The Skinny on Steak in Buenos Aires
Beef is much more than just food in Argentina, and the dining experience is unique. Here’s what sets it apart.
Argentineans eat more beef per capita than any people on earth—nearly twice as much as Americans. There is a rich tradition of gauchos raising cattle on the vast pampas, or grasslands, and most beef served in better Buenos Aires restaurants is grassfed, a luxury both rare and expensive almost everywhere else. But beef is much more than just food here—it is part of the national social fabric, the centerpiece of the asado, a ritualistic and practically mandatory family barbecue held at least weekly.
Most visitors will not partake in a family asado, but you can still enjoy the same cooking and world-class beef at countless restaurants and any number of top steak houses. The traditional temples to meat are in downtown and San Telmo, most notably La Brigada and Las Lilas, while contemporary versions are in Recoleta, within walking distance of Four Seasons Hotel Buenos Aires. Fervor is one of the few that dryages its meat, while the Duhau Restaurant serves meat by the breed, including Wagyu, Black Angus and Aberdeen Angus. Just a block from the hotel, El Mirasol is a power broker’s steakhouse serving traditional meats with a much broader menu in an upscale setting.
The Buenos Aires steakhouse experience is unique—it’s not just the grassfed beef that sets it apart. “The cuts here are much different,” says Fervor’s Chef Alejo Weisman, a veteran of European 3-star Michelin kitchens. “Two of our most popular steaks, asado [short rib] and entrana [skirt steak] are not common in the US.” Argentina’s short rib is cut thinly across the bones, like Korea’s kalbi. “It is also rare for meat to be cooked on the bone, so our ribeye is just the eye.” The final popular cut is bife de chorizo, a thick, boneless strip. “The other main difference is the cooking. In the U.S., steaks are cooked at very high heat. We only use wood, and cook over the ashes, very slowly, evenly, inside and out.” Steaks are always grilled, never cooked in pans or the oven, and their exterior is a solid gray with no browning or crust.
The entire dinner process is also different. It is rare to eat just one meat, so instead of shrimp cocktails or crab cakes, traditional appetizers are sweetbreads, blood sausage and chorizo. The sole popular non-meat appetizer is provoleta, a grilled slice of aged provolone cheese that develops a crusty exterior. Groups of two or more often share a parillada, a mixed grill of several popular cuts and sausages. Meats are largely unseasoned and inevitably served with nothing but two or three sauces, always including chimichurri and salsa criolla, a chunky tomato, onion and vinegar mix. Everything else is a la carte, and french fries, along with a medley of other potato dishes, are the side of choice. Leave room for dessert, which means something with dulce de leche, Argentina’s other national food passion.