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Great Eats: Buenos Aires, Argentina
By Joe Boone

Long regarded as the steak capital of the world, Buenos Aires is now considered a leading global gastronomic destination as well. Often described as Latin America’s most European city, its population consists largely of descendants of Italian and Spanish immigrants who flocked to Argentina in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their culinary influence is everywhere and today, a new food-loving generation is reinventing traditional dishes and creating new ones. While you'll still find parrillas (steak restaurants) everywhere, tiny pizza and empanada restaurants are just as common – and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Steak is still king in BA, and there's lots of competition for the title of “best.” One of the favorites of porteños (Buenos Aires residents) is Don Julio, a quintessential Argentinian parrilla. Glistening glasses of Malbec, smartly dressed waiters, walls of old wine bottles signed by past guests, authentic wagon wheel light fixtures, and an open kitchen showcasing sizzling grilled meats, tempt one's appetite upon arrival. Don Julio sources only grass-fed Aberdeen Angus and Hereford cattle, raised in the countryside outside Buenos Aires. Each hand-cut steak is aged in a climate-controlled refrigerator for at least 21 days before being introduced to a traditional “V” iron grill.

Porteños also love their pizza and make it their own way with a thick bread base, lightly sauced and smothered with oozing mozzarella. The ultimate in comfort foods, few BA restaurants do it better than El Cuartito, Recoleta. They've been at it since 1934 and the place is almost always packed. To dine there is like taking a step back in time, with film, music and sports memorabilia from days gone by adorning the walls. Classic menu favorites include fugazzeta – a double crusted version of fugazza, stuffed with cheese and topped with curly onion strips; fainá (a dense chickpea flatbread); and scrumptious homemade fried empanadas.

For some of the finest French cuisine and international fare in all of South America, check out La Bourgogne. This classy, chic restaurant located inside prestigious Alvear Palace Hotel is the only Relais & Chateaux restaurant in BA. Its service is formal and near flawless and the gourmet fare boasts the creative vision of Bourgogne born Chef Jean Paul Bondoux. Specials are revealed each evening and include the likes of grilled veal with thyme flowers, rabbit “crunch” with mustard sauce, and sea bream with butter sauce and caviar.

Arriving on the scene in early 2015, La Mar Cebicheria has quickly become a local favorite and for good reason. This upmarket Peruvian restaurant is a welcome addition to the meat-dominated BA food scene, specializing in ceviche, seafood and tiradito. La Mar's culinary team goes to great lengths to source only the freshest ingredients, including seafood from across Argentina – and the quality of each dish is evident in its eating. The menu's lengthy selection of wonderful Peruvian dishes are designed for sharing, including a signature ceviche sampler.

For a twist on gourmet dining, consider one of Buenos Aires' puertas cerradas – trendy closed-door restaurants that continue to spring up quietly in chef's homes. The concept took hold after Argentina's economic crisis of 2001 and continues to thrive today. Casa Felix is one of its more well-known and the creation of traveling chef Diego Felix who helped pioneer this clandestine industry. Casa Felix specializes in organic, locally grown vegetarian and pescatarian dishes, offering a five-course tasting menu for small groups of a dozen or so patrons. Its address is only provided upon making reservations. With a knock on the front door, guests are led through a candle-lit patio to a tiny back garden where Felix grows many of his herbs and vegetables. After enjoying a cocktail with fellow guests, you'll be shown to your table, giving the proceedings a feel of half-restaurant, half-dinner party. Check it out at colectivofelix.com.

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