September 28, 2022

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Cooking is a hobby

This Emerging Food District Is Home to Buenos Aires’s Most Exciting New Restaurants

For two decades, destination dining in Buenos Aires usually meant going traditional in Recoleta or visiting the latest sensation in always-trendy Palermo. In fact, as sprawling Palermo spawned ever more restaurants, its enclaves all got modish nicknames: Palermo Soho, Palermo Hollywood, Palermo Pacífico. So when in recent years ambitious chefs began opening kitchens in Chacarita, a leafy Palermo-adjacent residential neighborhood that’s home to Argentina’s largest cemetery, locals jokingly dubbed the area Palermo Dead.

Today, Chacarita has surpassed Palermo as the best dining neighborhood. Restaurants here tend to be low-key but serious in their culinary goals, offering eclectic combinations that often center on fresh vegetables, but not to the exclusion of meat.

Outdoors at La Fuerza, a new-wave vermouth bar

Laura Macias

Discussing recipes at the Mexican spot Ulúa

Laura Macias

At the area’s most internationally acclaimed spot, the wine-centric Naranjo Bar, a recent chef-recommended three-course meal started with smoked eggplant with peanuts, followed by broccoli in citrus oil with crispy kale and a vegan banana-chocolate-cream dessert. But worry not: Naranjo also serves a steak on par with the finest in the city—a hunk of grass-fed Argentine beef, served alone, à la carte. “The idea is that everyone should be comfortable: vegetarians, vegans, carnivores, those with celiac,” says Naranjo co-owner Nahuel Carbajo of his rotating seasonal menu. At Ulúa, home to perhaps Buenos Aires’s best Mexican food, the idea is cultural authenticity. Good Mexican used to be scarce in Buenos Aires; locals have historically had so little taste for spice that waiters asked for “hot sauce” might return with black pepper. But Ulúa’s three Veracruz-born owners have found more than enough curious eaters who will take a chance on Mexican specialties like tetelas—Oaxacan corn-dough triangles stuffed with beans and meat and served with real, honest-to-God salsa picante. At the Asian tapas joint Apu Nena, chef Christina Sunae brings a 21st-century touch to her Filipina grandmother’s cooking with mash-ups like the hipon taure langoustines with tofu cream, lemongrass, and hot chile. “The neighborhood is like a cult of good eating and drinking,” says Florencia Ravioli, the restaurant’s co-owner.

A selection of the wines at Naranjo Bar

Juli Mer/Cardumen