Buenos Aires – Recoleta – food and shopping
Our rented apartment in Buenos Aires was perfectly situated on the corner of Avenida Alvear and Calle Montevideo in the high end barrio of Recoleta. Although the apartment itself left some to be desired (balcony and view are but two things) the location made up for it by placing us exactly where I wanted to be, next door to the old palaces, near the Recoleta Cemetery and a short walk from wonderful restaurants, cafes and of course shopping. We even walked from there to many of Buenos Aires historical sites in the center of town. To go anywhere else we can take a taxi.
We developed a wonderful routine of getting up in the morning and walking over to a local café (Dos Escudos) where the same people from the neighbourhood sat every morning with their coffee and media luna (croissant). They were chatting among themselves and reading the paper they purchased just outside at the newspaper stand on the sidewalk (yes) as they slowly got their day going. We were fascinated by this scene and never missed a breakfast there, easing into life as a porteño (what Buenos Aires residents call themselves, meaning “of the port”) for a couple of weeks.
One deviation from breakfast at the local café was breakfast at Palacio Duhau next door. This beautiful former colonial palace is now a hotel operated by Hyatt but the Palace part is the exquisite and separate part of the hotel. Apparently it hosted dignitaries such the Obamas and more recently VP Pence. Rumor is that the Queen stayed there too but I don’t know, I’ll ask her next time I see Her Majesty.
You enter the Palacio Duhau by double staircase leading to the lobby and to one gorgeous room after another. Soaring ceilings, beautiful furniture, a lovely garden and to top it off, the best and most courteous staff I have encountered. We befriended the lovely Carmela who works with the butler team at the hotel and she went completely out of her way to treat us as if we were guests or family. It drove home in a personal way how lovely and warm the Argentinians are and I will not forget it. We kind of made the Palacio our headquarters and arranged to be picked up and dropped off there when necessary, and enjoyed lovely breakfasts on their gorgeous veranda.
In addition to Palacio Duhau Recoleta is home to a few other high end mansion style hotels, including the Alvear Palace a block down the street and the Four Seasons Hotel at the other end of Avenida Alvear within a few minutes walk of our place. The Alvear Palace has a beautiful afternoon tea service, a gorgeous lunch buffet and a rooftop bar with a view of the city. The Four Seasons is known for it restaurant as well but we didn’t make it there for dinner.
Cumaná (Rodríguez Peña 1165, Recoleta).
Cumana is a fun restaurant serving authentic Argentinian food known for its assado and empanadas. We walked over there one evening after 8:00 pm as it is close to our apartment. Before sitting us the hostess advised that they do not take credit cards, cash only. I am not sure if this was because we looked like tourists or that’s the policy there, in any event, we had cash. It was relatively empty when we went in and completely filled with people and buzzing with action ten minutes later with a line beginning to form outside. The long and narrow dining room is done in reds and golds and the tables are covered with butcher paper on which you can scribble with the crayons they provide (we didn’t). Tables are close enough to see what others are eating (I am always curious) but this may not be the place to tell your innermost secrets, someone could be listening. At night the interior is fairly dark which makes it hard to photograph the food (mia culpa). Lunch at a table by the door would be better if you need pictures with natural light. The open kitchen at the back was beautiful with platters of food ready to be cooked or served and the wood fired grill was flaming hot with a variety of meats and vegetables cooking on it. They were very friendly when they spotted me with my camera and invited me to take pictures of the kitchen. We ordered empanadas, humita (corn and cheese wrapped in corn husk) and grilled meat on skewers, all to share. The server warned us the skewers would not be enough for two people as the they are “only” as big as her hand from fingertips to wrist. Believe me, it was more than enough for us, especially with me only tasting to experience, but perhaps not enough for a porteño. The food was delicious and the biggest surprise came with the bill, it was so inexpensive we thought it was a mistake, but she assured us that this was the full bill. It was less than what I usually leave for gratuities.
This unassuming place became our “midnight hangout” where there is not a tourist in sight (see this post). We went back there several times and almost became “regulars” with the staff and got a few nods of acknowledgement from the locals who dine there regularly. Not a fancy place but local and real.
El San Juanino
Also in our neighbourhood of Recoleta and surrounded by luxury hotels, this locals’ favourite restaurant has been here for 50 years and that says something. It is always full so come early or wait outside for a table to clear. Since it is located right across from a fancy hotel, you do get tourists there.
Fervor Brasas de Campo y Mar (see main image on top)
Right next door to El San Juanino there is a high end dining establishment that seems to cater to the Palacio Alvear hotel guests across the street and to well to do Argentinians. It is a large restaurant in grand style set over three levels but open in the middle so you don’t feel isolated. The second floor is built like a terrace over the first level. Reservations are a good idea but since we are in the neighbourhood we just dropped by and got a table. If you have to wait, the bartender will offer a complimentary drink, a glass champagne or an aperol. We sat on the second level overlooking the main floor, I don’t think I would have accepted a top floor table as you cannot see anything from there and miss the point of this place. It is an elegant restaurant with black and white tiled floor, crisp white linen on the tables and sparkling stemware. Service is impeccable and the food very good. Located right across from the Alvear Palace it was full of tourists but also many locals that occupied large tables with mostly men for some reason. I ordered the brochettes and was offered half order since I asked if the serving was large (it was). I am not an expert in meat and only tasted (thanks to G who finishes what I order) but clearly it is top quality cooking. At the end of dinner I ordered fruits I saw on the menu but to our surprise we were served a huge platter of preserved fruits and cheese that was out of the question for us at that moment, especially when what we wanted is something fresh and fruity. Without hesitation they took the platter away and even though it was not on the menu they prepared a platter of fruits for us without blinking an eye. Again, the surprise came with the bill that was much less that what you’d pay for comparable dining in other countries. If you are in the neighbourhood and want to experience elegant surrounding without the high prices, this is the place for you. We loved the experience.
There are other restaurants in Recoleta of course but I will stop with these at the moment. Also, see here for the local restaurant that although has no glamor, offers a truly authentic experience.
La Biela and evening aperitivo
One ritual I love about Recoleta was the early evening walk. Around 5:00- 6:00 everyone dresses up and out into the street they go for a walk and an aperitivo at one of the local restaurants. La Biela is a historical bar in operation for more than 150 years located in front to the Church of Nuestra Señora del Pilar and the Recoleta Cemetery, a short walk from our place. The restaurant has large dining room and patio off the plaza. It was always full of locals in chic clothes enjoying their aperitivo. La Biela was one of “our” spots for an aperitivo, but not before a little lesson.We joined the ritual but not wanting a drink right then we thought we’d order what the menu called an afternoon tea, expecting some tea and a couple of petit finger sandwiches to hold us over until dinner later that evening. What we got was a gigantic tray with enough large ham and cheese sandwiches, croissants and pastries to feed a bridal party. We learned that we should order what everyone else is having and not try to reinvent the wheel. Following aperitivo outings included champagne and aperol.
Recoleta is also known for its shopping and it is fun watching the chic Argentinians at cafes and on the streets. Men seem to like pink and you see many pink dress shirts clad men everywhere. I found myself counting how many pink shirts I could see at the restaurants and on the streets. Women had an easy elegance about them and shoes seems to be a national obsession (I mean it in a good way). Lot of show stores everywhere. Right now the super high platforms are in for women and I was amazed at the young women managing to walk on these shoes. Well, I needed to know how so I bought a couple of pairs myself, only to be advised by my fashion stylist daughter Alexis that it’s in right now and has been for a while. I need to keep up on trends more.
Avenida Alvear has several boutiques and a couple of shopping malls nearby that I enjoyed. The boutiques’ doors are locked for security reasons and they will unlock it for you as they see you arrive. They are happy to have you come in so don’t hesitate. Palacio Alvear is attached to the beautiful Galleria Alvear, a high end shopping galleria that caters to well heeled locals and to tourists. We stumbled upon it walking around the neighbourhood and loved going in a couple of times to look around, have a coffee and watch the well dressed Portenos looking chic and enjoying breakfast or lunch at the café.
Another place where I could not resist a few things is Patio Bullrich, a couple of blocks from Avenida Alvear. A former auction house now converted to modern high end mall, it features chandeliers, high glass dome ceiling, a movie theatre, beautiful cafes and a three levels of stores. I am told it is a favourite among Argentinians who shop and became a favourite of mine as well. It also has a “food court” but let’s put it this way, our concept of a mall’s food court is nothing like what you find there. Beautiful restaurants with white linen covered tables is what they consider “food court”. I felt right at home and helped keep their economy going in return. Beautiful clothes and shoes, gorgeous deli, bookstore, chocolate shop, jewelry, you name it, they have it. I had fun there, more than once.
Galeria Pacifico (photo credit)
Galeira Pacifico is a high end mall featuring global and local brands and housed in a magnificent historical building with murals and a large central dome. It is located on the corner of Florida Street and Avenida Cordoba. The mall offers self guided tours through the building where you can learn about the details of the historical significance of the building.
There is more to tell about Recoleta as it is also home to lounges and secret bars that are the “thing” there right now. I will tell all in another post. When we go back to Buenos Aires for an extended stay, Recoleta is my Bario.
Fervor Brasas de Campo y Mar
Posadas 1519 Recoleta, Buenos Aires
Rodríguez Peña 1149, Recoleta, Buenos aires
Av. Presidente Manuel Quintana 380, Recoleta, Buenos Aires
Juncal 901, Recoleta, Buenos Aires
El San Juanino
Posadas 1515 Recoleta, Buenos Aires
Av. Quintana 600, Recoleta Buenos Aires
Avenida del Libertador 750 / Posadas 1245, Recoleta, Buenos Aires
1889 Avenida Alvear
Avenida Alvear 1661, Recoleta, Buenos Aires
Avenida Alvear 1891
Four Seasons Buenos Aires
1086 Posadas, Recoleta, Buenos Aires