Parrilla in Buenos Aires: Get Your Meat On
Some people go to Buenos Aires Argentina for the tango but we skipped that in favour of checking out parrilla. Parrilla “means grill, and can also mean a steakhouse in South American countries. An Argentine parrilla can be anywhere from 5 ft to 20ft in length. You build a fire on the side of the parrilla using natural wood, charcoal and/or mesquite”. While the meal components and preparation are similar, the experiences can vary greatly and everyone has their favourite! In order to find our favourite, we took the advice of locals and tourists alike and settled on our top 3:
- Don Julio
- Steaks by Luis
- La Carniceria
Warning: Once you have steak this way, it may ruin you for life, as any steak you had back home will be bland and mediocre in comparison!
1) Don Julio:
Don Julio was by far the most traditional experience we had. While it appeals to tourists, there are many locals there as well and when we went, it appeared we were the only tourists. While it wasn’t our first choice for an early dinner at 20:30 that evening, we were delighted they seated us and took such good care of us. We arrived at 20:30 and were seated immediately inside as no patio seating was available. About 45 minutes after we arrived, the line-up started. There are many staff there who tend to you with 5 star service but in a very casual setting; when your bread has been left out too long, they replace it with hot and fresh bread! It is definitely not a beer or wine by the glass place; you should order a bottle even if you are alone! We settled on a bottle of Aguicon de Abeja Malbec (about $15US) as we saw many people drinking it, a chorizo to start, a bife de chorizo and salad to share. We saw them cook our steak as we ate and it as a very nice experience. They were generous with the condiments too; chimichurri and the tomato salad. Overall, the steak was very well cooked and we enjoyed it medium rare. They do charge you a small cover charge here (cubierto) which I think covers the bread. They accept credit card and for under $60US we had a very lovely steak dinner.
- Would I recommend Don Julio? Of course!
- Would I go again? Yes, but only if I was unable to get into La Carniceria since we enjoyed their food and the experience the most.
- Don Julio is a solid 8.5 out of 10 for price + food quality/quantity + service + operating hours.
For more information: http://www.parrilladonjulio.com/
2) Steaks by Luis:
Steaks by Luis is a closed door dinner that you need to reserve in advance for about 12-16 people. It is set in a very nice space that looks like someone’s kitchen, more or less. For $75US + tip, you get 5 courses and your wine pairings. The meal starts with sparkling wine, bread, cheese, and charcuterie. They have a host who facilitates everything and tells you about the wine, food, and cooking techniques. You get to watch Luis, who is the chef light the parilla and grill the steaks too. The salad course then includes a lovely salad and Torrentes wine pairing. The appetizer course has chorizo, sweet breads, morcilla, provoleta and different sauces and a cabernet sauvignon (Mairena) pairing which was my favourite wine of the evening. The steak is served how you want it cooked with mashed potatoes and a Malbec wine pairing, but by the time the steak arrived, I was very full already. And finally, the dessert is a dulce de leche cheesecake with dessert wine pairing. Overall, it was a lovely evening and we had the chance to meet other tourists and locals, and to learn more about parrilla. That being said, the dinner starts very late, at 20:45 and runs until midnight. As it is late to eat that quantity of food, I may have enjoyed it more a little earlier. They are also very generous with the wine top-ups, so you need to pace yourself (and you will most likely have a hangover the following day).
- Would I recommend Steaks by Luis? Of course!
- Would I go again? Probably not because I enjoyed the food and experiences at La Carniceria and Don Julio more. We also feel like the experience is more something you do once.
- Steaks by Luis is a solid 8 out of 10 for price + food quality/quantity + service + operating hours.
For more information: https://www.steakbuenosaires.net/
3) La Carniceria:
La Carniceria in 2015 was definitely #1 on our list of parrilla restaurants to try in Buenos Aires. We decided to make our way there for dinner on our first evening and thought it we showed up at 20:00, which is opening time that we could get a table. It is a very popular place and it was completely booked up until 22:30 which was a little late for us. Despite asking if we could have a quick dinner since we had walked all the way from Recoleta, they couldn’t accommodate us. We were not going to make the same mistake twice so we booked a lunch on Sunday, our last meal in Buenos Aires before heading out to the airport. The service was impeccable; it was personal and well executed. It is a very small restaurant; the atmosphere was unique but more modern than Julio. The food was incredible; the entire meal is one that I will remember forever and is up there in the list of best meals of all time. To start, they serve you some bread toasted on the grill with some abequina olive oil. The bife de chorizo and their chimichurri was the best one we had, steak knives down. The bife arrived on a wooden plate and was cooked medium rare and with the bone still in it. We allowed ourselves a little bite of charred steak fat and had to stop ourselves from eating the meat from the bone. We split an 800 gram bife the chorizo and it was quite filling. The seasonal side was a pureed squash dish that was sweet and savoury and we split their heirloom tomato salad. Normally, we do not like capers but they were welcome in this salad, as were the chunks of cheese and light dressing. If we had more time and a larger appetite, we would have ordered their provoleta. Perhaps next time?
La Carniceria in 2017: When we had the opportunity to go back to South America, we decided that another trip to Buenos Aires was a must, and so we decided to go back to La Carniceria. While La Carniceria would have been “the best I ever ate in 2015”, it was “very good in 2017” and here’s why.
While it was busy back in 2015 and still challenging to get a reservation, we felt that the service was more personalized and the food was better. As restaurants mature, they do evolve and so our experience may have been biased due our past visits.
For lunch, we ordered the provoleta and the bife cooked medium to share. The provoleta was flawless as usual but we had problems with the bife. While we understand it is difficult to cook, we couldn’t eat some of it because it was not cooked and surrounded by fat (while some may enjoy raw meat with fat, we don’t). Last time we had lunch, we were given the option to purchase a larger cut of bife and to have larger sides to enhance our meal. This is no longer a practice offered by the restaurant and it was disappointing.
For dinner, we ordered the grilled cabbage salad, the chorizo with egg and peas, and the bife again. We tried to explain to the waitress we wanted medium-well done and she responded with some negativity. The salad was delicious and the chorizo dish flawless, again. We enjoyed our bife this time, thankfully and they did provide us with extra chimichurri at our request.
I respect, admire, and appreciate what La Carniceria does; here, you get good food at good prices and don’t have to pay cubierto (cover charge) for things you don’t want. Compared to other parillas, they have good sides that accentuate your meal, it’s not just fries and soggy lettuce.
We just felt that there was more attention to “service” and making you feel like a welcomed guest in the past. The bife we ordered as medium in the past was cooked flawless too…and we appreciated how they customized the dining experience to make it pleasant and personalized for us.
We enjoyed our meals and would recommend La Carniceria, and will return when we are in Buenos Aires again even if we were somewhat disappointed these last 2 times.
- Would I recommend La Carniceria? Absolutely; it is a must do!
- Would I go again? Absolutely! In 2015, we held on to some Argentinian pesos for when we go back! After our experience in 2017, we would go back but would also try other parilla places.
- La Carniceria is a solid 9.5 out of 10 for price + food quality/quantity + service + operating hours. The entire meal with a beer and a glass of wine was under $50US.
For more information: https://www.facebook.com/xlacarniceriax
There are definitely other places to enjoy parrilla in Buenos Aires but these were the ones we visited. If you go to Buenos Aires or anywhere else in Argentina to experience excellent parrilla, you may never be able to enjoy steak any other way again; you have been warned. While we have a Big Green Egg and we cook steak over charcoal and serve it with homemade chimichurri, it is definitely not Argentine parrilla. That being said, I do have a nice bottle of malbec waiting for a sausage + steak cook on the Big Green Egg, with some home-made chimichurri and tomato salad.
** Initially posted in April 2015 and updated in April 2017.
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