflation, for something like 24 pesos a person can get a very full lunch that includes an appetizer, main course, side dish, beverage, coffee and dessert. What is even more incredible is that each of those categories features several choices, leaving the diner with an astounding number of combinations for their midday meal.
BEST EMPANADAS: Rincón Salteño - R.I.P. (Carranza 1996, Palermo)
A few weeks ago I tried calling Rincón Salteño but no one answered. After several failed attempts I eventually walked by the restaurant and found it closed down. For the sake of empanada lovers everywhere, I can only hope this is temporary because Rincón Salteño had the best empanadas in the city. The Salta region in northern Argentina is renowned for its empanadas, and Rincón Salteño executed them perfectly. With perfect oven-baked dough and delicious fillings that were thankfully onion-free (many places stuff their empanadas with way too many onions), each empanada was a tasty little pocket of heaven. At least I got to enjoy it while it lasted.
Honorable Mention: Cümen-Cümen (Borges 2055, Palermo)