The waiter slinks over to the table empty handed and lazily asks, “Do you need a menu?” as per routine. “No.” I know exactly what I want. It is the same exact order I make every time I visit La Rambla, a small neighborhood bar on the edge of Recoleta. “Bring me the sandwich de lomito clásico, a plate of fries and a sifón. He nods, “Jugoso, right?” He already knew the answer to that, too. He knows all of this not because I am a regular — I am not — but because every single person has ordered the exact same thing.
Two boisterous couples wedged into the corner fall to radio silence when their plates arrive to the table — family gossip is suddenly not very interesting. An ancient Spaniard in a floppy brimmed hat narrates the story of his million euro horse between small bites. Near the door, two middle aged Australian men grab a table and repeat the words ‘tenderloin sandwich’ with that curious intonation of an embarrassed tourist. They did, however, know the Spanish for beer. Even the older woman sat next to me in an elegant silk shirt that draped over her tiny frame quickly finished a gargantuan sandwich — she skipped the french fries but ordered two coca lights.
La Rambla sits on the quiet intersection of Ayacucho and Posadas, comfortably out of range from the loud bars, hamburger shops and questionably priced parrillas that surround the Recoleta Cemetery. Nostalgia is thrown around with a heavy hand. Time appears to have stopped in its tracks decades ago.
From the outside looking in, there is nothing altogether special about La Rambla. No eccentricity that separates it from any other old school Buenos Aires hangout. Waiters are dressed in white frocks carefully buttoned up to their chins. The old timers still sport bow ties on occasion. They hang near the tables of regulars and are as hospitable as they need to be with newcomers. The tables are jammed together closely and have maintained their luster despite the years. Silvina Ocampo and Adolfo Bioy Casares used to drop in for lunch when they lived next door. Apparently the Menem’s did, too.
The exhaustive menu is filled with typical fare—milanesa, huevos gramajo, tortillas and tartas. But I didn’t come here for that. No one really does. I asked. “Does anyone ever order grilled chicken or hamburgers,” The waiter pushes his bottom lip upwards and shakes his head, “Sometimes, but not really.” This is the story of a sandwich.
The lomito sandwich comes in four versions—la rambla, completo, porteño and americano. I steer clear of the completo. It comes topped with slices of deli ham. It’s a totally unnecessary addition to a freshly cooked piece of beef. The porteño is prepared with bored cuts of bell pepper, again, unnecessary. The americano is a worthwhile stray — served with a gooey fried egg and slices of pancetta. I like the rambla, which is quietly adorned with crunchy lettuce and thin slices of tomato.
Dishes come flying out of the kitchen at rapid speed. From the dining area, the buzzing sounds of meat being seared on the plancha is on a loud eternal loop. Bread is a simple white similar to a typical sandwich de miga, slightly thicker and toasted to a crisp audible crunch. It comes sliced in half and plated to show off its doneness. The meat is a delicate shade of pink with a thin crust along the outer edge. I lightly brush it with mayonnaise and dot it with salt and pepper. The taste is simple and pure — you can smell the char on the tenderloin before you taste it. The tenderloin is bold, it hasn’t been seasoned with more than a dash of salt, and the juices slowly invade and wet the flakey bread. French fries overflow from their plate. They are cut thin and cooked extra crispy until they turn into a golden yellow hue—they stack up amongst my favorite fries in the city.
There is no secret recipe — I asked. Years of practice and good meat — valid if not normal reasons — they gave me whilst brushing off any attempt for me to find a deeper narrative. As I leave, a man suggests to his partner trying something new. “That’s ridiculous,” she proclaims before slamming the menu shut and ordering two sandwiches.