NOTE: By “underdogs” I mean these items may be underappreciated when planning your culinary adventure in Argentina, maybe due to their lack of popularity. I recommend picking a few of them and give them a try when you’re bored by all the steak and empanadas.
I’m not going to hide my favoritism here: Fainá is my favorite Argentinian treat. It’s delicious, it’s simple, it’s humble, it makes me feel so good.
You might know fainás by their Italian original name: Farinata, a thick tortilla made of chickpea flour. The thing is, somehow Argentinians decided they would put a chickpea tortilla ON TOP of a pizza slice. Yes, I was very confused too. And I promise I’ll do some research in the future about the origin of this weird idea. (Read more about Argentinian pizza culture here).
Anyway, I don’t really do this pizza thing. I like Fainás as an item on their own, and I see great potential in them. They’re great with toppings like cheese, pesto, vegetables, etc.
Where to eat
Traditional: El Mazacote (Chile 1400)
My hint (and modern twist also): Donnet
There are two kinds of people: Well you can guess how that goes. Achuras are non-conventional edible organs that Argentinians cook in Asados. The word comes from the Mapuche term “achuraj” which means “what is left” or “what is thrown away”. The sole image might be unpleasant for some, and a delight for others.
Where to eat:
Most parrillas will serve chinchulines (cow chitlins) and mollejas (sweetbreads).
Modern twist: La Carnicería serves chinchulines and mollejas in a way that they’re almost haute cuisine.
Blood sausages a.k.a. morcillas generate the same controversy as achuras. You either love them or they make you sick. Don’t worry, I won’t get mad if you skip this paragraph and jump to next point.
Where to eat:
For those of you who stayed: The morcilla mecca is in Vicente López (outside the city, but not so far that it’s not worth the trip). AMBIORIX serves all the traditional varieties (criolla or vasca for example) along with a few twists. I tried Ambiorix’ chocolate morcilla and the orange morcilla, GOD they’re heaven. A nasty heaven. Some of us like it like that.
Local sauces: Chimichurri and Salsa Criolla
“Chimichurri” and “Salsa Criolla” are 2 really tasty Argentinian sauces that you will find in every parrilla. Originally meant to compliment the taste of meat, you will find yourself adding them to everything from bread to potatos. Chimichurri is very oily with parsley, oregano, garlic, vinegar and oil – while Salsa Criolla has more texture with onion, tomato and bell pepper.
French fries with scrambled eggs and ham. What could go wrong, right? If you ask me, this is the ultimate national comfort food: It’s cheap, it’s nutritious, it’s easy to make, it’s tasty, it’s wonderfully not- glamorous.
The famous one: Club del Progreso
A good version: Los Galgos
My hint: Try cooking it at home. For breakfast. On a Sunday. Trust me.
Not exactly an Argentinian invention, but still, if you want to eat lunch like a local in Buenos Aires, and not like a tourist in Buenos Aires, you should have “Milanesa con puré” at least once. This is what’s served at family tables, when there’s no one around to impress. This is the default-dinner when everyone’s too tired for ideas. In my opinion, Milanesas represent the Argentinian home.
A milanesa is nothing more than a piece of meat (beef, chicken, fish or sometimes soy), coated in bread crumbs and fried. You can have it plain or with different toppings. Most popular ones include “Milanesa Napolitana” (tomato sauce and cheese), “Milanesa a caballo” (fried egg on top) or “Milanesa a la Suiza” (bechamel and grated cheese).
Where to eat
The famous one: (but not recommended) You will probably stumble upon El Club de la Milanesa in one of their multiple locations. Their menu offers every kind of milanesa in the world but I don’t recommend this as your first milanesa-experience.
Note: El Antojo recently won a contest as the best milanesa in town. I haven’t tried it.
THE NATIONAL PASTA. That’s right, Argentines claim they invented their very own kind of pasta. Sorrentinos are similar to Ravioli, but round and bigger. They’re usually stuffed with ham and cheese, although there are several variations. Their origin is controversial, some say they were created by an Italian descendant in Mar del Plata (there is a city called Sorrento in Italy, but they’ve never heard of “Sorrentinos”).
Where to eat
After reading an overwhelming amount of flattering reviews of Trattoria Napolitana Vespoli in Mar del Plata, I did some research. Turns out the Vespoli family arrived in Argentina in 1890 and opened this place in 1910. They claim they have invented Sorrentinos and they are the ONLY “sorrentinería” in the country (and thus THE WORLD!)
Look, I can’t tell you if they’re the first. But I already know they’re the best without trying all of the others. Look at some pictures of my experience here. Order the Ham&Cheese stuffed Sorrentinos with the house sauce “Vespoli” (some sort of creamy pesto).
If you’re in Buenos Aires, you can get sorrentinos in most bodegones and argento-italian restaurants (La Parolaccia is a safe choice). It’s also common to buy them from a pasta factory (there’s always one around the corner) and cook them at home.
THE NATIONAL STEW. In some regions of Argentina, Locro is consumed regularly; however, in Buenos Aires, Locro is more of a winter treat and is almost exclusively relevant on 2 national holidays: May 25th and July 9th. If you’re here on those dates you’ll be lucky to find locro served everywhere in Buenos Aires, so be a patriot and go get some!
Traditional Locro will have several cuts of meat, potatoes, beans, corn and a few veggies.
Where to eat
The famous one: Ña Serapia
My hint: Pulpería Quilapán will serve Locro with the plus of a truly unique place in Buenos Aires, almost like dining inside a kitsch history museum.
Even though it’s an Italian dish, if it’s a matter of understanding what Argentinians eat, then we have to mention polenta, a sort of porridge made with cornmeal. Historically considered a low-class dish (on the account of being highly nutritious and significantly cheap), polenta is resurging in modern Argentinian cuisine, especially for gluten-free diets. It’s very versatile, you can even get a foolproof instant version at the supermarket; and is often served a la bolognesa or with grated cheese.
Where to eat
Because of its indisputable Italian origin, best polenta in town is served in Italian restaurants (La Pecora Nera, for example).
Pastel de papas y carne
I’m loving how, as I dig deeper into the day-to-day Argentinian cuisine, the dishes I’m exploring are more of a family thing. And not just any family, the Argentinian family – with their countless childhood anecdotes and Sunday gatherings around the table. Pastel de Papas is one of those family things. It is said to be a direct descendant of the English Cottage Pie, but Argentinian grandmothers have adopted it as their own. As the name suggests: It’s a baked pie that’s half minced meat and half mashed potatoes.
Where to eat:
Traditional: Cumaná (Rodríguez Peña 1149)
Gourmet: Santa Evita
THE NATIONAL VEGETABLE. I wasn’t aware that zapallito was an Argentinian thing (Uruguayan/Argentinian to be fair), until this cool guy on Reddit pointed that out to me. Let’s face it, the Argentine diet is not exactly based on vegetables. Actually, I suspect Argentinians could do without them if it wasn’t for their colorful role in asados. However, I have to mention zapallito: a local variation of squash – small, round and green. I found a similar thing I on English Wikipedia as gem squash.
Zapallito is eaten in a variety of ways, just like zuchinnis would. I personally like zapallitos rellenos (baked and stuffed with mince meat) and tarta de zapallito (savoury tart).
“Un cortado y dos medialunas”
THE NATIONAL BREAKFAST. The classic breakfast or afternoon merienda in Buenos Aires is clear and simple: a cortado (espresso with a splash of milk) and medialunas (distant relative of croissants). The standard order per person is 2 medialunas. You can get the sweet, buttery version (medialuna de manteca) or a less sweet, thinner version (medialuna de grasa). Sitting at a real café porteño and order a cortado and 2 medialunas is part of the experience of visiting Buenos Aires, without a doubt.
Where to eat:
You can order this cute little breakfast formula in any bodegón or café notable (“cafés notables” are a total of 92 representative coffee shops in Buenos Aires). However, I asked Meli from Entre Tostadas which were her favorite medialunas. For me she is the ultimate local authority when it comes to breakfast and brunch. Her recommendations: Gula Café (on the picture above) and Pertutti.
I discovered chocotorta a little late. Its name is deceiving: “choco” as in chocolate and “torta” as in cake; making you believe it’s a regular chocolate cake, when in reality chocolate is not important in the mix.
I confess Chocotorta is one of my favorite desserts of all times. It consists of several layers of chocolinas (cookies) intertwined with layers of one of my favorite mixes on Earth: cream cheese and dulce de leche. It’s extremely easy to prepare, it doesn’t need baking, and there’s a 99.9% chance it’s absolutely delicious.
Chocotorta is the huge unexpected success of an Argentinian advertising spot in the 80s, looking to promote the cookie brand “chocolinas” and the cream cheese brand “Mendicrim”. They literally invented this cake for the ad.
Where to eat
Queso y dulce
It’s not glamorous, I’ll give you that. But does it have to be? I mean, we all flirt with the mix of cheese and sweet every now and then. As usual, Argentinians will skip the flirting and get to it: Queso y dulce, also called vigilante, is simply a piece of cheese served with a piece of dulce de membrillo (thick quince jelly) or dulce de batata (sweet potato jelly). The nation is divided in those 2 teams: team batata or team membrillo. So make sure you try both and chose a side in case you get asked.
Where to eat:
Traditional: Pulpería Quilapán
Modern Twist: Happening Parrilla
Bondiola: I believe it’s translated as pork shoulder. Bondiola is probably the most popular non-beef meat served in asados. Don’t hesitate to try the street bondiola sandwich in La Costanera (Riverside promenade).
Humita: Another traditional northern food which I find hard to describe; if you ever had tamales then you’ll know what I’m talking about, if not: it’s a sort of corn cake wrapped in a corn husk. It’s really delicious, and the only reason I’m not elaborating on this is because I want to do a northern food especial later.
Pionono: Argentine pionono is a rolled cake filled with stuff (can you guess what’s the favorite filling? That’s right: Dulce de leche).
Arrollado primavera: A common variant of pionono filled with ham, cheese, tomato, and mayonnaise.
Matambre arrollado: Stuffed flank steak rolled with vegetables and eggs.
Matambre a la pizza: “We love steak. We love pizza. OH MY GOD ARE YOU THINKING WHAT I’M THINKING?” I’m guessing something like that went through the Argentine’s mind when coming up with matambre a la pizza – Pizza-style flank steak (meat instead of pizza dough).
Buñuelos de acelga: Another grandma’s classic: chard fritters.
Tarta Pascualina: Another gift from Italy, the Pascualina is a savoury tart filled with spinach or chard, egg and cheese (sometimes several kinds of cheese). To be found in all rotiserías or places serving traditional lunch formulas.
Flan: Flan is universal, yes, but when you top it with dulce de leche it becomes a national treasure.
Churros: Most famous churros are from Spain – but they’re also quite popular in Argentina. You can get really fat fried churros filled with dulce de leche.
Sanguchitos de miga: A bakery classic. Sandwiches de Miga are very thin sandwiches made with soft white bread without crust. Kids love them. Adults too. They can be filled with ham and cheese or sometimes tuna. Other fillings exist but are less common.
FraNui: Raspberries from Patagonia covered in white and dark chocolate. People go insane for them! There is even an app to easily locate the nearest point where you can buy them.
Don’t forget to read this small guide to essential Argentinian Food in Buenos Aires
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