Hi peoples! OK, first things first… I am going to add pics, but my computer is a mess right now with my new image sorting method. Once this first paragraph disappears, I have it sorted. If it is still here, I likely forgot so remind me!
Argentina is known for the legendary quality of it’s steaks. So in a country known for it’s great steak, the obvious question would be “where do I get the best steak in a country known for great steaks?”
I have made it a personal mission to figure that out because I have unwittingly become a steak snob. I didn’t realize it until as I was dining with my lovely wife, I started criticizing one of the top 50 restaurants in the world.
We were out to dinner and I was commenting on the food to my wife as each course came out and she was giving me a weird look. A kind of “Who did I go to dinner with?” look and she was responding to me with “uh huhh” and “ok, you think?”… And suddenly I understood why she was being “weird” and burst out laughing! Here I was, criticizing one of the best restaurants in the world, and we had had a really good bottle of wine, two amazing steaks, and several sides, some better than the others, but our total bill was about 120 USD. I was the one being “weird”. In the USA we would have paid more than that just for the bottle of wine, and the steaks would have easily cost 3 times what we had just paid. So I laughed and begged her apologies. Then she had the crepe with dulce de leche dessert (lol, even she didn’t really like that) , and I ate humble pie.
That being said… 120 USD dollars for a great steak dinner in Argentina is freaking ridiculous. You can easily feed two for 30 USD at any more than decent parrilla.
If you do an internet search, three Parrillas will be consistent winners for top results. The first would be Don Julio in Palermo. This steakhouse is consistently on the Top 50 list, and of course, as a result, gets huge press coverage and attention from travelers.
La Brigada usually comes next. The owner is renowned for his curly mullet, flamboyant attitude, and “steaks you can cut with a spoon”. Also huge press coverage as celebrities and international politicians are often seen eating here.
In “third place”… you will likely see La Cabrera also in Palermo. Not “as much” press coverage, but still good, and excellent reviews.
I’ve eaten multiple times at all three and I’d like to add a few more based on experience. The three I’d add to the battle are Gran Parrilla del Plata in San Telmo, Las Cabras in Palermo, and also Desnivel in San Telmo. More on why in just a bit, but I have to say, there are so many more places that deserve mentioning that this post could be a book.
First of all, I’d like to mention that all reviews are subjective and personal, and I find that there are so many good Parrillas in Argentina, it is really hard to say “this one is the best”, because there are at least two dozen I still want to try. For me, it is a mix of service, ambience (which depends on my attitude; sometimes I want fancy, sometimes relaxed), and the quality of the food. And also, consistency. I have had amazing steaks at hole in the wall parrillas in Argentina, and I have had sub par steaks at high priced upscale places. As always, I am all about value for money.
Let’s start with Don Julio. First off, the service is great. I have no complaints at all about that, and every time I have been to Don Julio, the service always shines. The staff is friendly, informative, efficient, and knowledgeable. The wine list is filled with great wines, and the staff know a lot about them. If you are not sure what to order with dinner, just ask. I appreciate the fact that they do not automatically steer you towards the most expensive wines. They will ask what you are having for starters, mains, and sides, and then make a recommendation or even a few to go with each course if you are multiple people.
The steaks at Don Julio really are outstanding. Always tender, always flavorful, but for me the sides could do with some work. The grilled provoleta tastes amazing, and I think it is made of goat’s cheese, but am not certain, and both times I ordered it, it came out slightly cold and not melted in the center. I am starting think that is on purpose, but I prefer melty goodness all the way thru. The grilled artichokes are well cooked, but not much more than grilled artichokes. Serve these with a nice dipping sauce and they could reach another level… But they are served plain. Not even butter, and I really couldn’t taste any smoky goodness from the grill, so I suspect they were steamed or boiled and then thrown on the grill to mark them, though I could be wrong. I love artichokes though, so, even if this sounds harsh, it is not. I still love the artichokes just grilled and they serve you 6 halves, so yeah, still good! The mashed potatoes were creamy and smooth, with a touch of thyme, but lacked depth of flavor and seasoning. Note on seasoning: Argentina has mandated that restaurants don’t salt foods. So, Don Julio is probably just following the rules. Prices are high at Don Julio, and although I have some reservations about the side dishes vs price, all in all, this is a very high quality restaurant. The question is… is it worth the extra cost? For a “I ate at a top fifty restaurant” moment, sure it is worth it. And the cost doesn’t even come close to a top steakhouse in the USA or Europe, which Don Julio definitely compares to (and in many cases exceeds). But if I am paying really high prices for quality… keep the quality really high in the sides as well.
Let’s move to number 2: La Brigada. Awesome atmosphere! It is fun and raucous. It is loud, crowded, and again fun. You are surrounded by Argentine Futbol paraphernalia and memories. And Argentines arguing about politics or the economy. So many players and celebrities have dined here, and there are photos to prove it; it has a well deserved reputation. I can’t really think of something bad to say about it, except again, the prices are pretty high. But they are pretty high because they can be. This guy has put years of work and love into his place, and it shows. With a full room every night at those prices, if I were him, I might even raise them a little. It’s been a while since I visited this place, so I don’t really remember the quality of the sides except the Chorizo which was excellent. I do remember the prices were 30-50% higher than my favorite place in San Telmo and the steaks weren’t quite as flavorful, or maybe I just expected more because of the price difference. IDK. I would still take visitors here for the fun/unique factor, but better price to value can be found within a few blocks. However, La Brigada is worth a visit any time.
La Cabrera is number three on most lists. Once again, really good steaks, but still kind of expensive compared to quality. Not to say the quality is sub par, because it is far from it. Solid sides, delicious steaks, really good wine list, and good service. Plus, as a bonus, they have a “happy hour” where everything is 50% off. At the 50% off price, I might move this to the top of my list. Happy hour happens from 4-7 PM, so maybe give that time slot a chance if you want to give them a chance at an incredible price, but fair warning, make it a late lunch, because if you are not there at 4, you probably won’t be seated before happy hour ends. I really liked their creamed spinach (but so far for me, the king of that dish is Las Cabras).
Desnivel in San Telmo is a quirky place. They are located on Defensa in San Telmo, and were my go-to place for a quick Choripan (chorizo on french roll) any lunch or snack time I was out and about. The restaurant is not fancy by any means, but the waiters are professionals, the meat is good (and so is most of the pasta), but maybe not quite the quality of the previous three. However, the price is better than the previously listed.
That leads me to the next two on my personal list…
Gran Parrilla del Plata, also in San Telmo. This place was very close to my previous apartment, but quickly became my favorite because the staff is excellent (shout out to Jorge who became not just our favorite waiter, but a friend), the quality is excellent, and everything is so good. I love their salads, steaks, fresh bread, no rush friendly attitude, and excellent prices. Of all those Mondays when our own restaurant was closed, we went here maybe 50% of the time because we knew it would be excellent, relaxing, and at a good price. I have eaten here more than any other restaurant on the list, because I have never had a mediocre meal here. It has always been top notch. Perhaps my favorite steak restaurant in Buenos Aires. Take that back… definitely my favorite.
Last but not least is Las Cabras in Palermo. Like Gran Parilla del Plata, We have NEVER had a steak cooked incorrectly here, and now that we are in Palermo, and these guys are only four blocks away, they have become our go to place. With the steaks they serve a Ceasar salad that is frankly kind of weak, but their creamed spinach is out of this world. Definitely order that! Also some nice fresh baked bread, that could use a touch more salt, but still delicious. Great value as well! This place is casual and fills up quickly on the weekends fro lunch and dinner. Service can be hit and miss sometimes, but the food… yum!
With all that said, I want to reiterate that I was comparing some of the top spots listed on search engines and review sites, and my personal favorites. There are soooo many great steakhouses in Argentina it’d take a long time to compare them all.
If you are exploring on your own, you might have a hit and a miss, but overall, you are going to be very happy with the quality of even hole in the wall steakhouses in Argentina.