The Ultimate Guide To Eating Like A Local In Buenos Aires

There's a lovely Italian proverb that goes parla come mangi, or "speak the way you eat." I love this saying, and it comes to mind when trying to find the perfect words — especially when describing the perfect meals — to describe the beauty of the Buenos Aires food scene. From the subtle crunch and taste of a homemade empanada to the flavors of an authentic choripán in San Telmo, Buenos Aires is teeming with flavor-filled, incredible culinary experiences, and it was a city that I loved and enjoyed through and through.

I eat the way I travel, which is to say that I opt for fortuitous discoveries of authentic local spots instead of flocking to established, tourist restaurants. So, I was thrilled when I was invited to join American expat David Carlisle for a tour of traditional parrilla spots (parrilla is a regional grilling style) and restaurants that porteños frequent in San Telmo. David and his business partner, Santiago, founded Parrilla Tour Buenos Aires in 2011 to introduce visitors to local food and take them to insider restaurants they might have otherwise missed. From family-owned establishments that have perfected the art of the Argentine empanada to a hole-in-the-wall parrilla with expertly grilled chorizo, Parrilla Tour was a perfect introduction to the savory and exciting local epicurean culture of Buenos Aires. 

The Art of Empanadas

Pedro Telmo, Bolivar 962

Photo Credit: Nikki Vargas

Pedro Telmo is a 200-year-old restaurant that is still being run by the same family today! Empanadas in Argentina vary depending on the region they hail from, and empanadas in Buenos Aires are baked and filled with ground beef, green onion, and a touch of cumin. While other countries, like Colombia, will fry their empanadas, Argentina is known for its crisp, baked treats that are a comfort food favorite. Pedro Telmo serves classic Argentine empanadas with the skill and precision that is indicative of two centuries of perfection.

Buenos Aires' Answer to Street Food

Lo de Osvaldo, Bolivar 956

Photo Credit: Nikki Vargas

Living in New York has given me an ingrained love of street food and the simple pleasures that can come from a food truck or street stall find. In my travels, I often take to the streets to find the best representation of the culture's cuisine. In Cartagena, I fell in love with the food of a local arepa lady who spent 40 years perfecting the art of arepas con huevos. In France, I was introduced to kebabs and how Parisians flock to this late-night bite and in Panama I enjoyed ready-to-eat ceviche. In Buenos Aires, I quickly learned that the idea of street food doesn't jibe with how the city approaches meals; while a lunch in New York City is often inhaled, Argentines enjoy savoring their food and taking their time.

In place of food trucks, Argentina's answer to street food is parrillas. Named after the grills typically used for cooking asado (barbecue), parrillas serve classic bites like choripan. To know what choripan is, you need only look to the name. It's a portmanteau of "chorizo" and "pan" (bread), and is a type of sandwich popular among locals. Often served with chimichurri, the sandwich is simple, delicious, and packed with flavor.

Provoleta and Argentine Steak 

Restaurante Don Ernesto, Carlos Calvo 242

Photo Credit: Nikki Vargas

Don Ertnesto's is a testament to time's transformative powers. What was once an armory-turned-antique-shop visited by the Peróns is now a family-owned restaurant with writing-covered walls and delicious food. 

Meals begin with provoleta, grilled provolone cheese often topped with chili and oregano and sinfully delicious! Appetizers are then followed by a hearty serving of steak accompanied by potatoes and the classic chimichurri blend. Unlike the bright green, parsley-based chimichurri we often find in the United States, chimichurri in Argentina is actually made with dried herbs and oils and is packed with more flavor than its North American counterpart.

Say it Like You Eat it

Nonna Bianca, Estados Unidos 425

Photo Credit: Nikki Vargas

Nonna Bianca is a traditional ice cream shop serving an array of artisanal ice cream in flavors ranging from coconut to coffee. I was surprised to learn that ice cream is more than a treat in Argentina; it is a way of life. Italian immigrants brought the style of gelato to Argentina, which blended perfectly with the high-quality milk native to the region to create a luxuriously creamy dessert that will blow the best ice cream you've ever had out of the water! The traditional flavor of choice is dulce de leche, which has a caramel sweet-cream flavor that the locals adore.

*You can book a tour with Parrilla Tour Buenos Aires here or email for details. 

Nikki Vargas is a special contributor to The Daily Meal.