The best parrillas in Buenos Aires

It’s all about the beef. Beyond the tango, the malbec, and keeping your eyes peeled for Eva Peron’s final resting place in Recoleta, if there’s one thing most people are keen to tick off in Buenos Aires, it’s beef.

In that case, you need to start scouting parrillas. Parrilla; both the term for grill and a local steakhouse, will swiftly become a happy word for any carnivore.

There are as many parrillas in Buenos Aires as there are twinkle eyed elderly gentlemen keen to persuade young ladies to join them on a dance floor. Yet don’t be led astray. Your time and appetite are precious. So to save you the disappointment, over five days in the city we put in some serious leg work. Here’s our summary of three unique parrilla experiences that take you to three parts of the city. But if you’re pressed for time then you’d be mad to miss out on a meal at La Cabrera. It’s the benchmark by which most other steak suppers in my life will henceforth be measured.

1) La Cabrera

On the tree lined streets of Palermo Viejo there are now not one, but two outposts of La Cabrera, such is its popularity. It’s the sort of steak house you doodled a sketch of when you were busy booking flights to South America. The chairs are wooden, the tablecloths white. The food comes on wooden boards and there’s a serious knife to go alongside it.

There are lessons to be learned before embarking on a parrilla excursion. The first; come hungry. The second- it’s probably best not to be 9 weeks pregnant. Or, if you are, cast any aversions to the side for the next two hours. There are serious things to be eaten.

While the main event will be beef and sides, at La Cabrera it would be  a mistake to overlook starting with the choripan roll, with griddled chorizo, bitter leaves and roasted tomato.

It’s a sandwich that takes the famed chorizo roll of London’s Borough Market and asks it to quietly go and sit in a corner.  It’s the char of the bread. It’s the gentle spice of the chorizo. But to completely gild the lily,  also order the grilled whole provolone cheese, which will arrive slumpen, melted and misshapen to your table.

From there you want to scoop a wedge of cheese and smear it on the roll along with the sausage. It’s not that traditional. Your cardiologist will probably not approve- but your taste buds certainly will.

The next thing you need to consider is your steak. Possibly the best cut to commence with is the ‘bife de chorizo’. Despite the similarity of the name,  is no spiced sausage involved in this order. A ‘bife de chorizo’ is an Argentinian cut  similar to a sirloin or a New York strip steak. It will be ringed with fat for protection, full of flavour and tender. Particularly if you order it ‘jugoso’, which translating to ‘juicy’, should leave you with something medium rare on your plate.

At some point you’re going to have to consider the question of size. Here’s the thing. A 400 gram steak is probably plenty to share between two people , particularly when you come to contemplate side dishes. Here at La Cabrera sides are included in the price of the steak and are brought on a buffet trolley next to your table for you to choose what you like. There are small pots of creamed corn, fried eggs, pea puree, rocket and parmesan salads, roasted onions, cornichons, roasted gratineed root vegetables and fresh tomato basil salads.

It’s sheer, glorious excess. Be sure to ask for a pot of chimichurri, the classic Argentinian sauce or oregano, olive oil and garlic. If a steak just isn’t offset without a dab of mustard, never fear, here you’ll find that on the table as well.

The only thing that’s not on the table is the Malbec, but there’s plenty of bottles of that to be found. The price at La Cabrera may be at the higher end of parrillas in Buenos Aires, but you’ll still have spent a fraction of what you would for a slap out steak meal in Sydney, New York or London. And when you leave, here you’ll be offered a lollipop with your bill.  As if you needed another incentive to leave with a sweet taste still in your mouth.

La Cabrera
Palermo Soho
Cabrera 5127

Don Julio

If La Cabrera is the parilla pageant winner, than Don Julio takes home Miss Congeniality, hands down. On an atmospheric corner of Palermo Soho you’ll find plenty of tables on the wide pavement to colonise on a warm evening (though do get there before 8.30 pm, anytime after that and you’re in for a serious wait).

Waitstaff are dapper and charming and fresh bread arrives to your table warm from the ovens. Start your evening with a Fernet y cola- one of the locally loved aperitifs, blending the digestive bitterness of Fernet Branca with the sticky caffeine surge of Coke.  From there, you just need to choose your steak.

Once again, the bife de chorizo is a size sound enough to share.

Condiments are fewer here and side dishes are ordered distinctly. If it’s potatoes you’re after, consider wandering down the pathway of a tortilla, rather than simply acquiescing to your desire for fries.

The tortillas are just as good as you would have had in Barcelona, the eggs puffed and ruffled on the corners, still slightly molten in the centre, while the slivers of potato filling its centre are pliant and filling all at the same time.

To close you could do much worse than choosing some flan and a cortado. A hefty slice of solid set custard, drenched in light caramel is just the thing to fill in any errant corners of your appetite, not silenced by a holy trinity of beef, potato and egg.

Don Julio
Palermo Soho
Guatemala 4691

Cabaña Las Lilas

The neighbourhood of Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires is a curious one. It feels like a cousin to the rest of the city, a relation who has put herself above their station. Reclaiming disused docklands it’s essentially where business people flock. It’s home to shining chain hotels and the headquarters for most international corporations with a presence in the country. It doesn’t feel quite real. And Cabana Las Lilas is the steak restaurant that most suits the suits who congregate there.

Cabanas Las Lilas is the shining show room in which owner Octavio Caraballo can show off the grand champion Herefords raised on his Las Lilas ranch.  There are glamour shots of cows in the dining room and the gleaming kitchen and enormous grill is open as theatre.

But the plum seats, on a balmy evening are on the balcony overlooking the water, at chunky tables hewn from Brailian ipe trees.

Things worth knowing; you do not have to accept the appetiser plate of marinated meats, fish and cheeses that they will try to place on your table shortly after you sit down (if you do they’ll charge you for it).

If the tome of a wine list proves overwhelming, two glasses of house Malbec will be perfectly sufficient.

And the side dishes here somewhat of a disappointment. A prosaic salad, with grated beets, carrots and half a boiled egg, the yolk murkily rimmed is not the crisp relief you hoped for. Similarly, french fries are over cooked, dried and underseasoned.

But locals don’t care much for vegetables. And the beef is what most who come here are really focused on. To that end, the steak is grand. You can almost taste the pampas grass these cows happily munched on as the sound track of the restaurant blurbles with boisterous Spanish voices.

Steak, red wine, and song. That’s really what you came to this city for, isn’t it? After eating at these three parrillas, it’s easy to leave Buenos Aires both fatter and happier than when you first arrived.

Mission accomplished.

Cabaña Las Lilas
Puerto Madero
Alicia Moreau De Justo 516

Nb, if you’re keen on recreating the taste of Buenos Aires at home, feel free to grab some grass fed steaks, fire up a grill and make some fresh chimichurri of your own.

Recipe here.

 Other Buenos Aires Hints and Tips

We stayed at the newly opened Buenos Aires Grand Hotel in Recoleta. It was terrific. Comfortable beds, complimentary breakfast and wifi and a concierge who couldn’t do enough for you. I would stay there again in a heartbeat.
Buenos Aires Grand Hotel

We found taxis to be plentiful, cheap and a useful way to get around the city- particularly when the temperature was nudging up towards 37 C.

  1. We loved Don Julio so much we ended up returning a second time rather than trying out one of the others. It helped that it was close to our hotel and they were so friendly and welcoming. We only had a few nights, exhausted after a holiday in Antarctica and further lazed by the intense December heat. I would so love to go back!

  2. Looks great Tori and what a relief those guys retrieved your website!
    Have you been to Porteno in Surry Hills?
    If not, let’s try it next time you’re in Sydney.

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