The ritual of cooking with fire finds exciting expression in Buenos Aires.
Its local roots go back to the days of gauchos, who cooked meat over open fires whilst journeying by horseback across the pampas grasslands.
The gaucho was known to cook the whole cow, and leave nothing for the vultures: a tradition that persists today.
Beef cuts and delicacies, drawn from head to tail of the cow, continue to sizzle and smoke at steakhouses (parrillas) across Argentina’s capital, mostly over the hot coals of wood-fired grills, though occasionally over the open fire of old.
The standout specialties at family-owned Don Julio are the skirt and flank steaks, both delicious staples of the Argentine grill. A long, thin steak that is trimmed from the diaphragm muscles of the cow, the skirt is particularly memorable. At Don Julio it is slow-cooked over red-hot coals until lightly charred on the outside but melting like butter within.
Gran Parrilla del Plata
Nothing of the cow is left off the grill at this old-fashioned parrilla in the tumbledown San Telmo district. Its big specialties are the internal organs of the cow, like chitterlings, sweetbreads and kidneys, each delicacies of Argentine cuisine. These are served simple with salt and lemon.
El Pobre Luis
The chefs at good-value El Pobre Luis cook beef cuts with a heavy layer of fat intact, so that the juices really flow. Go for the two-inch-thick rib-eye and accompany with fresh salads and local chimichurri sauce of crushed peppers, herbs and oils.
Wildly popular, La Cabrera has really pushed the boundaries of beefsteak-cooking. Its fresh thinking includes using flavors of peach and apple to infuse its native firewood, and a strikingly contemporary menu that sees Angus and Kobe beef cuts slathered in sauces and paired with inventive dishes of seasonal ingredients.
This is one of few steakhouses in Buenos Aires that maintains the primal spectacle of asador criollo—barbecuing over an open fire. Huge cuts, and sometimes entire animals, are hung on vertical spits to be slow-cooked over an open-flame pit, in what is an overtly macho ritual of fire and meat that recalls the gaucho ways of centuries past.
Cabaña Las Lilas
A trailblazer in local, farm-based cooking, this waterfront grill-house in the swanky Puerto Madero docklands district serves 16 prime cuts, each sourced from its own herd of alfalfa-grazed cattle. Start with hot chorizos and blood sausages, seasoned with pepper and garlic, before graduating to succulent tenderloin, rump and T-bone steaks.
Upscale Elena has hosted Argentina’s first dry-aged club since early 2017. It is open to a select membership and sees executive chef, Juan Gaffuri, use controlled conditions to age 24-kilo hunks of beef – each includes ribeye, tenderloin and striploin cuts – across 30 to 100 days. Clients are able to order their beef at any time and delight in any changes in taste and texture.
Another pioneer in farm-sourced cooking, this swish waterside steakhouse sources its beef from the pampas-bred cattle of its own ranch on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. Each cut is dry-aged on this restaurant’s premises for at least 14 days, prime cuts for 28 days, and then grilled over the glowing embers of a flame-spewing grill.