The Paris of South America.
It’s an awfully big name to live up to, and one that shouldn’t be thrown around casually. As a bit of a Paris groupie myself, I traveled to Buenos Aires for the first time somewhat skeptically. Although I was eager to explore this storied capital city, I had more than a few doubts that it could seriously rival Paris’ architecture, wine, and cuisine. But what I delightfully discovered is that as long as you’re willing to swap croissants for empanadas, Bordeaux for Malbec, and euros for Argentine pesos (don’t even think twice about that last one), you’ll begin to understand, and even propagate, the hype.
In order to fully enjoy this sprawling city of nearly 2.9 million porteños, as residents call themselves, it’s helpful to regard Buenos Aires as a varied collection of independent neighborhoods, each with its own pace and style. You’ll stroll the Parisian tree-lined streets of Recoleta one day, and the antique markets and dark tango parlors of San Telmo the next. But make your home base in Palermo Viejo or Palermo Soho, the vibrant, bohemian neighborhoods home to some of Buenos Aires’ most stylish residents, restaurants, and boutiques.
So get that passport out. If you find yourself on the banks of the Rio de la Plata, here are some budget-friendly ways to make the most out of three days.
You’ll learn quickly that Buenos Aires is a city of night owls, where dinner reservations are often made for 11 p.m. The good news? It’s perfectly acceptable—and even practical—to eat breakfast at noon. Spend a lazy morning in the heart of Palermo Viejo at Mama Racha, home to some of the neighborhood’s best rooftop and sidewalk seating. Sit in the sun with a café con leche and tostados of ham and cheese—but it’s porteños’ version of hot chocolate, the submarino, that steals the show (Costa Rica 4602).
What’s Viejo Is New Again
Once home to legendary Argentines Jorge Luis Borges and Che Guevara, Palermo Viejo—which includes Palermo Soho—is now a charming epicenter of cuisine, nightlife, and fashion. Spend the afternoon between Avenidas Santa Fe and Córdoba, admiring the clothing, home furnishings, and leather goods on display in Calle Armenia’s many boutiques.
Before you know it, it’ll be time for a late afternoon lunch on the rooftop terrace of Bâraka, a cheerful café in the heart of Palermo Soho featuring a fresh, internationally-inspired menu. Among the standout dishes are the bruschetta with garden-fresh peppers and feta, and the Spanish classic tortilla de papa. But whatever you order, remember to eat hearty—dinner is still many hours away (Gurruchaga 1450).
Into The Wild
It’s not all shopping and dining in Palermo, as you’ll discover when you walk northward into Buenos Aires’ 989-acre urban respite, el Parque Tres de Febrero. Named in honor of the 1852 overthrow of Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas, the park has been a place of retreat for porteños since 1875. Today, it is also home to a majestic rose garden, boating lakes, bike paths, a planetarium, and the largest Japanese garden outside of Japan (Avenida Libertador).
Legends Of The Hidden Temple
In the mid-1990s, when a small group of television and radio producers set up shop in Palermo between Avenidas Dorrego and Juan B. Justo, the hip, creative neighborhood of Palermo Hollywood was born. But perhaps nowhere is the neighborhood’s spirit of creation more apparent than Tegui, a culinary superstar in a city of culinary stars. Chef Germán Martitegui’s creation is hidden behind a wall of graffiti and a slyly marked door, but once inside, you’ll experience some of the most innovative cuisine that Buenos Aires has to offer. From quail with brain and walnut stuffing to a decadent chocolate soufflé tart with milk sorbet, Tegui is a splurge you won’t soon forget (Costa Rica 5852).
If you’re feeling cool after dining at Tegui, earn bonus points at 878, a former speakeasy marked only by its address and the bouncers patrolling the door. Inside awaits one of the best bars—and whiskey selections—in all of Buenos Aires (Thames 878).
Once your café con leche has kicked in, take a stroll through northeastern Palermo to the MALBA, the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires. Showcasing some of the finest Latin American art from the 20th century foward, the MALBA has recently welcomed memorable visiting exhibits from painters, sculptors, and installation artists ranging from Diego Rivera to Marta Minujín. The museum’s outdoor exhibit spaces are also not to be missed—especially as the jacarandas blossom in spring (Avenida Figueroa Alcorta 3415).
An American In Buenos Aires
As you walk eastward on Avenida Figueroa Alcorta, you’ll likely wonder why there’s a massive silver flower sculpture perched in the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas. Floralis Genérica was a gift to the city by Argentine architect Eduardo Catalano, intended to symbolize “a hope that is reborn every day.”
But the real treat lies a few blocks eastward on the shaded, Parisian-style streets of Recoleta. Buenos Aires’ wealthiest residents have been settling in this beautiful and exclusive neighborhood since the 1870s, when epidemics of yellow fever and cholera drew them to its higher terrain. And since 1822, porteños have been laid to rest in La Recoleta Cemetery, the stunning 14-acre burial ground of several Argentine presidents and, most notably, the late first lady Eva Peron. Allow yourself the afternoon to get lost amongst 4,691 ornate vaults—and it’s okay to feel just a little creeped out (Calles Azcuénaga and Vicente López).
The Fusilli Jerry
When dinnertime rolls around, there’s no better place to experience Recoleta’s decadence than Sottovoce, chef Alejo Waissman’s Italian masterpiece situated on the neighborhood’s northern edge. You’ll be greeted at the door with a glass of champagne, and treated to Italian classics including the Fusilli Sottovoce—a delightfully simple dish of house-made fusilli, tomato, basil, oregano, olive oil, and parmesan cheese that will leave you cursing the limitations of your stomach. All of that, and you’ll also be the only foreigners in the room (Libertador 1098).
Last Tango In South America’s Paris
A short morning ride on the Subte will lead you to San Telmo, the oldest neighborhood in Buenos Aires and the historic point of departure for the city’s wool and leather exports. First settled by dockworkers and brickmakers in the 17th century, San Telmo has maintained a population of artisans and immigrants over the years who have carefully guarded the neighborhood’s reputation as the spiritual home of the tango. On Sundays, San Telmo’s Plaza Dorrego is transformed into an open air antiques market and, if your timing is right, an impromptu tango stage.
As you head back to the Subte westward along Calle Estados Unidos, consider walking a few blocks along Avenida 9 de Julio, the chaotic 14-lane vein connecting all of central Buenos Aires. With the 221-foot obelisk towering over the Plaza de la República, it’s hard not to acknowledge the parallels with a certain wide boulevard in a certain French city.
Frankie Goes To Palermo Hollywood
Back in Palermo Hollywood, forget the downtown chaos at the impossibly charming Almacén El Nono Amigo. Grab an outdoor seat, a frosty liter of Quilmes, and enjoy some of the best empanadas and picadas—cured meats, fresh cheeses, and pickled vegetables—in all of Buenos Aires. And before you leave, step inside and grab a few jars of their specialty creations for the road (Guatemala 5800).
You Went And Saved The Best For Last
It’s really not a trip to Buenos Aires without at least one meal (or five) in a parrilla, a traditional restaurant specializing in simple grilled meats. But before you go, take these lessons to heart:
- Bife de chorizo has nothing to do with chorizo. It’s a cut of beef similar to a New York strip steak. And it’s amazing.
- Chorizo is also a staple of parrilla menus. Do yourself a favor and order it. Every time. Yes, in addition to your steak.
- Argentines tend to cook their steaks more thoroughly, so if you’re looking for medium rare, order your steak jugoso.
- If you’re a cheese lover, don’t pass up the provoleta, a steaming cast iron plate of grilled provolone cheese. I kid you not.
Once you’ve learned the parrilla basics, it’s time to pick from the hundreds of options scattered across the city. The legendary La Cabrera in Palermo Soho has been turning out some of the city’s best steaks—and attracting foreign and local crowds to eat them—for years (Cabrera 5127). But if you’d rather be the only English-speakers in the room, try Parrilla El Primo in Las Cañitas (Baez 302). The chorizo and provoleta will change your life—and what better way is there to bring a long weekend to a close?
TITLE: Jacaranda trees in Plaza San Martin | FRIDAY: Palermo Soho; Mama Racha; the streets of Palermo Viejo; a café in Palermo Soho; a colorful alley adjacent to Bâraka; Bâraka; Parque Tres de Febrero; Tegui | SATURDAY: The MALBA; Recoleta; La Recoleta Cemetery; La Recoleta Cemetery | SUNDAY: Plaza San Martin.