Maybe a more accurate description would be to say that the food scene in Buenos Aires continues to change. On the surface, 2015 seemed like a year full of emerging trends and new ideas, but many of the most interesting changes in the scene were in fact the culmination or realization of changes that began well over a decade ago. A vibrant beer scene, a burger renaissance, cutting edge restaurants finding a voice outside of Palermo, gourmet offerings moving to the lunch counter, and the modernization of every dish imaginable, these trends all became visible this year but are the product of a series of past successes and failures. In short, 2015 was a year of refinement. It was not necessarily a year of “new things” but rather a year that a maturing local palate came out of adolescence and entered young adulthood.
Today for example. It’s 7pm on a weekday evening and I’m quietly hanging out at Blue Dog, a baby faced new bar in Palermo Soho that is just so 2015. The white tile and exposed brick walls, tables that beg to be shared, a semi-open kitchen, and a chalkboard menu boasting things like nachos with pickled pico de gallo, stuffed camembert, and a ginger braised bondiola sandwich. Beneath the menu sit over half a dozen beer taps connected to barrels full of nationally produced craft beer. In the not so distant past, sitting down for a pint of craft beer meant waiting in line at Antares, and most certainly didn’t mean bringing your work with you.
Here is a list of these small advances, and what to expect of the coming year.
2015 – THE YEAR OF EATING GOOD THINGS
Burgers and Beer Reigned Supreme
When Burger Joint opened its doors in early 2013, it was like spotting a mirage. I squinted my eyes at the florescent burger sign; that shining neon light calling all fatties to the promised land. Could it really be true? Burgers made from scratch with quality beef? Toppings that imagined a meaty facade beyond the lazy lettuce, tomato, and cheese combo? Sauce?!
It turned out to be true, and since arriving on the scene dozens of other restaurants have copycatted the business model and put us in the midst of a big gluttonous burger renaissance.
If 2015 was anything, it was the year of the burger and beer. It seemed like a new burger joint opened up every few weeks, but the ones that have managed to build followings are the restaurants that have differentiated themselves in some way rather than simply stealing the algorithm that has given rise to Burger Joint’s cult following. Perez-H and Mi Barrio Hamburgueseria now have three locations each, and it’s because of their creativity. Perez H’s Criolla Especial with morcilla and chorizo mixed into the patty is a thing of the gods, and Mi Barrio’s creative re-imagination of different BA barrios as hamburgers are all decadently constructed in an otherwise casual bar setting.
And it isn’t just Palermo that’s getting all the burger love. Regular folks can get in on the action too without having to get on a colectivo. There is Francis Platz over in Nuñez, Del Toro Burger in Microcentro, Tierra de Nadie in Caballito, and La Cresta in Almagro and San Telmo (and that’s the edited down list).
“People have realized that they want good beer, and they are beginning to be picky about what beer they choose,” explained Jose Ceballos of Grunge Brewing Company. Buenos Aires asked for good cerveza, and brewers delivered. Two distinct bar scenes developed in Palermo and San Telmo, with bars like On Tap, Blue Dog, Santisima and Gull maintaining the modern look and feel of Soho and Hollywood, whereas San Telmo’s Bier Life, Pulperia Quilapan, and The Sexton Beer Company maintained the rebellious rustic roots of their respective side of the city. Less traditional bar neighborhoods felt the foamy wave of craft beer too, most notably Villa Crespo’s first brewery Hops, and Caballito’s recently inaugurated El Fermentador. Fingers crossed (although I doubt that’s necessary) that brewers in more traditional neighborhoods will follow suit.
Modern Argentine Trend Reached the Traditional Asado
More modern takes on Argentine culinary tradition is nothing new, but although a slew of fantastic modern restaurants have popped up in the last five years no one seemed to want to touch the sacred Argentine asado. Then like a phoenix rising from the ashes, La Carniceria remodeled an old neighborhood parrilla and popular taxi man hangout birthing the city’s first modern asado, and an ongoing debate between progressive foodies and local asado fanatics about what can truly be called a parrilla.
Technically La Carniceria sneaked its opening into the tail end of 2014, but it was very easily the biggest success of 2015. With less than a dozen coveted tables that are occupied during a short window of four hours a day (with the exception of their weekend lunch service), this is one of the hardest places to grab a table in Buenos Aires. The menu is chico, with just a few appetizers (try the caramelized mollejas), salads (for the love of god order the grilled cabbage with yogurt sauce), and just four mains (eat the meat!), making it a perfect place to go in a group and construct your own non-traditional parrillada.
This new grilling perspective can be seen in three other restaurants that opened in 2015. Kon Kon is a Villa Crespo lunch spot that offers a number of no frills dishes cooked over an open fire. While over in Retiro, Brasero Atlántico and Shout class up the movement. Brasero is Floreria Atlántico’s next door restaurant, a less pretentious version of its predecessor that offers a variety of grilled meats on a menu based on seasonal availability. In addition to some killer shareable terere cocktails, nearby Shout offers a variety of Argentine comfort foods in a stylish three story casona decorated in hues of neon blue and green.
Lunch Stepped Its Game Up
A quick midday meal no longer exclusively implies a greasy slice, half a dozen (don’t judge me) empanadas, or the borderline-malnourished-and-don’t-have-time-for-this-bullshit kiosco ham and cheese pebete. One place in particular is redefining the rotiseria (pre-prepared take away) concept. “I could’ve opened a shop that sold milanesas and mashed potatoes and we would’ve done well, but the city already has enough of that. And not to mention, that’d be really boring,” explained Moises Dagui of Vinotinto Almacen Andante. Nestled comfortably in Palmagro, Dagui’s itsy bitsy take away spot has a fixed set of very affordable seasonal dishes that are vacuum sealed and easily reheated at home.
Similar ideas on a larger scale can be found at Fresco, which opened in December. Culinary celebrities Tato Giovanni (Principe de los Apostoles) and Fernando Trucca (Sucre) opened the much anticipated restaurant in the middle of Microcentro. The restaurant attempts to bridge the gap between fresh ideas based on seasonal ingredients and a fast food business model.
2016 – WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE COMING YEAR
Expect the Birth of the Food Blogger
Narda Lepes cemented her role as the queen of home cooking after Maru Botana knocked herself out of the running with the disastrous tortilla making experiment ala TacoGate. Lies, Narda was always the Queen Bey, I just love watching that video. The point being, no one worthy has given her a run for her money.
With the monumental success of Master Chef Argentina, a steady wave of Spanish language food bloggers and social media stars have emerged over the last year. Grown men all over the country are praying to Pope Francisco to bring back Chef Jenn this year, a youtuber that taught us all how to cook panchos in the buff. Felicitas Pizarro is the strongest contender for taking over the throne. Although her career was launched back in 2013 when she won Jamie Oliver’s ‘Search for a YouTube Star,’ she has recently changed the format of her videos to allow quicker (and easier to produce) Tasty-style videos in addition to her hosted tutorials. Instagram is getting a lot of love too, with feeds like El Gordo Cocina sharing simple and healthy recipes for everything from traditional chipa to the more elaborate roasted salmon, or for the I Love to Eat but I Hate to Cook food lovers out there, Hungry Man Style is an instagrammer with a serious talent for food spotting.
The year Villa Crespo cements itself as the city’s food neighborhood as Belgrano and Nuñez continue to lay their foundations
Villa Crespo has long been in the running for most exciting food neighborhood. There are dozens of options, including the established neighborhood classics (878, Sarkis, Cafe Crespin, 1893, and Malvón) and the comparative newcomers (iLatina, La Crespo, La Esperanza de los Ascurra, and El Buen Sabor). But 2015 saw a lot more additions to that list. The newcomers to the scene were more casual feeling restaurants ideal for a midday meal, and set themselves apart from their Palermo neighbors with toned down interiors and more accessible prices. The aforementioned Kon Kon, Battuta Veloce, Santé, and Frachute introduced fresh lunch options to the otherwise cookie cutter establishments in the outlets district. Expect a lot more this year.
You mean there is more to eat in Barrio Chino than soup at the Asia Oriental lunch counter? Housing developments brought a bunch of new food with them. Old neighborhood favorites revamped their styles to appeal to the neighborhood’s growing population. Bandol made a push to become your favorite brunch spot, and cultural center Casa Babel began a chef series that brought in a number of the city’s recognized cooks to take over their kitchen once a week.
There were also a lot of the new additions, many of which were high end fancy pants restaurants catered to the people who can afford to live in a new apartment in Bajo Belgrano. Think dim lit interiors, uncharacteristically hospitable service, Ralph Lauren polos tucked into white pants, and cocktail lists that start at around $150. The nikkei game was particularly strong, with Paru, Low 646, and El Quinto all adding new contenders to the over saturated list of Peruvian-Japanese (read: greatest Frankenstein fusion ever) restaurants.
More barrio type places opened up recently as well, with Francis Platz and Houdini Public Bar offering beer and bar food in younger atmospheres – good music, communal tables, and sidewalk seating.
More Food Trucks and Pop-ups!
Tierra de Nadie tore up the burger game this year. Before remodeling the space to offer seating on a second floor it could take well over an hour to get a seat on the weekends (and many weekdays). Their Nite Chef Burger Series attracted a lot of talent (most recently Juan Gaffuri of Pony Line Bar), and they plan to continue the series throughout the year with Fabio Alberti of San Isidro’s El Puesto de Fabi on deck next in February.
Sometime next winter, Liza Puglia of NOLA will be inviting two fellow New Orleanians to takeover the kitchen with a mix of Creole and Asian cuisine. Traveling molecular ice cream food truck Guilab already has a full schedule, and will be parked at Chinese New Year in Belgrano at the end of January, Buenos Aires Night Market in late February, and may be one of the food trucks at the Formula E racing championships that are coming to Buenos Aires mid February. Those are the highlights, but in general expect more food truck heavy weekend events while the city decides if they are going to give the people what they want and allow food trucks in Buenos Aires.
A Quick Round-Up of New Attractions and the Coming Soon
Cocina Sunae enjoyed a Christmas opening in December that brings the celebrated Asian closed door restaurant to its first brick and mortar. Seba Garcia of Harrison, and Fede Cuco of Verne, will be opening up their own bars this year. Astor will be moving from Colegiales to a renovated home in San Telmo. Mooi will be opening up a third location in the Arcos District in an commercial strip rumored to be in talks with a number of other restaurants. Maximo Togni of DOGG is also finalizing plans to open a third location in Belgrano. Another gourmet hot dog shop, DIGGS, just opened up in Plaza Serrano and has (thankfully) differentiated itself from the former by focusing less on toppings and more on their in-house made gourmet wieners.
I’d like to thank all the amazing cooks, barmen, beer makers, sommeliers, restaurant owners, fellow fatties, and lunch dates for making this such a genuinely interesting year, and to my boxing trainer for making sure that I didn’t turn into Jabba da Hut.