Buenos Aires is famous for its great steak. Visitors from around the world flock to Argentina’s capital to try the best of the city’s succulent carne grilled over an open fire (parilla), the best steak they’ll ever taste. The problem is, however, that more often than not, visitors to Buenos Aires tend to head to a small array of parillas, that have somehow, whether via good marketing or just luck, have ended up on every tourist itinerary in the land.
Now we’re not saying the tourist trail steak isn’t still of great quality. But if you ask a true Porteño if they’ve ever eaten at La Cabrera, we’d bet our bottom dollar* (oops, make that bottom peso), that the likely answer would be ‘no’ followed by a look of confusion.. as if to say ‘where the hell is La Cabrera?’ . Anyway, we digress. The point is, that every Porteño and long term expat in Buenos Aires knows that the best meat experience will be found in the slightly grubby, slightly ramshackle looking Parilla joint around the corner, rather than the glistening, over-priced and over-styled Palermo restos.
But how do you spot one of these little diamonds in the rough? Foto Ruta went on a little journey of discovery with our friends Parilla Tour Buenos Aires and here’s what we think every classic Porteño Parilla should have:
1. A retro menu board
We love the fonts on this bad boy of a menu. Hipster restaurants in London and NYC pay their designers thousands to replicate menus like these. A chalkboard section for regular price increases is a must in these days of semi-hyper inflation!
2. An old local
No Parilla is complete without at least one old local sitting at their favourite table, gesticulating widely about the latest crazy political move by the government
3. A grease covered parilla rack
With a big hunk of delicious carne perched on top
4. A parilla chef
5. Mix and match tablecloths
None of that trendy rustic wood look for us. We want our parillas showing off the 1950s tablecloth. Great for sucking up the chimichurri spills.
6. Retro soda dispenser
No parilla is complete without the amazing retro soda water dispensers. Great for water fights
A few things to note here. Firstly, no pepper?! Unfortunately not. But you do get a bunch of toothpicks. Muy utile for picking out the unsightly and embarrassing greenery left in your teeth after a chimichurri-fest. Secondly, salt. A key part of the porteño diet, so much so that in order to avoid lots of salt induced heart attacks around the city, the government made it illegal to have salt shakers on the table. seriously. A classic parilla will still have salt (along with customary coffee beans stop the humidity ruining the salt) on the table. Because they dont care about stupid government health initiatives. They care about taste.
8. An antique selection of spirit bottles
Dusty and cobweb covered. Looking like they havent been touched since the last economic meltdown.
9. A serious guy doing the ‘cuenta’
Normally the owner of the restaurant. This guy keeps the whole parilla machine running smoothly.