Believe me when I tell you, I’m no hipster. My (mild) dislike of Palermo has nothing to do with thinking I’m too cool for the City’s perennially “cool” neighborhood. It’s simple logistics really: I’m a grumpy, impatient man and Hollywood is just a trek. The solution? Retiro. The streets may not be the nicest to walk around after dark but here it’s the destination that counts. Here, five restaurants that prove taking a train isn’t the only reason to head to the neighborhood of Retiro.
Walking into Pony Line, the bar at the Four Seasons hotel, is always mildly stressful. ‘Will there be room at the bar?’ I wonder as I rush past the doors. I invariably do a little dance in my head when I spot an empty chair because I know I will immediately be greeted by bartenders who know exactly how to shake up a great cocktail. And in a city where you often have to make the hard choice between good drinks and good food (talk about a Sophie’s choice), Pony Line is the full package. In the mood for bar grub to accompany that Rob Roy, the vodka-infused tereré or a Manhattan made with Malamado? The hamburger (be sure to order it jugoso) never disappoints. Want something a bit more fancy? Ask for the menu from the hotel restaurant Elena and feast on some inventive takes on traditional Argentine dishes. Three tips: always sit at the bar, don’t even think about ordering a caipirinha, and for the love of all that is holy skip Wednesday nights, when the relaxed bar turns into a sweat-infused after office. Posadas 1086.
El Mirasol de la Recova
A block away from Ponyline, nestled on the far end of La Recova, El Mirasol may seem like a typical stuffy high-end parrilla. But it has a little secret: a patio area unlike anywhere else in the city. Ever wanted to eat a good steak next to 9 de Julio? Yeah, probably not. But trust me, you do. The area is sufficiently covered by greenery to not feel like you’re eating provoleta with a helping of exhaust fumes but at the same time the rumble from the street makes it’s impossible to forget you’re eating right next to the widest avenue in the world. The steak is tender and the waiters are that ideal mix of old-school without the rudeness. Be warned though, it’ll be an expensive meal and the markup on the wine is enough to make your jaw drop so be sure to take that out of town friend who will offer to pay with the enviable blue coin. Posadas 1032.
Right across the Avenida 9 de Julio is the restaurant that, over the years, has become my reliable go-to place to take anyone visiting from out of town. The basement restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside but open the big metal doors to find that rare mix of informal with a great ambience. The star of the menu is certainly the steak, but there are also enough pasta and vegetarian dishes to please all but the most finicky eaters and at a relatively reasonable price to boot. As if that wasn’t enough, Juana M also has a secret weapon: square tables that sit up to eight people, meaning you can go out with a big group and actually talk to everyone rather than just the people sitting right next to you. Carlos Pellegrini 1535.
The perennial expat favorite has one major thing to hate: it’s always packed. Forget about Argentine dining times. If you hope to get a table at this small restaurant, early is the name of the game. But fear not, because a couple of cocktails can help whet your appetite. Yes, Dadá is another one of those rare finds where you can have a good meal with a Martini in hand that won’t make you gag from the vermouth. Yes, any regular will likely tell you the food isn’t what it used to be, but there’s a reason why Dadá continues to be consistently packed weekend after weekend: the ambience. No matter how packed the place is you’re always made to feel welcome. Sure, it may get a little loud but it’s a great spot for people-watching and striking up conversations with strangers. Or, you know, just judging them silently. San Martín 941.
This is the place to go whenever you need a reminder that there’s more to Argentine food than just steak. In an unassuming location a stone’s throw away from Plaza San Martín, El Federal serves up traditional Argentine dishes from the northern and southern provinces — with a modern twist. Some places take the concept of new Argentine cuisine to an extreme, making the traditional dishes virtually unrecognizable. But in El Federal, the chef’s flare does not get in the way of tradition. The wine list is also federal, giving you an opportunity to branch out from the Mendoza staples. San Martín 1015.
Daniel Politi is a journalist who has been living in Buenos Aires for nine years. He spends his days writing about politics and economics and wishing he lived in the era of Martini lunches.