If you are thinking of traveling to Argentina, you should research the status of their currency, the Argentine Peso, and the Blue Rate.
What is the Blue Rate you may ask? It is the black market value of the Argentine Peso. The Argentine government artificially sets their currency. This results in an official exchange rate of $1 US to 8-9 Argentine Pesos. This is the rate you will get using credit card, withdrawing from the ATM and at places run or monitored by the national government.
However, this rate does not reflect the true value of the Argentine Peso. There is a “black market” rate, the Blue Rate, which is currently about $1 US to 12.5 Argentine Pesos. This is a huge difference. When exchanging $100 US, the difference is enough to pay for dinner and a bottle of wine at a mid-range restaurant. Definitely makes your money go further and decreases the cost of the trip significantly.
Per my previous post, Dan and I visited the Brazilian and Argentinian sides of Iguazu Falls – in the same day – last November. Long day, but totally doable with a bit of planning. We organized our day by having our hotel arrange a cab (or really their friend who had a minivan and was willing to drive…) to pick us up in Puerto Iguzaú at 8:00 a.m., take us to the Brazilian falls (including through the border crossing), pick us back up at 1:00 p.m. and then drive us to the Argentinian Falls (border crossing again included), where we would explore until 5 p.m., when we would be driven back to our hotel. We arranged this for $75 US (tip not included), including waiting at the border crossing (which only took 5 minutes and we did not get out of the car). If you are short on time and have money to spare, I recommend this option. We booked it on arrival through the front desk. We had JUST enough time to fit this in and you may be rushed if you do not have the necessary VISAs pre-arrival.
A “closed-door” restaurant, or “puerta cerrada”, topped my “must do” list when planning our trip to Argentina!
What is a closed door restaurant you may ask? Is it safe? Why a puerta cerrada? Based on my experience and research, closed door restaurants are part restaurant, part private dinner party, typically hosted in the chef’s home. Some are legal, some or not (apparently to save on taxes), but most are rumored to be delicious!
Doing research on Argentina, I came across the “closed door” idea in a number of food blogs and knew I must to try one. Next question, how do I make a reservation at a private restaurant in Argentina? Well, some are difficult to find and make reservations I am sure, but there are a number that are touristy friendly and highly rated on travel websites (TripAdvisor, food blogs, etc.). Some of these have online reservation systems. Others you can call a few days before and make a reservation.
We ended up choosing Casa Coupage in Palermo, primarily based on its ability to take online reservations. We booked our reservations about two weeks in advance online and arrived the night of at the “restaurant,” which was not in the chef’s home but rather what seemed to be an apartment-turned-large dining room. Casa Coupage was more restaurant than dinner party, but it was delicious nonetheless.
Besides the easy online booking, I appreciated the hosts’ attention to wine pairings. The dinner menu was a set 9 course tasting menu – all enjoyable! While set, the hosts did come out and ask about allergies, dislikes, etc. and were happy to tailor the meal to our palates. The dinner also had a optional add-on of a 5 or 7 course wine tasting. We went with the 7 course wine tasting. Brilliant choice! Like the menu, the hosts asked us why types of wine we liked and gladly exchanged any that we did not like at no cost.
Now on to the food!
Here’s the “closed door.” Not that exciting, although there is no sign and we did have to ring the bell.
First course: Appetizer – something foie gras based. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I do remember loving it! And it was so pretty!
Second course: confit rabbit wrapped in Param-style ham with dehydrated cherry tomatoes. Rabbit confit is surprisingly tasty!
Third course: baby squid stuffed with ground corn and red sausage, with a red hogao tomato sauce. My least favorite course.
Fourth course: deer tartare, crispy egg yolk, hazelnut cream. Side note – deer tartare must be all the rage in the culinary world, as I just had another deer tartare on a tasting menu in Stockholm!
Fifth course: marinated sirloin beef, peppers and onion marmalade, potato fritters OR sautéed trout, pasta salad, asparagus and string beans, strawberries. We both chose the beef, and YUM!
Sixth course: Argentine cheese tasting. I love Argentine cheese! And the accoutrements that come with it!
Seventh course: pre-dessert. Who doesn’t love a pre-dessert !? This was more of a palate cleanser than a dessert.
Eighth course: tasting of suspiro limeño, lavender, orange, chocolate and aguaribay. The lavender was my favorite!
And it ended with another dessert:
This came to a total of $490 AR per person, not including the 7 course wine pairing.
NOTE – Know that many closed door restaurants are only open a few days a week, most often Wednesday or Thursday through Saturday, with only one or two seatings a night. That being said, this is definitely something you will want to look into before arriving in BA if it tops your “must do” list.
The best restaurant in Argentina – that’s a heavy description, I know. But I really love this restaurant, and I stand by my description. In fact, I like it so much that I went three times over a five day period. Yes, it was that delicious. And you know I like to try new places!
So what is El Banco Rojo and what makes it so wonderful?
El Banco Rojo is a small, hip, hole-in-the-wall, casual restaurant serving simple, fresh, made to order dishes.
Heres a closer look – so freaking hip.
It is located about a block down from the San Telmo Market, between the San Telmo Market and La Brigata. It opens around noon and is very small, with just a few bar seats (15 or so). As a result, you may need to wait or take it to go, although we always managed to get two seats.
The menu is written in chalk on the wall and specials are hanging behind the register. The menu has simple sounding dishes, but the food is so good! The menu also has some vegetarian options, a rarity in Buenos Aires. Drinks are served from a cooler built into the wall, including Argentinian beer, such as Antares craft beer, sodas and water. Another bonus, this restaurant is CHEAP, CHEAP, CHEAP.
My first visit I had the vegetarian falafel. It consisted of a pita stuffed with falafel and fresh lettuce, onions, tomatoes, tzatziki sauce and some other deliciousness. It was plenty for me to eat and cost less than $5 USD. Dan got the chicken falafel for about .50 USD more. Yum, yum, yum!
I also ordered my favorite fish on the entire trip (well tied with the open-faced pork belly sandwich on the Mendoza wine tour), the Spicy Beef Empanada! Oh, this is so, so, so delicious! The ingredients are fresh, its fried right in front of you and is very, very filling. They also have a corn empanada option. It was good, but the beef empanada put it to shame. Here’s a our empanada order. Oh, the best part, they were .80 USD each. I die.
The beer is Antares, an Argentinian craft brew.
On another visit, we split the tacos. Also delicious and so cheap. The tacos came three to a plate and with fresh cut potatoes. This was a great deal, both price and taste wise. Honestly, for the cost we expected one taco to split and were shocked when three were on the plate!
Ah, this is by far my favorite place in Argentina to date. If you are in BA, YOU MUST COME HERE AND HAVE THE BEEF EMPANADA. You can thank me later.
The cooks also have amazing T-shirts, sadly not for sale.
El Banco Rojo, Bolivar 914, San Telmo, Distrito Federal, Argentina
Tied with San Telmo, Recoleta is my favorite neighborhood in Buenos Aires (“BA”). Recoleta is an upscale neighborhood, very reminiscent of a European city, particularly Paris. For example:
The streets and buildings are very Parisian, and the area is inhabited by lots of business people and stay-at-home moms. All the big name luxury brands have shops here, and there are many upscale hotels, coffee shops and restaurants. Its a beautiful part of BA. Lots of flowers, cool, European architecture. This is a great area to view the gorgeous Jarcaranda trees when in bloom!
This is the part of town to find the Parisian flower stands and dog walkers.
It also has a lot of parks and quaint streets for strolling.
What To Do in Recoleta?
Recoleta Cemetery – One can not visit Recoleta without stopping into its most famous (and free) attraction – Recoleta Cemetery. I was not too keen on centering a sightseeing day around a cemetery, but I was pleasantly surprised. Recoleta Cemetery is not your average cemetery; it is really beautiful, well-kept and a joy to walk through. It contains the final resting places of Eva Perón (Evita!), Nobel prize winners and former Argentinian presidents. You can take a tour or stroll around on your own. We walked around on our own and found Eva Perón’s tomb without much trouble with directions from the internet. Entrance is free and we spent about an hour. A muse-see in BA, as its one of the few internationally-renowned tourist attractions.
Heres walking up and the main entrance:
Very pretty on the inside:
And the Evita tomb, Fámilia Duarte:
Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar – This is an adorable little white church next to Recoleta Cemetery. It is really cute and free to enter. Stop in to check out the ornate interior.
Floralis Genérica -Not too far from Recoleta Cemetery is Floralis Genéria, which is a large steel flower. It used to bloom in the day and close at night, but its since broken and remains “in bloom” all the time. Its located in Plaza de las Naciones Unidas, Avenida Figueora Alcorta. We did not go right up to the flower, just photographed it from afar.
Shopping – There is tons of shopping in Recoleta, including a few malls and a lot of design shops, and shopping should be an activity on your list! There is a shopping mall directly across the street from Recoleta Cemerery and a design mall just a bit down from Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar. The luxury shops are located along the streets near Prato y Neptuno (see below). You can really spend all day shopping here. My favorite shop was the leather store Uru Recoleta. It is right across from Recoleta Cemetery one block down from the shopping mall referenced above. Uru Recoleta sells Argentinian leather jackets in a variety of styles and colors. The factory is directly above the shop and they will custom make a leather jacket to suit you with just 24 hours notice. I ended up with a FABULOUS brown, sheep leather bomber jacket at $450 US (blue rate exchange). The same jacket in cow leather would have been about $200 US (blue rate exchange). There is a discount for paying in US cash, but you must ask.
Prado y Neptuno– Dan really loves cigar bars and wanted to visit one in Argentina for a Cuban. I did some online research and found Prado y Neptuno to be one of the best rated. We visited twice on our trip (that says a lot) and had a relaxing break each time. The door is always locked (standard in BA) so if someone does not come to let you in, ring the bell. Once inside, go into the humidor room and choose your cigar. Someone should come help you out. After, enjoy your cigar in the lounge, which also sells, coffee, desserts, wine and cocktails. Perfect for the ladies. Recommended if you like cigars!
Where To Eat In Recoleta?
Café Biela – Just across from Recoleta Cemetery, Café Biela is an old school coffee shop serving pretty good coffee and lunch-type food. Café Biela is iconic in the Recoleta neighborhood and worth a stop for at least coffee. It has lots of outdoor and indoor seating and certainly makes for a nice break.
Café Biela Bonus – There is a huge Rubber Tree directly in front of Café Biela in Plaza Francia.
Good photo op.
Los Immortales – BA is known to have excellent pizza, and one of the highest ranked pizzerias is in Recoleta – Los Immortales. We ate here for lunch one weekday afternoon. It had a steady crowd, but we got an outside table with no problem. Dan ordered the famous fugazzeta (pizza with onions) and I choose the cheese (plain, I know!). The pizzas were fine, but unfortunately I learned that I do not like Argentinian pizza (see my San Telmo post with the same result at another famous pizzeria, Sr. Telmo). Aside from my dislike of Argentinian pizza, the restaurant was characteristic and the service was good. If you are looking for a traditional pizzeria on your way to Recoleta Cemetery, this is a good bet. Outdoor seating has good local people watching, as the restaurant is not in a terribly touristy area. About a 15 minute, pleasant walk from Recoleta Cemetery.
Buller Brewing Company – Doing research on Recoleta, I discovered that there is a brew pub in Recoleta, so you know I had to check it out. We stopped at Buller Brewing Company for drinks and appetizers one weekday afternoon. Buller is located across the street from Recoleta Cemetery. This prime tourist real estate, so don’t expect to see many locals. There’s lots out outdoor seating for people watching and making friends. We ordered samplers and their fried cheese (I can never resist fried cheese). The beer was pretty good, although none of it stands out in my mind today. Another spot in Recoleta for a break.
Hard Rock Café – For die-hard Hard Rock fans, the BA Hard Rock Café is located in Recoleta on the roof of the above-referenced design mall. We stopped by to pick up a shirt for Dan’s aunt. Here is picture of Dan voluntarily entering a Hard Rock. I had to post because he hates these so.
I very much enjoyed Recoleta, and would certainly think of staying here next time. Have you been to Recoleta? What did I miss? Tell me about it in the comments!
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