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!
If you have been following my blog (I hope you have!), you know that Dan and I stayed in San Telmo back in November while visiting Buenos Aires (“BA”).
I was very iffy in locking down our hotel neighborhood in BA. BA is huge and we were only there for a few days, so where we stayed would really impact our trip. Our requirements, per usual, were character, proximity to other sites/activities (or easy access to transportation), local restaurants, local bars, and safety. We narrowed our search to Palermo and San Telmo. San Telmo won out, and I am so glad that it did!
San Telmo is great. Its historic, hip, a little rough around the edges, charming…just what I wanted! I found it to be very safe, even at night, but worriers may disagree. San Telmo’s location is prime: 25 minutes to Microcentro, easy cabs 24 hours, 45 minute walk to Recoleta and lots of restaurants and bars within a couple blocks.
And, San Telmo has tons of cool graffiti (which I am usually not a fan of, but I liked it here…kind of like Bacon in Toronto. Anyone catch that one?).
And these cartoon statutes, which had people literally lining up to take pictures with them…
We stayed right in the heart of San Telmo at Patios de San Telmo, I really enjoyed this hotel, a nice change from the hostels we often frequent, and it was extremely reasonable! We were upgraded because our room was not ready when we arrived – so considerate. Our upgraded room consisted of a really comfortable bed, flat screen TV, closet with a safe, mini-fridge and WC. My only complaint is that the WC has a very light door. The hotel had a rooftop pool, 24-hour front desk coverage, lots of lounge space, and a cool desgin feel. See the hanging chairs and art installations below?
What To Do In San Telmo?
Feria de San Telmo – Feria de San Telmo is San Telmo’s famous Sunday market. It takes place every Sunday up and down La Defensa from about 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you’re in the area, you can’t miss it. I like markets, so I was excited to check this one out. It was drizzling, but the market still went on! Stand after stand selling every thing from cute handicrafts to “sell your own shit.” We got some good (and cheap) souvenirs, including a beautiful table-runner (picture below). If you’re not into the handicraft scene, the market also has music, food and general nonsense. A good place to kill an hour or two, but if it really doesn’t fit into your schedule, skip it!
San Telmo Market – If you miss the Feria De San Telmo on Sunday, check out the San Telmo market – open every day! San Telmo market is an old-school iron hall selling everything from fresh fruit to souvenirs to serious antiques. I enjoyed this more than the Feria de San Telmo. While the actual market building is a bit run down and crowded, I found it to be quite safe – with the biggest risk being a pick-pocket. However, some people seemed really concerned. For example, I heard one woman tourist (of course she was American) tell her tour guide that she was scared to take her wallet out to pay for a cup of coffee. Seriously, that happened. How embarassing. In any case, you should definitely check out this market, and don’t let people tell you its dangerous. Its not!
Speaking of paying for a cup of coffee, there is a great coffee shop in the San Telmo Market called Coffee Town. Its right in the middle of the market and has a second, side area with additional seating.
El Viejo Almacén – El Viejo Almacén is a tango show strictly for tourists. I usually try to avoid super touristy venues, but I did want to see a tango show and did not want to participate myself, so I choose this one based on online reviews. There are two options: dinner or no dinner. We opted for the no dinner at about $70 USD per person. Surprisingly, the show was truly good! The dancers were excellent and the venue was historic and quite intimate. Drinks flowed through the show, but the waiters make sure to tell you that tips are not included in the cost of the show.
Where to eat in San Telmo?
El Banco Rojo – Oh my goodness! My absolute FAVORITE restaurant in all of Argentina and home of the cover photo. Its own post to come. But in short, if you visit BA, you HAVE to eat here!
THE. BEST. EMPANADAS.EVER.
Muzarella – Another empanada shop right next to El Banco Rojo. A nice alternative if El Banco Rojo isn’t open or has a line.
La Brigada – One of BA’s famous old steakhouses, La Brigada is right in the heart of San Telmo, very close to the San Telmo Market and right around the corner from El Banco Rojo. BA has several old school steak houses, including La Brigada, El Desnivel (also in San Telmo), La Cabrera (which we also tried) and Don Julio. I decided on La Brigada mostly because of its awesome, old-school, green and white exterior. Who can say no to a green and white facade? The restaurant was very pretty inside and the service was great. We ate on a Sunday night and the place was pretty much empty, just us and a few other tourists. We ordered fried mozarella, steaks, dessert and a bottle of wine. While this place was more expensive than other restaurants in the area, it still pales in comparison to steak restaurants in the North East. All of the food was delicious and filling. Pace yourself.
Sr. Telmo Pizza – Sr. Telmo Pizza is a casual pizza shop right on Defensa in the middle of San Telmo. The food smells really good. If you walk by, you will have a hard time not going in! We stopped in for lunch and enjoyed pizza (you can ask them to split toppings down the middle even on the crazy ones), garlic fries, an order of their bread and a Submarino (warm frothy milk with a chocolate – very Argentinian and very delicious). The food and service were very good, but unfortunately I don’t like Argentinain pizza. Shame, because I was so looking forward do it! The crowd was a mix of locals and tourists.
Bars – There are a lot of fun and inexpensive bars in San Telmo, and it makes for a great place to go out, perhaps even do a bar crawl!
Bar El Federal is an old, historic bar/restaurant/coffee house. It serves coffee, light food and drinks. Due to its historic look (think wood, barrels, the famous seltzer bottles), this place is worth a stop even if you are not a drinker. Dan and I stopped here during happy hour and got an apertivo with picada (I think I am remembering that correctly…). The drink was strong, and the picada was awesome, and not many more pesos. The picada included about 10 little appetizers – it reminded me of a Moroccan salad. Yum! (Pictured above) This was also one of the only places we saw seltzer dispensers on the tables. This would be a good place to start or end your evening, as you can get coffee and food!
The Red Door
The Red Door is possibly my favorite bar in BA. It’s literally a red door. Yep, thats a picture of the door. It was right across the street from our hotel. You just walk into the shady looking door and go upstairs to this awesome bar. The bar was really fun, has a happy hour (with food) and had a good, local crowd (seemed like a lot of people stopped here after work). We liked it so much, we went back a second time. Definitely check it out. Crowd was very friendly.
Gibraltar & Company is San Telmo’s answer to a British Pub. Gibraltar had a decent selection of beers, although not many British beers, and a cheap happy hour (2 for 1)! We stopped in for a pre-dinner beer one evening. The crowd was largely foreigners and European sports played on the TVs. This is a good place to get your British fix and/or meet other English speaking travelers.
Breoghan: Cerveceria Artesanal
You know i love a craft brewery. And San Telmo has its own – Breoghan Cerveceria Artesanal! We stopped for a couple pints one night and their beers were pretty decent. They also have great names, like San Telmo’s Fire Red Ale.
This bar is only open at night during the week – heres the outside during the day:Again, pretty cool graffiti.
And that pretty much sums up my thoughts on San Telmo!
What are your favorite spots in San Telmo? Tell me in the comments!
Dan and I spent 5 days in Buenos Aires (“BA”) as part of our Argentinian holiday in November 2014 – just in time for the gorgeous, purple Jacaranda flowers (seen above)! Beautiful!
Dan had really wanted to visit BA for a long time. I think its because he studied Spanish, some of his remote family immigrated to Argentina after Elis Island closed and BA is well-known to be cheap and super fun. His desire to visit BA spurred our trip. I, on the other hand, was much more iffy. I never had a desire to visit BA, even though they call it the “Paris of South America.” Other South American cities, sure. But not BA, and I’m not sure why. Maybe its because there is no “bucket list” site to see. Maybe its because I know there is no substitute for Paris. Well, we went because it is a huge player in South American tourism, and I really enjoyed it. More-so than i thought. BA is very Western, and not totally unlike being in a European capital. (It, however, is no Paris). It was also extremely cheap when we went (12.5 AR to 1 US blue rate), which made for a great vacation. We lived like kings! Also, there are a lot of world class destinations a short plane ride away (i.e. Iguazu Falls, see upcoming post!)
In total, we were in BA for five days. We could have spent much longer. BA is huge and consists of a number of different neighborhoods, each with their own personality. For tourist purposes, the most popular neighborhoods are Recoleta, Palermo, San Telmo, Microcentro, La Boca, Puerto Madero and Retiro. I found it easiest to tackle the city neighborhood by neighborhood, and my favorites were San Telmo, where we stayed, and Recoleta.
San Telmo is an old part of town. As with a lot of neighborhoods in big cities, it used to be upscale, then the wealthy relocated and the area went down hill, and now its coming back with a lot of hipsters. A Brooklyn story. I found San Telmo to be a little gritty on its face, but full of character, history, and great restaurants and bars. A more lengthy post will follow, as I loved San Telmo!
Recoleta is THE upscale neighborhood. This area is really beautiful and is very reminiscent of a European capital. Maybe even Paris. Just maybe. A separate posts will follow on Recoleta as well!
As I mentioned, there is no big monument to see in BA. I think a lot of people have a hard time with this. Where do I take my picture? What postcard to I send? The closest big monument in BA is the Casa Rosada, the pink government house a/k/a the pink building Madonna sang from in Evita!. We saw Casa Rosada as part of a tour with BA Free Tour. The tour was free (tip expected) and went though Microcentro in about 3 hours and covered the main sites, giving interesting history along the way. The sites included the exterior of Congresso, Plaza de Mayo, Obeilisco (a big monument for Argentinians, not so much for others (pic w/Dan above)), Calle Florida, Av. 9 de Julio, Palacio Barolo, Cafe Tortoni, the Pope’s soccer club and Catedral (among others). A one-stop-shop!
Catedral (Pope’s Church)
(OK, BA may be a little bit Paris)
We also got to see some sweet (and somewhat scary-looking) Peruvian protestors… Contrary to their masks and large sticks, they were pretty well-behaved. Note – there are many protests in BA. Don’t let them worry you.
I enjoyed Microcentro, but I wouldn’t recommend staying here. It closes down at night and can be a little scary. However, it is great to see the main sites during the day!
I also wanted to visit the neighborhood of La Boca, rumored as a “must see,” but also known to be quite dangerous. Some online posts would have you think you were entering a war zone. Ultimately, we ended up taking a taxi to La Boca from San Telmo mid-afternoon on a Wednesday. It was inexpensive, safe and dropped us off right at El Caminito, the main tourist area. No problem.
Touristy La Boca.
El Caminito consists of a few colorful blocks of buildings containing restaurants and shops just off the riverfront. El Caminito was crowded with tourists and Porteños selling trinkets to eager tourists. While El Caminito was safe enough, I found it to be extremely touristy and fake, and I wouldn’t return or recommend it. I would only go back if I was with someone who was a fan of La Boca football and wanted to visit the stadium.
After walking around El Caminito for about 20 minutes, we stopped into Fundación Proa – La Boca’s modern art museum with rotating exhibits. Unfortunately, they were between exhibits when we visited, but we did grab drinks and snacks on the rooftop, which has very pretty views. The Proa is right at the beginning of El Caminito, is safe and has free, clean restrooms.
Pictures from the Proa – very nice space in an otherwise touristy area.
NOTE – while we found El Caminito to be fine, some of the areas we drove through appeared desolate, shady and some downright dangerous. Make sure you stay in El Caminito. And watch your belongings. There is a real risk of pickpocketing here.
In the end, I did like BA and I am glad that we visited!! It had a lot of charm, was easy to navigate and the food and wine were delicious. It is a great introduction to South America and not dangerous at all. Any regrets? We did not get to spend enough time in Palermo. I would like to return and spend a few days in Palermo, and check out more of BA’s museums.
Have you been to BA? What did you love about it?
STEAL OUR TRIP:
Fundación Proa : Av. Pedro de Mendoza 1929, C1169AAD, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tel. [54-11] 4104-1000