Dan and I spent a few days in Tarija, Bolivia earlier this year. Located not far from the Argentinian border, Tarija has a “wine and steak” culture, similar to that in many parts of Argentina (and unlike much of Bolivia). Steakhouses are quite popular in Tarija, and Dan and I visited two, both of which seemed to be rated the highest on most “best of Tarija” lists: Casona dal Molino and Fogón del Gringo. I have no idea how accurate these lists are, but here is my review of both! If you find yourself in Tarija, I definitely recommend a meal at one of these steakhouses or something similar.
Before getting into the individual steakhouses, steakhouse restaurants are common in Tarija, and popular with both locals and tourists. The menus are almost always beef heavy, but we did see a couple beef alternatives, such as chicken. The standard order at these types of restaurants is a cut of beef (from which there are many to choose), which usually includes unlimited visits to a buffet or “salad bar.” These buffets and salad bars vary by restaurant in terms of quality and options, but are usually largely vegetarian and include a number of cold dishes, such as traditional lettuce salad, olives, potato salad, and a hot bar with a few types of potatoes, rice and possibly even pasta! The buffets were refilled regularly on our visits and diners went back many, many times. Meals are also usually served with crusty garlic bread and an in-house sauce or two and wine, which is extra and ordered from a wine menu (most commonly by the bottle, but there are single-serving and half bottles for sale). Finally, while not so popular in the US, it is customary to order beef well done in Tarija! Who would have thought?! We still went rare (or “inglés”) and our steaks were always cooked perfectly.
CASONA DEL MOLINO
Casona del Molino is one of the two most well-known steakhouses in Tarija, at least according to my internet research. The other being Fogón del Gringo (keep reading for my review on Fogón). We dined at Casona del Molino twice during our stay in Tarija, and the restaurant was excellent both visits. Casona Del Molino is located right in the heart of Tarija across from the Campilla de San Juan, which was still decorated for Easter during our visit. Casona del Molina itself is a large white building that looks like it has been around for many, many years, with a deck proudly flying the red and white Tarija flag. Inside Casona is some seating, the salad bar and the large grill room (where all the food is made), but the highlight of the restaurant is the back garden where most diners will have their meal. The garden is indeed lovely! I would strongly recommend the outside if the weather is nice.
Moving on to the food, Casona del Molino has a large menu with many cuts of steak. I am not entirely sure what I ordered, but it was a HUGE steak, cooked perfectly rare on my request, that cost less than $15 USD. Crazy! Every steak at Casona del Molino is seved with a little Tarija flag, very cute! Casona del Molino also has a large wine menu, but we skipped wine as we were eating in the middle of a wine tour…
Like at most steakhouses in Tarija, our Casona del Molino order came with unlimited visits to the salad bar, and Casona’s salad bar was something special. I have some pictures below, but they do not do it justice. On offer were an insane number of pickled things, olives, various types of cold salads, pasta, a bruschetta, and a hot bar with a really good rice/egg/vegetable dish and delicious french fries. And that list is not at all exhaustive. Casona del Molino’s salad bar was the best that we saw, and everything was fresh and tasty.
Like most steak restaurants, every meal also comes with crusty garlic bread and some dipping sauces (at least that is what I called them), at Casona del Molino we received an eggplant caponata, a green aioli type dressing, and my favorite Bolivia hot sauce, Llajua (found everywhere in Bolivia – made with watermelon and peppers!). These dipping sauces at Casona were particularly good!
After eating at Casona twice, I would certainly return to Casona del Molino and recommend it to others. The vibe is upscale, but we were fine dining in shorts and a nice top (shorts & polo for Dan). I would suggest making a reservation, especially if you want a nice table in the garden. Credit card was accepted and not many people spoke English (true in Tarija in general).
CHURRASQUERIA EL FOGÓN DEL GRINGO
Moving on to the other popular steakhouse in Tarija, Fogón del Gringo also has a great location, just across the street from Los Ceibos Hotel (where we conveniently stayed). Fogón is very well lit with the Tarija flag and colors flying strong. Fogón has a small outside area with tables and an insanely large open air grill, where you can watch your dinner being made, as well as ample interior seating, including a private room that looked for nice for a party. We were seated without a reservation on a Wednesday at 8 PM, although the place did fill up soon thereafter with locals.
Like at Casona del Molino, every meal at Fogón begins with crusty garlic bread and homemade sauces. The Llauja was particularly good at Fogón, and even more so on the garlic bread. As we ordered a huge steak for two – the Churrasco di Filete to be precise, it came with access to the salad bar and hot potato and pasta buffet for both of us. While not as photographable or large as those at Casona del Molino, the food was on the buffets was decent and replaced pretty frequently.
And not to forget our Churrasco di Filete, it was great! Perfectly cooked as we asked and humongous – a real steal for $24 USD. As it was Dan’s birthday, the staff brought a complimentary dessert with a candle. A very nice touch!
Like Casona, Fogón also has an extensive wine menu with a wide range of Bolivian bottles, include single glass bottles. As it was Dan’s birthday, we splurged for the Aranjuez Juan Cruz (around $50 USD), which is probably Tarija’s most famous wine. It was really great. I also had a single glass bottle of the Cabernet France from Aranjuez (where the photo of us above was taken).
All in, Fogón was also a good dinner. We again wore shorts and did not feel under dressed, although locals dressed up a bit more. Credit card was accepted and, like in Tarija generally, no one really spoke English. We still ordered and paid fine.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Casona del Molino: Loma de San Juan, Bolivar, Tarija, Bolivia. Open daily 12 – 3 and 7 – 12, except on Sunday when its only open for lunch. I suggest a reservation, even if it’s only calling earlier in the day. Casual (we wore shorts), but the locals tend to dress nicely. Credit card accepted.
Churrasqueria El Fogón del Gringo: La Madrid, Tarija, Bolivia. Open daily 12 – 3 and 6:30 – 11, except Sunday when the restaurant is only open for lunch (common in Bolivia). I suggest a reservation, even if it’s only calling earlier in the day. Casual (we wore shorts), but the locals tend to dress nicely. Credit card accepted.