If steak-and-tango kitsch is your thing, you’ll still find it in Buenos Aires. But there’s a thrilling new side of the Argentine capital.
Mad-scientist chefs and design-obsessed creatives are breathing new life into this buzzing metropolis. It’s more than worth the 11-hour flight from New York for the fresh faces of South America’s most European city.
Buenos Aires’ on-fire restaurant scene offers a vivid window into the city’s new global flavor. My first jolt came from Gran Dabbang (grandabbang.com), where chef Mariano Ramón smashes boundaries by infusing superb local provisions with Thai, Indian, and Chinese flavors. “We’re a generation that’s traveled a lot,” he told me as I ripped into Swiss chard pakoras with Sriracha sauce and quail with guava and pickled plums. “We’re coming back to do our Argentinian thing, but with freedom.”
Opened in December in the same Palermo district, neon-lit Nino Gordo (instagram.com/xniniogordox) translates a riot of influences into a globe-spinning menu with proud local accents. Chef German Sitz might fill black dumplings with chicken, pair Argentine sweetbreads with sweet chili and toasted corn, or marry caramelized bananas and pineapples with dulce de leche ice cream. “Ten years ago, none of this could have happened,” Sitz told me as he poured crisp Tukma wine from Argentina’s northern Salta province. “But because of travel or what they see online, the public is curious now.”
At Narda Comedor (nardacomedor.com), an all-white hotspot in a quiet residential Baja Belgrano neighborhood, chef Narda Lepes shares her own take on the new Buenos Aires cuisine; a huge “Eat Plants Drink Water” sign signals her convention-flouting ambitions. A fixture on Latin American foodie shows, Lepes opened her eatery in October after traveling the world. “I loved finding similarities between dishes across nations,” Lepes told me. The result: Genius plates like grilled halloumi cheese with avocado and pomegranate seeds, decadent smashed potatoes with braised onions, and chocolate pudding on strawberry “leather.”
Buenos Aires’ new attitude extends far beyond food. You’ll feel it in lodgings like the 26-room Palo Santo in the buzzy nabe of Palermo Hollywood, run by a French-Argentine couple as the city’s first “green” hotel. It’s one of the continent’s few lodgings to apply for LEED certification for eco-friendly bonafides. More than 900 plants adorn its walls, and indoor waterfalls offer soothing soundtracks softly audible from spacious, clean-lined rooms. Exceptional sushi is on the menu at Namida, the hotel’s serene lobby-garden restaurant.
You’ll also sense the city’s new international spirit at downtown’s Centro Cultural Kirchner (cck.gob.ar), a high-tech marvel housing art from around the world in a soaring converted post office. My three-hour visit barely left time for a room-sized installation by Patti Smith, costume exhibit by Jean-Paul Gaultier, and a sweeping Latin American survey called “La Movimento.” Tip: the CCK’s fourth-floor men’s room includes a marbled outdoor terrace with majestic views of downtown Buenos Aires.
In Villa Crespo, the compact neighborhood just southwest of Palermo, you can actually watch Buenos Aires reinvent itself. Age-old Jewish delis and overstuffed leather-goods stores are slowly giving way to indie designer workshops, airy galleries and bright cafes.
The transformation — think early-‘90s Lower East Side — becomes most apparent along Av. Juan Ramirez de Velazco, where heavy-hitter gallery Ruth Benzacar (ruthbenzacar.com) just moved into an all-white, multilevel warehouse space abutting a spraypainted wall. A few doors east, jeweler Mariana Cazullino has turned an abandoned storefront into Joya, where she crafts and displays intricate, wearable found-object collages. Across the street, fashionistas Silvina Moreno and Priscilla Estrada have set up shop as Taller — “workshop” in Spanish — with their own exquisite handmade shoes, textiles, and housewares.
A quick walk south, at Cafe Crespin (cafecrespin.com.ar), neighborhood scenemakers hang back with strong coffee and housemade desserts; weekend brunches, with perfect scrambled eggs and fluffy pancakes, draw indie types from across the city.
If you’ve still got steak and tango atop your agenda, fret not. Palermo’s La Cabrera (lacabrera.com.ar), tourist-friendly but real, serves towering platters of exceptional grilled meats alongside tiny cast-iron pots of vivid condiments from chimichurri to salsa.
For tango, journey to the riverside Puerto Madero district and the Faena hotel (faena.com/buenos-aires), whose retro-cool El Cabaret space hosts the city’s most pulse-quickening dance showcase, called Rojo Tango. A white-clad, five-piece orchestra, and dancers whose heat seems genuine, make it a must-see.
In always-moving Buenos Aires, even the familiar can feel fresh.
American Airlines offers daily nonstop flights from JFK to Buenos Aires, from about $1,200 round-trip. United flies daily nonstops from Newark to Buenos Aires from about $1,200 round-trip.
* Buenos Aires’ Jewish community boasts deep roots; chef Tomas Kalika celebrates them at acclaimed “immigrant cuisine” hotspot Mishiguene (mishiguene.com). Elegant gefilte fish is a must.
* A new wave of cafes is rebooting a Buenos Aires tradition. Try All Saints (allsaintscafe.com.ar) in laid-back Belgrano, where superior java comes in coffee-nerd pourovers or espresso drinks. Carrot cake’s killer, too.
* One of Buenos Aires’ best values, the Dazzler Palermo (dazzlerhoteles.com) — part of a South American chain — offers an enviable location, and an abundant breakfast buffet; rooms from about $100.
* With just 26 rooms, Palo Santo Hotel (palosantohotel.com) books up fast. Plant-filled and flooded with natural light, it feels like a nature retreat in the middle of bustling Palermo; rooms from about $150.
More info: Buenos Aires Tourism, turismo.buenosaires.gob.ar/en