Finding the best meat restaurant in Buenos Aires is a challenge with so many restaurants offering the same cuts of meat and boasting about the quality. Diners also have their local favorites and may go to the same parrilla for years and not take a risk with any of the new, trendy grill restaurants that have opened recently.
In our search for a “new” favorite, we decided to go to La Brigada in San Telmo which was highly recommended by my brother-in-law. There were four of us for dinner that evening – my husband and myself, our five-year old and Rumi, my Japanese friend.
The drive from Recoleta to San Telmo takes about fifteen minutes but the change in scenery was a welcome surprise. San Telmo is the heart of old Buenos Aires with its’ numerous antique shops, cobble stoned streets, run-down facades and smoky tango salons where one can go to hear authentic milonga. The neighborhood atmosphere here is the cliché image of the real Buenos Aires often seen in photos around the world.
Arriving at the neon-lit entrance of La Brigada, we had high expectations and weren’t disappointed. Upon entering, one is overwhelmed by the football memorabilia on display – balls, jerseys, banners (locally called trapos which in English translate as rags) and caps line the walls along with framed articles and photos of regulars including Argentina’s infamous footballer – Diego Maradona. Miniature cows were displayed on ledges with a label to indicate the breed of cattle. Bandonion music played in the background and tables are set with white tablecloths and linen napkins with a pewter napkin ring. Another nice touch was the cow-hide covered menu branded with the restaurant’s initials.
We scanned the menu and decided quickly what we wanted to have – to start, empanadas de carne (fried meat pies), mollejas (sweetbread), morcilla (blood sausage) with mixed green salad of arugula, celery and Radichetta. We also ordered a bottle of the 2005 DV Catena Cabernet Malbec from Bodega Catena Zapata in Mendoza.
While we waited, a basket of bread sticks, crackers and freshly-baked white flour rolls were laid on the table. Our starters came quickly – the empanadas were delicious with a crispy dough encasing the spicy ground meat. The mollejas were crispy outside, soft inside and were very, very good although nothing beats the mollejas at El Mirasol. The morcilla was good and the lemony salad greens complemented the rich flavor of both the sweetbread and the blood sausage.
After two weeks of eating meat, I was already almost “steak-ed” out so for our main course, the three of us split a typical bife de chorizo (sirloin strip steak) and a matambre de cerdo (pork flank steak) with a portion of french fries. I was tempted to order the Provencal fries (french fries tossed with fried garlic and parsley) but decided not to so I could have some space for dessert. The meat arrived seared from the charcoal grill and the waiter sliced the meat with a spoon to prove how tender it was. The sirloin was full of flavor with a bit of marbled fat interspersed with the meat. The pork steak was also good although it lacked a bit of fat to make it tastier. The Cabernet-Malbec blend we were having with our meal was untypically light and complemented both the beef and the pork. We dug into our dinner and the table was quiet for a few moments while we enjoyed every bite.
By the time we had finished our main courses, around 9:30, the place was packed and more people were streaming in without reservations trying to get a table. The owner, Hugo Echevarrieta, greets diners at the entrance making sure everyone gets a warm welcome and hopefully, a table. The crowd was a mix of locals and foreigners brushing elbows because of the closely spaced tables.
We couldn’t leave without having dessert. My husband ordered his favorite, panqueque de dulce de leche (a caramelized caramel milk-filled crepe, and no i didn’t make a mistake with the double caramel) while Rumi and I shared a variation of the panqueque de manzana (caramelized apple pancake) this time made with bananas. Both were excellent and I have to admit that having tried the banana version, I think I prefer it more than the apple. The dulce de leche pancake was fantastic sugar bomb with the warm smoky-flavored caramel milk oozing out of the crepe. Espressos ended our wonderful meal and our short trip to this authentic corner of Buenos Aires.
Estados Unidos 465, San Telmo
Tel: +54 11 4361 5557 / 4361 4685
(another branch in Recoleta at Pena 2475 plus a wine cellar in San Telmo at Bolivar 1008 called La Cava de La Brigada)
**** Food (authentic parrilla with traditional Argentine meat cuts)
**** Service (friendly and efficient, often a hard combination to master)
**** Atmosphere (closely-packed tables mae intimate conversations impossible but the tango music and general noise just adds to the ambience)