Though Buenos Aires is a large, cosmopolitan city whose exhaustive variety of cuisines range from authentic French Brasseries to Sushi Bars, the national cuisine of Argentina is most definitely beef and the most traditional restaurant the “Parrilla.”
The Parrilla specializes in grilled beef, both steaks of various cuts and mixed grills, plates of offal often including sweetbreads, kidneys, and blood sausage (though never liver, for reasons unknown to me.) The grass fed Argentine beef is delicious, although the default cooking temperature is medium—more done than I like my beef, so if you prefer your steak more on the rare side, you will have to ask.
There are a number of venerable and famous Parrillas which have been in operation for decades, such as the rather formal El Mirasol in the upscale Recoleta district, near the embassies and luxury hotels. While El Mirasol is good, and the service impeccable, we found the newer Parrillas in the gentrifying Palermo neighborhood to be more less expensive and more fun, with excellent food.
One of the liveliest is La Dorita, in the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood. Seated at a simple sidewalk table, we were able to enjoy the warm Autumn evening in a casual atmosphere—aided by a friendly young waitress, and copious amounts of Malbec served from barrels (there are several varieties of wine to choose from, very inexpensive and considerably better than you would expect) and brought to the table in ceramic penguin-shaped pitchers.
We began the meal with a selection of empanadas—an Argentine staple, before moving on to fresh mixed salads. Then the main event: Thick steaks which we sliced and shared, and platters of grilled sausages, kidneys, and sweetbreads, shared among the more adventurous.
This restaurant is great for a group, and the seven of us ate and drank like gluttons over a period of about three hours, yet the final bill came to less than $25 dollars a person (cash only).
La Dorita is very popular, so reservations are essential; they have a larger but pretty much identical restaurant (La Dorita Enfance) on the corner directly opposite, where we had a nearly identical meal a few days later. Perhaps it was only the enthusiasm of our first waitress, but we all like the original, smaller, La Dorita best.
Perhaps the best Parrilla we found, however, is La Cabrera in Palermo Soho. The food here is truly excellent, and the atmosphere, both inside or at the sidewalk tables, is delightful. In addition to the excellently prepared beef, all the meat dishes are served with a dozen tasty side dishes: various salads, vegetables, beans, etc., making La Cabrera a very fine choice. One main course is plenty for two persons. There is one seating, at 8:30pm. Reservations are essential.
La Dorita (Palermo Hollywood)
Humbolt 1911 at Costa Rica
Very festive, traditional Argentine Parrilla, lots of meat, casual and fun. Cash only.
La Cabrera (Palermo Soho)
Cabrera 5099 at Thames St.
Very good meat, very good service; lots of complimentary side dishes, all excellent. One seating at 8:30.
El Mirasol (Recoleta)
Posada 1032 at Av 9 de Julio
Tel 4326 7322
Formal, well-known Parrilla with good meat and excellent service.
La Dorita photograph by James Laur