Vicky Baker, The Guardian, January 30, 2014
A fresh breed of chef is taking Argentina's national cuisine to new heights, as seen when the country scooped 15 entries on the Latin America 50 Best restaurant list. But at the other end of the culinary scale, travellers should not miss the classic parrillas (steakhouses) that have served the same menu for generations – huge slabs of steak, thick-cut chips, and cheap red wine topped up with soda water. If you love big slabs of meat La Cabrera, La Lechuza, La Brigada and Lo de Jesus should be on your list.
But for a mix of experiences, read on. This list brings together not just the best steak and fine-dining establishments, but also some of the best experiential choices, from supper clubs to pizza joints, offering an alternative slice of the city's increasingly diverse food scene. And be sure to let us know your own favourites, in the comments section below. Note that all prices are in pesos, but at the official conversion rate. Travellers working to the parallel "blue rate" (see our explanatory piece) get much more food for their money.
Don Julio, Palermo
There's a hell of a lot of competition for the title of best parrilla in town, and this one consistently makes a very strong case for itself. How? By striking a great balance between traditional and indulgent. Expect sparking glasses filled with velvety malbec, smartly dressed waiters who know the menu inside out, walls lined with old wine bottles signed by past guests, and light fittings made from wagon wheels. The dining room looks into an open kitchen, so ask your waiter to explain the various cuts of meat and they'll be happy to give you a crash course, based on samples sizzling away on the grill. From the bife de chorizo (sirloin) and lomo (tenderloin) to mollejas (sweetbreads) and chinchulins (chitterlings), you'll soon understand the old adage: the only part of a cow an Argentinian doesn't eat is the moo.
• Guatemala 4699, +54 11 4832 6058. For a main, drink and dessert expect to pay around 220 pesos per person (£16)
El Cuartito, Recoleta
As well as the steakhouse, there is another quintessential BA experience – the no-frills pizza restaurant. Dating back to 1934, this classic haunt is dressed up like an Argentinian-themed diner (white-and-celeste flags, football memorabilia, photos of old tango crooners). Argentina may be founded on Italian immigration, but it does pizza its own way: thick bready base, easy on the tomato, oozing with mozzarella. It's the ultimate comfort food and that's why this place is always packed. Buy a slice to eat at the counter and watch all walks of life drift in, from business people to elderly ladies who lunch. Other Argentinian staples to try here include fugazzeta (pizza base topped with curly onion strips) and fainá (a dense chickpea flatbread).
• Talcahuano 937, +54 11 4816-1758, galeriaelcuartito.com.ar. Pizza slice, 12 pesos (90p)
The Michelin-star system doesn't stretch to Argentina, but what you do find is chefs who have perfected their skills alongside some of the world's greatest, and then come back to put a spin on their national cuisine. Dante Liporace is one such shining light, having completed stint under Ferran Adrià at el Bulli. Liporace now heads this relatively new restaurant, in a converted colonial mansion at luxury hotel Hub Porteño. You enter through an opulent hallway, with walls of white marble, before coming to a contrasting galpón (outhouse), with a fig tree growing through its middle. Dishes found on the playful, seven-course tasting menu could include deconstructed pizza or a molecular take on Argentina's beloved flan. See also: Paraje Arevalo, El Baqueano and Aramburu .
• Rodríguez Peña 1967, tarquinorestaurante.com.ar, tasting menu including wine pairing 1,000 pesos (£75) or 200 pesos (£15) for a main
Don Carlos, La Boca
Situated right next to the blue-and-yellow Boca Juniors stadium, this is one of the city's more old-school parrillas. You can practically smell the testosterone alongside the grilling steak. It's a simple set-up, with some big-name fans: Francis Ford Coppola and Argentinian celebrity chef Francis Mallmann often cite it as their favourite spot. It was long renowned for having no menu: instead Don Carlos would weigh customers up on arrival and present a stream of dishes he thought they'd like. Foreigners are less of a novelty these days and you are likely to presented with a menu, but get chatting with the man himself and he'll soon take over the proceedings. Don't stop him.
• Brandsen 699, +54 11 4362 2433. Get a taxi there and back at night. For a starter, main and dessert without drinks, expect to pay around 180 pesos (£14)
Casa Felix, Chacarita
Buenos Aires' puertas cerradas (closed-door restaurants) took root after the 2001 economic crisis, when entrepreneurial cooks looked to harness the tourism boom. Diego Felix was one of the pioneers and, unusually in these parts, he specialises in veggie and pescatarian food. He offers a five-course tasting menu in his own home, with the address provided only to those with a reservation. Knock, and you're 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. Felix marries recipes and techniques from across the country and the continent at large, so you could find yourself digging into Patagonian sandperch served with a Mexican mole. Felix speaks good English so there's no need to worry if your Spanish isn't up to scratch. (For more top-notch veggie food, try laid-back Buenos Aires Verde in Palermo.)
• Address provided on booking, colectivofelix.com, five-course tasting menu $280 pesos (£21). Note it is not strictly veggie or vegan, unless you ask
HG Restaurant, Palermo
The initials stand for the star chef: Hernán Gipponi, who came highly recommended in last year's 50 Best hotlist. You'll find his premises inside the Fierro Hotel, on one of the quieter, cobbled streets in Palermo Hollywood. Dishes on the popular tasting menu might include tender calamari as soft as noodles or, for brunch, a slow-poached egg, cooked at 63C. Hotel restaurants can be stuffy and impersonal, but Fierro works hard to create a social atmosphere. The latest move is One Table nights, which bring guests together to enjoy a one-off menu in a communal setting (£40 a head, including wine). The wine list deserves exploration too, as it was created by the owner's brother, Andrés Rosberg, president of the Argentine Sommelier Association. Tip: don't make too many sightseeing plans after the Sunday brunch, because you'll be struggling to move.
• Soler 5862, + 54 11 3220 6820, fierrohotel.com, seven-course tasting menu, without wine, 390 pesos (£30)
Chan Chan, Congreso
As Peruvian food becomes a worldwide trend, this colourful cantina takes it back to basics, with its massive plates of ceviche, big enough to share. Little beats its zingy fish, "cooked" in lemon juice and swimming in "tigers' milk", as the chilli-infused citrus sauce is known. Don't skimp on the sides either: including huge plates of papas a la huancaina (sliced potatoes in a thick cheese sauce) or fried yuca (cassava). If your trip has already included too much heavy food or too many late nights, this place provides a instant pick-me-up. It's the sort of homely, no-frills South American cuisine that's not easy to find off the continent.
• Hipólito Yrigoyen 1390, +54 11 4382 8492, mains 35 to 50 pesos (£2.70 to £4)
La Esperanza de los Ascurra, Villa Crespo
Doing a fine line in negronis, this is an on-trend vermouth bar with an extensive tapas menu. Like a large percentage of Argentinians, the owner has Spanish ancestors, and this is where many of his dishes originate. Expect papas bravas and jamón crudo, as well as plenty of Argentinian twists, such as "gaucho" mozzarella (deep-fried hunks of cheese). Its laidback atmosphere draws in a young, hip crowd. You'll find it in the increasingly cool Villa Crespo neighbourhood and it has proved so popular that they've recently opened a second location in Palermo.
• Aguirre 526, esperanzaascurra.com.ar, +54 11 2058 8313, tapas dishes from 15 pesos (£1)
Il Ballo Del Mattone, Palermo
It'd be a stretch to suggest this trattoria has the best food in the city, but it could have the best pre-party atmosphere. Founded by artists and always lively, it's a great place to start a (long) night out on the town. Inside it's a riot of colour and they sometimes host live music, too. The menu is always scrawled on an oversized chalkboard, hauled over to your table – the food has an Italian theme and all the pasta is homemade. With their vintage clothes and hipster hairstyles, the staff may have you wondering where they go to party. Don't be afraid to ask; they're not shy.
• Gorriti 5936, +54 11 4776 4247, Facebook page , expect to pay around 180 pesos (£14) for a main, drink and dessert
Floreria Atlantico, Recoleta
This is another choice for night owls (if you're not a night person, you may be in the wrong city). It is currently BA's hippest cocktail bar and you find it by entering a "secret" doorway at the back of a potently scented flower shop, which is open late into the night and has a sideline in selling vinyl records – obviously. A gimmick? You'll dispel all cynicism once you taste the quality of the cocktails. The drinks at this sophisticated, low-lit speakeasy are clearly the mainstay here (the cocktail list takes you around the world), but there is also a fine food menu. Most plates are made for sharing, including a plate known as "Atlantic beasts", featuring langoustines, oysters and prawns.
• Arroyo 872, +54 11 4313 6093, floreriaatlantico.com.ar, tapas from 60 pesos (£4.50)
iLatina, Villa Crespo
This relative newcomer began as a puerta cerrada (closed-door restaurant) in Palermo and then word quickly spread, encouraging them to get more permanent premises. The three siblings behind it hail from Colombia, but their food draws on influences from all across South America. A sample menu might include white-corn arepas (flatbread) with anise, pork braised in coffee and sugar cane, and avocado and aguardiente ice-cream.
• Murillo 725, +54 11 4857 9095, ilatinabuenosaires.com. Tasting menu 490 pesos (£37). Open for dinner only, reservation required
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk