Here in Buenos Aires, grilled meat is a Big Deal; it shares the spotlight with national treasures like Messi, fútbol, and the pope. To put it simply, steak is life, and the parrilla, a holy temple of worship.
Argentina, a country of carnivores, has the second-largest per-capita beef consumption in the world (behind Uruguay), with the average person eating about 57 kilos of beef per year. But just because this is the land of carne doesn’t mean hungry diners can find the perfect steak at any old grill. From vocabulary and etiquette to where to eat, here's everything you need to know about the parrillas of Buenos Aires.
What is a parrilla?
“Parrilla” means grill, and refers to the actual open-fire hearth and grates where meat is cooked. It also translates to “steakhouse,” or more fittingly, any establishment — from fine dining to street cart — that specializes in grilled meats. (The double l makes a “sh” or “j” sounds, so “parrilla” is pronounced “pa-ree-sha” or “pa-ree-ja.")
How to order
What do BA’s elite, wearing designer clothes at an elegant waterfront steakhouse, have in common with an old man in a stained muscle tank and pajama pants at a barrio hole in the wall? They all eat the same grilled meats for dinner. Parrillas exist for all walks of life, and no matter the socioeconomic background, most Argentines follow similar meat rituals.
Achuras, or offal, tend to open the meal: sweetbreads, kidneys, liver, and chitterlings. Blood sausage, chorizo sausage, and provoleta, a thick slab of semihard grilled cheese, join the first course appetizers of grilled entrails. Next comes the main event: big hunks of grilled meat, never marinated, and heavily seasoned with parrillero salt, served on a plate. Chimichurri and salsa criolla sauces, the only acceptable condiments besides salt, will likely be on the table too. Steaks don’t typically come with any side dishes; simple salads or fried potatoes guarniciones are ordered separately.
Properly cooked vegetables aren’t exactly a parrilla’s forte, so stick with a lettuce, tomato, and onion ensalada mixta and papas a la provenzal, french fries sprinkled with chopped parsley and garlic. Ask for the fries a caballo and you’ll get a fried egg on top. Unlike U.S. steakhouses, where each person orders individual dishes, in Argentina an assortment of offals, various meat cuts, and side dishes are brought for the entire table and meant to be shared communally. General wisdom suggests ordering one pound of meat per person.
You might want to ignore your Spanish dictionary when figuring out meat temperatures because the translations won’t help you in Argentina. Surprisingly, the majority of local palates prefer well-done meat, so if you like your steak rare, ask for it bien jugoso, or vuelta y vuelta for blue. If you tend to order steak medium or medium-rare, request it jugoso. Apunto steaks are usually medium-well, while saying “cocido” will get you a dry, burnt piece of sadness.
Can refer to a barbecue (the event), or beef ribs. An asador or asadora is the grill master.
A mixed grill plate generally consisting of organ meats and affordable cuts. A parrillero or parrillera is the grill master.
Al asador/asador criollo
A technique for barbecuing meat (beef, goat, lamb, or pork) vertically on an iron cross over an open flame. Popular in the countryside.
Bife de chorizo
Sirloin (not to be confused with chorizo, which is sausage). When in doubt, always order bife de chorizo, as it’s the best litmus test to identify a great parrilla.
There are many variations of chimichurri, but most often the sauce is made with chopped parsley, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes, olive oil, and vinegar.
Thick disc of semifirm cheese, grilled on the parrilla. Sometimes the only vegetarian-friendly dish at the parrilla.
Grilled sausage, usually longer and thinner than a standard chorizo, and grilled in a spiral formation.
A vinegar-based salsa made with chopped fresh tomatoes, onions, and peppers.
A few more terms to master:
Bondiola de cerdo: pork shoulder
Chinchulín: chitterlings, small intestine
Entraña: skirt steak
Lomo: tenderloin, filet mignon
Matambre de cerdo: pork flank
Morcilla: blood Sausage
Ojo de bife/bife ancho: ribeye
Papas a la provenzal: french fries with garlic and parsley
Parrilla: translates to both steakhouse and grill
Porteños: the people of Buenos Aires
Tira de asado: short ribs
Vacío: slank or flap steak
The 12 Essential Buenos Aires Parrillas: Where and What to Eat
Address: Guatemala 4699, Palermo Soho
What to order: Chorizo, morcilla, mollejas (sweetbreads), bife ancho (ribeye)
Who’s dining: Gourmands, tourists, culinary community, wine lovers
Vital intel: Avoid the wait for a table at dinnertime and go for a leisurely lunch.
It only takes one meal at Don Julio to understand why meat and malbec hold a special place in so many Argentine hearts. For 18 years, master asador Pepe Sotelo’s grill skills helped make this wine-centric spot a major destination on the BA restaurant circuit. But over the last 12 months, renowned chef Guido Tassi has overseen a total menu revamp, informed by his travels across the country, sourcing top-quality ingredients to stand beside the prime grass-fed Aberdeen Angus and Hereford beef. In 2016, Don Julio was one of two parrillas ranked on Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurant list (the other one is La Cabrera, also in Buenos Aires — more below). | Website
Los Talas del Entrerriano
Address: Av. Brig. Gral. Juan Manuel de Rosas 1391, José León Suárez (Buenos Aires province)
What to order: Matambre de cerdo (pork flank), chorizo, papas a la provenzal
Who’s dining: Local families
Vital intel: Portions are large, so go with a group for a true meat fest. Solo diners and two-tops can pop up to the achuras bar for dinner and a show.
On any given Sunday, Los Talas del Entrerriano will grill (and sell out of) over 70 racks of beef ribs; that’s in addition to hundreds of chorizos, blood sausages, and 10 other items on the grill. The infamous meat tent in the suburbs might not serve the best steak of your life, but it certainly epitomizes the Argentine parrilla experience. Diners can choose to sit at the long picnic tables that fill the warehouse, which can fit more than 450 people, or at the U-shaped achuras bar overlooking a grill dedicated to organ meats. Outside is where the real meat spectacle happens: In one section, beef, goat, and pork are splayed on an iron cross and cooked over an open-flame pit, while smaller cuts, and chicken, are cooked on an olympic-size grill. | Website
Address: Thames 2317, Palermo Soho
What to order: All of the entradas (appetizers): chorizo, provoleta, mollejas, lengua (pickled tongue), tiradito de nalga (rump tiradito), repollo (pickled grilled cabbage), and yerba mate gin and tonic.
Who’s dining: Hipsters, local chefs, adventurous travelers, open-minded parrilla enthusiasts
Vital intel: On a recent trip to Buenos Aires, Danny Meyer said these sweetbreads were “the most delicious he’s ever eaten.”
La Carnicería chef-owners Pedro Peña and Germán Sitz turn conventional steakhouse fare on its head. Instead of a lone sausage, La Carnicería prepares homemade smoked chorizo with sunny-side-up eggs, fingerling potatoes, and fresh peas. Sweetbreads are usually seasoned with just lemon and salt, but Peña and Sitz fry the mollejas and caramelize them in whole cane sugar, serving them on top of a corn cake with black garlic. While I generally wouldn’t recommend ordering a salad at a steakhouse, the pickled and grilled cabbage here could compete against any big meat hitters on the menu. The restaurant takes dinner reservations for two seatings; the earlier one sees more tourists, while locals trickle in for the late shift. Bonus: Check out nearby Chori, La Carnicería’s fast-food baby brother, for a taste of Argentina’s favorite sandwich and essential cheap eat, the choripán: homemade smoked chorizo on a fresh roll topped with condiments. | Website
El Pobre Luis
Address: Arribeños 2393, Belgrano
What to order: Pamplona, mollejas, salchicha parrillera (parrilla sausage), bife de chorizo
Who’s dining: Locals, families, chefs, fútbol fans and players
Vital intel:: Head to the bar for the best seat in the house, which overlooks head parrillero Beto Niz on the grill.
Before El Pobre Luis owner and local grill legend Luis Acuña passed away in 2013, he said the secret to asado was simple: good meat and good wood. Today, his legacy lives at this bustling Chinatown parrilla that is always full of devoted meat lovers. Fútbol jerseys line the walls and locals pack the house ordering salchicha parrilleras and Uruguayan pamplonas, a dish of either beef, chicken, or pork stuffed with cheese, ham, roasted red peppers, rolled up, and cooked on the parrilla. Don’t miss out on ordering the crispy sweetbreads, aka the caviar of grilling. | Website
Lo de Freddy/Nuestra Parrilla
Address: Bolívar 950, San Telmo
What to order: Choripán
Who’s dining: Barrio regulars, San Telmo antique-market-goers
Vital intel: Freddy’s usually closes at around 4:30 p.m., and reopens 8:30 p.m. for dinner.
Some say that Freddy’s parrillita lost its charm when it was forced to move from one nook in the San Telmo market to another last April, but luckily sausage lovers can still pay homage to one of the city’s most beloved fast-food grills in the wall. The choripán, so named for its two basic components, chorizo and bread, is the most popular dish on the six-item menu — and a must-try cheap eat here in Buenos Aires. In under 15 seconds, the grill crew chars a butterflied sausage and serves it up on a crusty roll for $2 USD. Diners can season their sandwiches at will using the jars of red and green chimichurri sauces sitting on the bar. If you’re heading to the mercado, a choripán from Lo de Freddy should be an obligatory stop. | Website
Address: Av. Reservistas Argentinos 219, Liniers
What to order: Chorizo, morcilla, provoleta, chinchulines, asado, lechón (suckling pig)
Who’s dining: Locals, families, fans of Vélez Sarsfield soccer club
Vital intel: Reservations are a must, especially on the weekends.
Whole slabs of beef sizzle on the grills at El Ferroviario, a giant meat palace on the outskirts of Buenos Aires located behind a parking garage in an abandoned railway station. With over 400 seats, this place is always a scene, and boasts all the qualities that many look for in a go-to parrilla: portions are large, prices are cheap, and the restaurant caters to groups. Waiters swarm from the outdoor grill to the tables balancing plates overflowing with every part of the cow imaginable. | Website
Address: Estados Unidos 465, San Telmo
What to order: Lamb and goat chinchulines, goat mollejas (sweetbread), bife de chorizo (sirloin), Hugo’s special cut
Who’s dining: Gourmands, tourists, local celebrities, business diners
Vital intel: Celebrities like Steven Tyler, Bono, Rod Stewart, and tennis star Rafael Nadal have all dined at La Brigada.
It takes a special restaurant to survive multiple economic crashes in Argentina. San Telmo’s landmark parrilla, La Brigada, has served some of the best beef in BA for over 25 years. Here, waiters famously slice each steak with a spoon to show the extreme level of tenderness. Besides the classics, owner Hugo Echevarrieta makes sure to offer cuts unique to the porteño dining world. Think wild boar chorizo, goat sweetbreads, lamb chitterlings, and beef testicles. | Website
Cabaña Las Lilas
Address: Av. Alicia Moreau de Justo 516, Puerto Madero
What to order: Ojo de bife, soufflé potatoes, dessert tasting
Who’s dining: Tourists, businessmen
Vital intel: Don’t forget your credit card; this is one of the more pricey restaurants in the city.
For over 20 years this iconic riverfront steakhouse has pumped out hundreds of quality cuts on a daily basis. It is a safe choice for out-of-towners: Tourists flock to Cabaña Las Lilas for its top-notch service, award-winning wine list, and premium beef and pork, which come from the restaurant's very own farms in the countryside. If you’re dining on a budget or looking for something off the beaten path, Las Lilas is definitely not for you. | Website
Address: Rodríguez Peña 682, Recoleta
What to order: Provoleta, chorizo, bife de lomo, french fries, flan mixto (with dulce de leche and whipped cream)
Who’s dining: Locals, neighborhood regulars, tourists
Vital intel: Like many barrio joints, Parrilla Peña accepts cash only.
Bodegones are nostalgic neighborhood taverns serving Porteño comfort foods like grilled meats, pastas, and milanesas. Not many authentic bodegones remain in BA, but Parrilla Peña blasts diners to the past with an unpretentious rendition of what casual dining means in this city: a great piece of meat, a potato side, flan with dulce de leche, and table wine lightened with ice and a splash of soda water. | Website
Address: Av. Dorrego 2720, Palermo
What to order: Provoleta, chorizo, entraña, 800-gram bife de chorizo
Who’s dining: Neighborhood regulars, savvy travelers
Vital intel: The Secret Parrilla has changed its name over one dozen times in the past decade, and is also known as Don Hugo’s, Secret Tito’s Parrilla, Tito’s, and SecreTito.
If you don’t know it’s there, you won’t find this unmarked parrilla on the Palermo-Las Cañitas border. There’s no name out front, no parrilla sign, just a mirrored door that says “cerrado” (closed) and an exhaust vent pumping out grill smoke. Once you open the unlocked closed door, and enter into the no-frills barrio joint, head upstairs to the enclosed rooftop dining room for a taste of true local fare featuring simple and straightforward parrilla dishes. Vegetarians don’t have to go home entirely defeated: Provoleta is the thing to order, a thick disc of cheese that when thrown on the grill, forms crispy caramelized shell and warm gooey queso insides. Bonus: This parrilla is open for lunch and dinner every day except Monday. | Website
Address: Cabrera 5099, Palermo Soho
What to order: Chorizo, empanadas, bife de chorizo
Who’s dining: Tourists, locals trying to impress tourists
Vital intel: La Cabrera offers 40 percent happy hour every night from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., which is considered early for a BA dinner. The only catch? Diners must order, eat, and pay during that time frame.
Most guide books recommend La Cabrera, the much-hyped Palermo meat den famous for its comically large steaks accompanied by 10 mini side dishes. While the parrilla may look like an amusement-park caricature of a true Argentine grill, high-quality meat, attentive service, and two-pound sirloins keep the crowds coming back. | Website
Gran Parrilla del Plata
Address: Chile 594, San Telmo
What to order: Achuras platter, asado, ojo de bife, entraña, waffle fries
Who’s dining: San Telmo locals, tourists
Vital intel: This neighborhood parrilla rose to international acclaim after a visit from Michelle Obama in 2016.
A butcher shop in early 20th century, in 2007 Gran Parrilla del Plata transformed into one of San Telmo’s most esteemed grill houses. Don’t let the white tablecloths and professional waiters in button down shirts fool you: This old-timey spot focuses on casual Porteño eating. The achuras appetizer platter entices adventurous diners with chitterlings, blood sausage, and chorizo. Vegetarians don’t have to feel left out either: They can order from the pasta menu. | Website