I’ve traditionally loved taking food tours when I travel. I think they are a great way to get a quick overview of a city’s cuisine. However, now that we are traveling slower, I haven’t taken any food tours recently. I’ve figured that given the extra time we have in each destination, I could discover the cuisine of each place on my own. And so, I didn’t initially schedule any sort of food tour at the beginning of our recent month-long stay in Buenos Aires. But, near the end of our trip, when Detour BA invited me to to join them on their unique Chacarita & Vermouth tour, exploring the up-and-coming foodie neighborhood of Chacarita, I quickly said yes. I loved the idea of spending time in an out-of-the-way Buenos Aires neighborhood, learning about vermouth, and trying some food that I perhaps hadn’t yet tasted in Argentina.
Before I share this great food tour experience though, let me share some of what I discovered about Buenos Aires cuisine on my own, along with some of my favorite Argentine bites. Then I’ll show you what Nati from Detour BA taught me on my food tour in Buenos Aires.
(Disclosure: Detour BA reached out and organized a private tour for me, but I paid for the tour, and any opinions in this post are my own. I also do not receive any affiliate commission from links in this post.)
Where’s the Beef?
Everywhere! This question never needs be asked in Buenos Aires. Beef is the king of Argentine cuisine, and various cuts of high quality steak can be found in pretty much every type of restaurant – from the corner cafe to the most expensive Parrilla (Argentine steakhouse).
The most popular cut of steak in Buenos Aires is the Sirloin, though we could also easily find our personal two favorites – the Tenderloin (pictured below) and the Ribeye.
Most Argentines prefer their meat well done, but you can order yours however you personally like it – medium for me, medium rare for Mrs. TT.
And it’s always served with a side of chimichurri – a blend of spices, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and parsley.
Here’s a look at our very first lunch in Buenos Aires at a Parrilla called Fervor…
And if you are looking for a “lighter” way to eat your steak in Buenos Aires, rather than going for the full steak dinner, you could get a Lomito (steak sandwich). Check this one out from La Rambla!!
Chorizo + Pan (Bread) = Choripan
Chorizo is also very popular in Buenos Aires. Beef, pork, and lamb are all used to make different versions of this sausage. Chorizo is commonly ordered as an appetizer in a Parrilla. But follow this meaty appetizer with a steak entree? That was always too much cholesterol in one sitting for us.
I most commonly ordered Chorizo as a meal all by itself – sliced in half, grilled, and served on a bun. This is called a Choripan, and is one of the most common fast foods in Buenos Aires.
The most classic version is simply served with chimichurri on top, like this one from a place called Chori.
But many other versions of Choripan can be found, served with a variety of toppings. Like this lamb Choripan served with mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and arugula from Choripaneria in the San Telmo Market.
Empanadas, Empanadas, Empanadas
Choripans are very popular, but the most common fast food in Buenos Aires is definitely the Empanada. I saw empanadas everywhere – as an appetizer in restaurants, on the shelves of most bakeries, at stands in various outdoor markets, and in lots of empanada-only shops, too.
And I was surprised at how much I enjoyed them because I usually don’t gravitate towards pie-type foods. But they became my go-to quick bite in Buenos Aires. The pastry crust was much lighter than I expected, especially the baked versions. And the fillings were oh-so-flavorful.
As you would expect, based on everything said above, beef empanadas are the most popular. Ground beef with onions and green olives was one of the most common version I found.
But shredded chicken and various vegetarian options – spinach/cheese, onions/cheese, grilled vegetables, creamed corn – are easy to find as well.
I was fortunate enough to stay just a few blocks away from El Sanjuanino – considered by many to serve up the some of best empanadas in Buenos Aires. I sampled emapandas from many establishments during our trip. And I can testify that the empanadas from El Sanjuanino were my favorite. The quality and flavor of the fillings really stood out there. I visited often.
Hoards of Europeans immigrated to Buenos Aires in the 19th century, and none more so than immigrants from Italy. So naturally, there is a lot of Italian influence in Argentine cuisine. Plus, Italian restaurants are everywhere, and pasta is on almost every other type of restaurant’s menu too.
So when you need a break from meat, you can always find pasta. (And pizza too… but more on that later in the post).
Locro – An Argentine Tradition From the Andes
Locro isn’t on every menu, but you definitely need to seek it out and try Locro when visiting Buenos Aires. The bowl of Locro pictured below from Peron Peron is one of the best things I ate during our time in the city.
It’s a dish that originated centuries ago in the mountainous Andes regions of South America, and is not only beloved in Argentina, but in neighboring countries as well. Ingredients can vary a little from region to region, but usually include pumpkin, yams, hominy, beans, chorizo, and other cuts of pork or beef.
And My Favorite Sweet
I was aware of Dulce De Leche as an ice cream flavor prior to our time in Buenos Aires. But I don’t think I’d ever eaten straight Dulce De Leche before our trip.
This amazing confection is made by slowly heating milk and sugar into a thickened caramelized sauce. In the picture above, a generous dollop is served alongside flan.
Dulce de Leche is everywhere in Buenos Aires. It seems to be incorporated into about every dessert. It is delicious. And it is one of those great travel taste discoveries that we will continue to seek out and eat forever. Yes, we brought some home with us. And gratefully we can find it in our local supermarket.
Now For the Food Tour
Detour BA is a food tour company that focuses on offering unique Buenos Aires experiences. Their goal is to offer an authentic look at the culture and history of Buenos Aires in the context of food exploration.
Their Chacarita and Vermouth Tour is the perfect example. Chacarita is an up-and-coming foodie neighborhood, known mostly to locals, and definitely off the beaten tourist path. And while wine experiences can easily be found in Buenos Aires, they want to introduce you to another Argentine favorite – Vermouth.
I love to wander off the beaten path anywhere I travel and hadn’t even heard of Chacarita after nearly a month in Buenos Aires. So learning more about Argentine food, in this particular neighborhood, sounded perfect to me.
I discovered Vermouth in Spain last year, but had never done any sort of tasting other than ordering it sometimes with my tapas there. So I also loved the idea of learning more about Vermouth.
Plus I hoped to maybe try some food on this tour that I hadn’t yet experienced in Buenos Aires.
And, after 4 hours with my guide Nati….Mission Accomplished!
Here’s a look at some of what I discovered.
All About Chacarita
Chacarita is located about 25 minutes by cab from where I was staying in more centrally-located Recoleta. But it’s not far from the trendiest neighborhood in Buenos Aires – Palermo Soho. It’s much quieter than its trendy neighbor. And rent is also cheaper here than in Palermo Soho. So some of the best new restaurants and bars in the city are choosing to locate in Chacarita instead.
It’s still mostly a locals-only neighborhood with few tourists and few major touristic sites, but in my mind, that is no knock against it. Walks through neighborhoods like these will always reveal hidden treasures. And when you have a guide by your side, those treasures will more easily reveal themselves.
Here’s some of what we saw…
This is where I met Nati at the beginning of the tour. It’s located on the edge of Chacarita, in the Colegiales neighborhood, and is one of the area’s popular green spaces. The Plaza is named for the beloved Argentine cartoon character Malfada. Throughout Buenos Aires you will see her image everywhere. Nati educated me further about Malfada as we stood in this Plaza.
Malfada was a comic strip character during the 1960s and 70s. A 6 year old girl who satirically commented on the social and political issues of the time. The character remained popular as a dissident symbol during the dictatorship that darkened Argentina’s history in the late 70s and early 80s. Naturally, the government did everything they could to suppress her subversive presence. When that authoritarian government was overthrown, all things Malfada where officially allowed again, and she remains a popular symbol today.
(Near the popular San Telmo Market in central Buenos Aires, there is a bench with a statue of Malfada sitting on it. When we visited that market one Sunday, there was a line – a full block long – of Argentines waiting to sit next to Malfada for a photo. That’s how popular Malfada is!)
The White Head Scarfs
As we moved on from the Plaza, Nati pointed out a repetitive symbol painted on the sidewalk. This is the white head scarf symbol of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Nati told me that this symbol is a common site throughout many of the city’s public spaces.
The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo is a human rights organization formed in the late 1970s by the mothers of young adults who were “disappeared” by the same dictatorship I referred to above. 30,000 people – perceived to be dissidents – went missing during its rule.
It’s a dark stain in Argentine history and is very much in the local public’s conscious today. The recent Academy Award nominated film called Argentina 1985 tells all about it. We watched the film on Amazon Prime while in Buenos Aires, after becoming aware of these horrible events while on another tour.
Most of the missing have never been accounted for, and the Mothers are still very politically active, demanding ongoing justice for their loved ones from the current government.
Mercado de las Pulgas
Across from the Malfada Plaza sits the Mercado de las Pulgas. I’d visited several of Buenos Aires’ most popular markets during our time there, but hadn’t heard of this market in any of my Things To Do research. It happens to be one of the most popular markets in the whole city, and is a giant indoor flea market – taking up one full city block.
It’s one of those places that only locals visit, and is yet another example of why a tour like this is perfect for those of us that like exploring off the beaten path. I never would have seen it otherwise. You can see why my evening was so much more than just a standard food tour in Buenos Aires.
Colorfully Quiet Streets
As dusk turned to dark, we wandered our way into Chacarita where we found quiet tree-lined streets, residential buildings, and scattered restaurants.
Street art is a very common site in many neighborhoods of Buenos Aires, and Chacarita was no exception. In the dark evening hours, the lights in the neighborhood really helped all of that color stand out.
I loved having the chance to explore this previously unknown-to-me part of town. That’s certainly one of the strengths of Detour BA’s approach to touring. But let’s not forget, this evening was about food too.
So on to the food and drink portion of this tour in Chacarita Buenos Aires.
Our first culinary stop was at a boutique Vermouth bar called La Fuerza. As I previously mentioned, I became aware of Vermouth while in Granada Spain where it was also a very popular drink. But this was my first chance to really learn about Vermouth and try different types.
Vermouth is a fortified wine to which various botanicals are added. Because it’s fortified, it is sweeter than wine. But the botanicals give it a slightly bitter flavor. La Fuerza is the name of both the bar and the brand. They make their own Vermouth using wine from Argentina’s famed Mendoza region and add herbs & botanicals from the foothills of the Andes.
I was able to taste their 4 different types – made from different white and red wines – and choose my favorite.
I chose the 12 month aged vermouth (on the right below) and Nati chose a white vermouth (on the left). We enjoyed our vermouth along with charcuterie, and the Argentine version of a Spanish Tortilla (an omelette-y creation filled with sliced potatoes).
Our second stop was at a place called Sifón, and my Vermouth education continued. Argentines love soda water (or seltzer). This love affair started back in the late 1800s when water-borne illness was a big issue, and drinking seltzer imported from Europe became the norm. In fact, home seltzer delivery in bottles called siphons is an ongoing tradition in Buenos Aires. And it is very common to add this soda water to drinks like wine and vermouth – to lighten them up a little.
At Sifón, I experienced this custom first hand, as my vermouth was served along with my own personal siphon of seltzer. I could then add it to my drink as desired. Personally, I don’t drink much soda water or carbonated beverages in general. And I didn’t want to necessarily dilute the flavor of the vermouth. But I can understand the appeal for those who do like it. And I did give it a try at Sifón (where we also ate one of their specialties – Ossobuco empanadas).
As Promised, Now I’ll Tell You about Argentine Pizza
Next up was a visit to El Imperio – an award winning pizza joint in Chacarita. As I mentioned earlier in the post, there is a huge Italian influence in Argentina cuisine, and like pasta, pizza is very popular. But, after almost 4 weeks in Buenos Aires, I hadn’t yet tried Argentine pizza.
Why? As you can see below, Argentine-style pizza features a very thick crust and a huge pile of cheese. Plus, it’s sauce-less. I’m not a fan of thick crust, sauceless, cheesy pizza, and I have some lactose intolerance too. Even more importantly, I had always wanted to save my weekly fat & cholesterol allowance for all the steak and chorizo we were loving. (OK that’s not entirely true….we definitely still exceeded any sort of fat & cholesterol allowance in Buenos Aires.)
So I’d never made it a point to give Argentine pizza a try. I’m grateful that this Chacarita food tour in Buenos Aires gave me one last chance.
Nati gave me my choice of pizza. I figured that if I was going to try it, I would go all in and sample the very popular Fugazetta which features only two toppings – a copious amount of gooey cheese and a copious amount of onions.
And I was surprised. I really liked it. The cheese had great flavor and the onions were cooked enough to mellow out their sharpness.
But, I only ate four bites. Because my lactose-intolerant gut knew the tour was ending with ice cream. And I did not plan on passing that up either.
The Best Ice Cream
The ice cream in Argentina is really really good. I think it’s probably the second most favorite local dessert after Dulce de Leche. Remember the strong Italian influence in Argentine cuisine? The ice cream in Buenos Aires is very gelato-like.
As you might guess from my previous statement about lactose intolerance, I don’t typically seek out a lot of ice cream, though I do love it. And I’m always game for a few bites. I had previously tried Argentine ice cream at two of the most popular chains in Buenos Aires – Freddo and Rapanui – and thought it was great. Unsurprisingly, ice creams featuring various versions of Dulce De Leche rule the flavor board.
To end this food tour in Buenos Aires with Detour BA, Nati took me to Heladeria Scannapieco. It’s been serving up ice cream since 1938, and many consider it to be the very best ice cream in all of Buenos Aires. As we walked in, it looked exactly like the classic ice cream counters from the 50s, and it offered many more flavors than the other ice cream stores we had visited in town.
Despite all the choices, I still decided to go with straight-up Dulce de Leche (and then Banana as my second flavor).
The verdict? Unquestionably the best ice cream I had in Buenos Aires. Maybe anywhere actually. Creamy goodness with amazing flavor.
And with those last glorious bites of ice cream, my food tour in Buenos Aires came to an end.
I’m glad that I jumped on the opportunity to go on this food tour with Detour BA, even though it was at end of our trip and I’d already discovered a lot about Argentine food on my own. I learned so much more from Nati. Clearly, you can always gain additional insight into the cuisine, the history, and the culture of a place with the guidance of a knowledgable local.
I should also mention that one of the owners of Detour BA is a professional chef and restauranteur, and has personally curated the food choices on their tours for an optimal foodie experience.
You can check out some of Detour BA’s other great tours on their website. Use the code thoroughtripper when booking this or any tour with them, and you’ll receive 10% discount! One of those other tours is called The Don’t Cry For Me Argentina Tour. I review it in my blog post about Famous Evita Sites in Buenos Aires.
If you would like to read about another great cultural experience we had in Buenos Aires, then check out my post on Learning to Drink Mate. And to learn more about Buenos Aires in general, then check out 11 Photos That Will Convince You to Visit Buenos Aires or 10 Practical Buenos Aires Travel Tips or Exploring the San Telmo Market & Street Fair.
If you would like to read about some of my other food experiences from around the world, then check these out:
And if you like reading about food tours, then check out this amazing post featuring lots of food tours from around the world, compiled by my blogging friend Lannie and to which I contributed an experience we had in Ljubljana Slovenia.