Argentina’s greatest claims to fame may be polo and tango along with Maradona, Borges, Gardel and Evita as it’s icons but set these clichés aside and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by all that’s new. The city that boasts the widest avenues and the most beautiful women still remains the most sophisticated in South America. Here’s the scoop on how to make your trip memorable.
Porteños, what the city’s residents are called, are out in full force and those in the know gravitate to the area of Palermo Viejo. Recent years have made this once rundown and unattractive part of town a developed concentration of endless boutiques and restaurants. Divided by railroad tracks, one side is affectionately nicknamed Palermo Soho for it’s similarity to New York’s Soho while the other is called Palermo Hollywood for it’s proximity to the local television stations.
Start at one end of Calle Honduras from the Plaza Cortazar where there is an array of fashion and home design stores. The atmosphere of the area can be fully enjoyed if you stay right in the middle of everything either at the Bo-Bo Hotel (a.k.a. Bourgeois Bohemian) or at the design bed and breakfast Malabia House.
For casual dining, head to Bar 6 (Armenia 1676) which is heaving with Porteños all-day long and serves simple Argentine-style dishes. Up the road is the more casual Mark’s Deli and Coffee House (El Salvador 4701), another favorite for breakfast and light lunches. If you’re after the “see and be scene” crowd then head to Central (Costa Rica, 5644) where long, low white sofas keep the fashionistas lounging around or La Corte (Arevalo 2977) where the beautiful people come to dine on fusion cuisine.
A little bit off the beaten track is my personal favorite Sucre which is probably Buenos’ Aires best modern restaurant concept. It’s got simple continental cuisine, fantastic drinks, a complete wine list, an open kitchen and a great layout and design. Take note of the catwalk, the route to the toilets, suspended right above the floor to very high ceiling bar, which affords the best people watching scenario. Keep in mind that dinner starts late so remember to book a table before 9:00 p.m. when most restaurants fill up and the service usually goes haywire.
When you’ve had your fill of the city, head out to the “country” as the locals call the outskirts of the Buenos Aires for a true home-style Argentine barbeque or asado. We were lucky to have been invited to the homes of our friends who prepared a typical lunch along with a tasting of two fantastic wines. The first was a French Premier grand cru – Chateau Angelus 1998 – a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot – a deeply aromatic wine. Soon after, we had an Argentine Malbec – Catena Zapata 1997 from Mendoza. Red wines and lots of meat is what an Argentine asado is all about – we had chorizo, morcilla (a delicious dinuguan-style sausage), asado de tira (short ribs), lomo (beef tenderloin) and chicken.
We enjoyed another country lunch at the lovely home of dear friends from Moscow days who have been living in Buenos Aires for three years now. Their two young daughters became fast friends with our 3-year old son. Overcast weather didn’t allow us to grill outdoors but that didn’t deter our hosts from ordering a grilled pierna de ternera (calf leg) for lunch. This was accompanied by several salads, roasted sweet potatoes, chimichurri, an Argentine barbeque sauce consisting of oregano, parsley, vinegar, garlic and olive oil typically served with grilled meat.
The wine that day was one of only 6058 bottles in that vintage, a Miguel Escorihuela Gascón 2000 – 65% Malbec, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15 % Syrah. These kinds of meals always end up with everyone sitting around and having coffee completely sated with the wonderful food and thoroughly enjoying the wonderful company.
Exploring the city on foot is another option. Pay attention to the wonderful, classic facades especially in the areas of Barrio Norte and Palermo. These serve as a constant reminder of the European influence on Argentina’s architecture. La Mansion, part of the Four Seasons Hotel, and the residences of the Embassies of Brazil and France stand out in particular. Stop for a drink or a submarino (a chocolate bar dropped into a glass of hot milk) in a typical boliche or neighborhood bar. (Try Liber y Liber on the corner of busy Avenida Libertador y Calle Libertad).
Drop by Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires’ docklands, which was previously the location of rundown factories and abandoned buildings. It has been transformed with wide tree-lined avenues, parks and green spaces, skyscrapers, restaurants, high-rise apartments and the first-ever Philippe Starck designed hotel in South America, the Faena Hotel+Universe. It’s definitely over-the-top but an exciting concept and well worth a visit.
It’s been a while since we were in Buenos Aires. The last time was in pre-devaluation 2001 when the Argentine peso was one to one with the U.S. dollar. Four years later, the economic situation is more stable, exploring the streets is safer than before and the prices are reasonable. It is precisely because of these reasons that Buenos Aires is fast becoming a target tourist destination and featured recently in several travel magazines.
Much has changed but luckily, even more has stayed the same and the beauty and charm of Buenos Aires can be appreciated once again
My Little Black Book of Buenos Aires
Explore Barrio Norte, Recoleta, Palermo Viejo, San Telmo
Visit La Boca, birthplace of the Tango & Argentina’s #1 football team Boca Juniors.
Teatro Colon – Buenos’ Aires famous opera House
Casa Rosada – that famous scene where Evita waves to the crowds is from the balcony of this building, the Presidential palace
malba – Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires, worth seeing at least for the building design
Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes
El Mirasol – A restaurant version of the Argentine asado. Empanadas, mollejas (sweetbread) and rib eye are not to be missed.
Il Materello (517 Martín Rodríguez, La Boca +54 11 4307-0529)– A classic example of authentic home-made Italian cuisine in La Boca.
Biella – In Recoleta for a coffee and lots of people watching
Freddo – the best ice cream I have ever had. Try the delicious versions of dulce de leche (caramel) and chocolate amargo (bitter chocolate).
Trendy designers on the Argentine fashion scene and can be found at most malls – try Patio Bullrich or Paseo Alcorta. For clothes try Paula Cahen d’Anvers, Akiabara, Clara Ibarguren, Jazmin Chebar and Etiqueta Negra. For shoes, you won’t go wrong with Perugia and Prune has great handbags.
Puro Diseño showcases Argentine design talent from shoes to placemats, soaps to plates.
Leather goods –especially belts, shoes, jackets – since the prices are good and the quality is excellent. Try Arandu (Ayacucho 1924) for gaucho-inspired creations.
IN PALERMO VIEJO, Don’t miss Papelera Palermo (Honduras 4945) for hand-made papers in assorted colors. (try lime green with hot pink or chocolate brown with orange) and Mandarine (Honduras 4940) – for fashionable footwear
Time Out Buenos Aires – the only guidebook to the city that I recommend. It gives you the tourist information you need with the historical data written in an easy-to-read format.
Buenos Aires Tourism Board for maps and updated event schedules on Buenos Aires
Buenos Aires Guide: Simply the best – a little orange book with all the right addresses
Actitud: Buenos Aires – a lovely coffee table book listing all the new places to see in the city