San Telmo is a neighborhood of constant change, both historic and simultaneously up-and-coming, it has always had enough vitality and courage to reinvent itself. Once the home to the elite socialites, the demographics of the city would be forever changed following four successive yellow fever outbreaks that sent the aristocratic packing, only to be replaced by recently arrived immigrants living in squalid conditions in tenement housing. Later arrived the bohemian bunch; artists, authors, and the tango crowd all of whom would become a constant. Lately hipsters, tourists, and expats have brought what appears to be undeniable seeds of gentrification, yet somehow in San Telmo all of these individual parts comprise the whole, giving the barrio a unique vigor and character.
Subsequently these changes can be witnessed in the culinary scene as classic neighborhood haunts called bodegones are still found on every corner, but refined elegant cuisine is also present. The classic parrilla is a pillar of the gastronomic selection, but now too more and more international fare is becoming available. Here is a list, in no ways intended to be comprehensive, of some of the best and most varied eateries on offer in one of Buenos Aires’ most unique barrios.
Gran Parrilla del Plata
In the 1930’s the building was home to Grandes Carniecerías del Plata, a well known butcher shop, you can even find an antique photograph of the former meat purveyor on the wall in the main dining room. The building was later refurbished as restaurant and renamed, but the dining room still displays several of the original meat hooks and an antique meat slicer. As any parrilla the meat dishes are the star of the show, leave it to a former butcher shop to take quality to heart and stay true to the charcoal grilling technique. Begin with the Provoleta del Plata a massive hunk of grilled provolone cheese served with smoked bacon and grilled red pepper, or try the mollejas, a savory grilled portion of beef sweetbreads. From the grill the ojo de bife (ribeye) and medallón de lomo (filet mignon) are choices bound to delight. If you have any room left, the desserts are all house made and the Don Roberto, a chocolate lava cake with ice cream and mixed berries, is a standout. In 2015 the restaurant received a visit from some very illustrious diners, Michelle, Malia, and Sasha Obama ate lunch together with Juliana Awada, Argentina’s first lady. Despite the renowned clientele Gran Parrilla del Plata continues to be locals favorite and is quite reasonably priced.
Chile 594 (corner of Perú). Mon - Sat 12pm - 4 pm & 8 pm - 1 am; Sunday 12pm - 1am. Phone: +54 11 4300 8858. Website.
Desnivel definitely qualifies as a bodegón, an old school neighborhood joint specializing in the 3 B’s: bueno, bonito y barato (good, attractive, and cheap). Sure the service might be a little slow and the decor hasn’t been upgraded since… OK, it’s never been upgraded, but Desnivel has been serving up quality, honest food at reasonable prices for decades. Here items from the parrilla are the go-to, with classics such as the bife de chorizo served with grilled provoleta (sirloin and grilled provolone), lomo a la mostaza (tenderloin with mustard sauce) and for dessert a homemade flan with gobs of dulce de leche. Desnivel is located conveniently alongside the feria de San Telmo, so if you are at the street fair you can stop by for comidas al paso, order a choripan or an empanada and take it with you as you peruse the street fair.
Defensa 855. Tues - Sun 12pm - 1am; Mon 5pm - 1 am. Phone: + 54 11 4307-2489. Website.
For more than 25 years, La Brigada has been the name in San Telmo for upscale parrilla. The dining room, covered in football jerseys and other memorabilia is a shrine to Argentina’s two favorite past times: grilled meat and football. Famed clientele the likes of Leo Messi, Diego Maradona, and U2’s Bono have chosen to break bread (or meat rather) at La Brigada. Hugo the mustachioed, mullet-sporting owner is always on hand to offer a friendly welcome and ensure that everything from the kitchen to dining room is running smoothly. Hugo, or any other waiter will always try to steer diners towards the corte especial, a closely guarded secret that produces a massive cut of steak so tender that the it can literally be cut with a spoon. Other suggestions are the bife de chorizo (sirloin strip), entraña (skirt steak), and bife de cuadril (rump steak). The massive wine cellar has more than 58,000 bottles, and if you really like one that they are running short on, La Brigada will save a bottle for you specially under lock and key, now that’s service!
Estados Unidos 465. Everyday 12pm-3pm; 8pm-12am. Phone: +54 11 4361-4685. Website.
This diminutive resto is a perennial favorite among locals and with good reason, it combines brilliantly executed Argentine dishes with high quality ingredients and a twist of a Spanish tapas bar. Sitting directly in front of the old Catalan theater it is the ideal setting to go for early evening cocktails, try the house vermouth served with complimentary marinated white beans. The menu rotates regularly, but always features delectable options of pastas, meat dishes, sandwiches, and salads; daily specials are written on several chalk boards placed around the intimate dining room. The main courses show creativity and ingredients you won’t find at most Porteño eateries, sure they have a great ojo de bife (grilled ribeye), but more adventurous eaters will be rewarded with escabeche de liebre, pickled wild hare, or the cazuela de conejo, a roast rabbit casserole. If you are in need a break from copious carne consumption, El Refuerzo also makes one of the city’s best salads with mesclun, chicken breast, prosciutto, brie, and tomatoes. Veggies are encouraged to try the baked camembert cheese dish with pesto and sun dried tomatoes. Because there are only about 12 tables in the entire place, reservations are definitely recommended. El Refuerzo opened a second locale in San Telmo just around the corner which serves as overflow seating, so you can have a drink and appetizers if you are waiting for a table to become available.
Chacabuco 872. Tue - Sat 10am - 2am; Sun 10am - 12am CLOSED MONDAYS. Phone:+54 11 4361-3013. Website.
Café San Juan
Leandro “Lele” Cristobál is part celebrity chef, part restauranteur, part reality TV show host, part tattoo aficionado and creator of Café San Juan. Lele’s resto has a constantly rotating menu, focused on Spanish tapas, seafood, and of course Argentine beef plates. Here you could start with creative apps like rabbit paté with plum jam or a selection of escabeches (pickled meats) from armadillo, wild hare, or lamb tongue. While several beef items are available, Café San Juan’s differential is their mediterranean flair: sautéed clams, roasted pejerrey, or fried lenguado are perennial crowd pleasers . Solo diners or couples can sit at the bar facing the exposed kitchen and you might even get to speak to trucker-hat-toting celeb chef. The small dining room and popularity of this establishment make reservations a must.
San Juan 432. Mon - Sat 8pm - 12 am. Sunday 12:30pm - 4pm & 8pm - 12am. Phone: +54 11 4300-1112. Website.
This emblematic San Telmo corner is perfect window dressing for the quaint interior of café/brunchery by day come sophisticated bistro by night- it’s no surprise that their mantra is no hay lugar más bella, there is no place more beautiful. From the kitchen comes creative, refined Argentine and international dishes paired with inventive cocktails and an extensive wine list featuring mainstays from Mendoza. Rivas offers original brunch plates like the ceviche de bloody mary and smoked salmon eggs benedict each Saturday and Sunday. Thursday evening it is good to arrive early and get a table to enjoy a live jazz ensembles that keep it splashy each week.
Estado Unidos 302 (corner of Balcarce). Tue-Thu 9am-1am; Fri & Sat - 9am - 1:30 am; Sun 11am - 8pm;CLOSED MONDAYS. Phone:+54 11 4361-5539. Website.
A pulpería is a type of rural general store once found in every frontier town in the pampas; these places served wayward gauchos, soldiers, and vagabonds as a beverage dispensary, grocery, gambling hall and occasionally even as brothels- think wild west saloon done criollo style. Most rural pulperías are slowly going the way of the buffalo, and it is truly atypical to see such an establishment in a city. However leave it to a French owner to understand the importance of bridging the gap between local, artisanal products from the campo and diners seeking inventive cuisine in the city. The decor is decorated to the ‘T’ as an original pulpería, featuring an old-timey bar and the open air dining room replete with antique furnishings. It is recommended to start with the picada superclásico, a board featuring several varieties of cow and goat’s milk cheeses, cured meats, and other goodies. More unique menu items include the escabeche de javalí (pickled wild boar) and escabeche de vizcacha (pickled chinchilla). The weekends they also have an asado, a classic barbecue a la gaucho. In addition, Pulpería also hosts regular wine tastings, cooking classes, and other events to spotlight locally produced food and beverages.
Defensa 1344. Tue - Sun 11am - 12am. CLOSED MONDAYS. Phone: +54 11 4307 6288. Website.
El Banco Rojo
This San Telmo mainstay has been a favorite casual eatery since it was a tiny standing room only kebab shop with a red bench out front. In 2016 they moved exactly one block away to a new home with a larger dining room and open air patio to accommodate their ever growing popularity. The laid back ambiance, lively music, and affordable prices make it a favorite of the younger San Telmo crowd, but the food is sure to please everyone. The empanadas are worth ranting about, bolder than standard varieties, stuffed with braised cordero (lamb) and morcilla (blood sausage) and fried to a golden crisp. Weekly hamburgers and tacos specials always feature creative toppings and there is a variety of sauces to smother them with. Vegetarians and vegans will be pleased to find falafel and hummus while spice junkies will be thrilled to discover that the picante is truly spicy. They also serve two varieties of craft beer and the infamous chili bomb- don’t ask, just order two and you can thank me later.
Bolivar 866. Tue - Sat 12pm - 12:30am; Sun 12pm - 12am; CLOSED MONDAYS. Website.
From the owners of Banco Rojo comes ChinChin, a Brooklynesque gastropub featuring refined cuisine with the same casual, youthful angst and unbeatable prices. Looks can be deceiving as the dining room, covered in neon stencil art and with hip hop blasting at party rock levels, might conjure thoughts of greasy fodder. However the food is surprisingly inspired, featuring bold flavors and daring presentations. The chef makes highly condimented dishes like curry (served either vegetarian, with grilled sole, or beef), lamb brochettes and grilled salmon. Vegetarians will have plenty to choose from as well, as dishes such as huevos rotos (broken eggs – pun intended) and stuffed eggplants are always featured. The dining room only has space for about 30 people, but if the weathers nice grab a table outside on the sidewalk where you can watch the comings and goings of the city’s bohemian crowd.
Estados Unidos 490 (corner of Bolivar). Tue - Thu 7pm - 12am; Fri & Sat 7pm - 1 am; Sunday 1pm - 12am; CLOSED MONDAYS. Phone: + 54 4300 9706. Website.
Opened in 2015, Mercadito brings some much needed latin lovin’ to San Telmo. The brightly colored storefront opposite the San Telmo market spotlights classic preparations from Central and South America. From Venezuela come baked arepas, lightly baked corn cakes stuffed with shredded beef, pork or chicken. Peruvian staples such as papas a la huacaina, boiled potatoes smothered in a slightly spicy cream sauce and a classic ceviche also grace the menu. From Brazil moqueca, a slow cooked seafood stew with its orangish hue and intense savory flavor. Typical Mexican and texmex dishes such as taquitos, enchiladas, and burritos are another departure from the norm. An exposed kitchen sits just behind the small but brightly decorated dining room as lively rhythms complete the ambiance. To wash it all down choose from a selection of fresh fruit juices, such as maracuyá (passion fruit) and tropical cocktails.
Carlos Calvo 488. Everyday 10am - 12am. Phone: +54 11 2004 1056. Website.
El Zanjón del Gato
This San Telmo upstart has been turning heads since it opened in 2016. Chef/owner Andrés Plotno is well versed in creating dining room theatrics, formerly working in a Dublin based Michelin 2 star rated restaurant, before several of Buenos Aires’ most renowned restaurants. Using technique and experience gained from his past, Zanjón del Gato allowed him to branch out on his own and bring a new sense of adventure to the San Telmo scene. Zanjón’s unconventional dishes are intended to be shared, coming in small, medium, and just one large plate. Stand outs include the Kentucky fried cordoniz (quail) served talons and all with pickled vegetables and fried quail egg; the mollejas (sweetbreads) where the glands are pan seared until golden crispy accompanied by fresh cilantro and crispy corn chip tuille; and the provoleta grilled cheese served with candied artichoke and lemon preserve. The one main dish is a 1 kilo hunk t-bone steak first sous vide before finishing in a sauté pan as it is carefully bathed in a savory butter sauce. A selection of two local craft breweries and a small wine list support the experimental cuisine.
Bolivar 690. Mon - Sat 8pm - 12am. CLOSED MONDAYS. Phone:+54 11 4342-0845. Website.