Dancers perform a tango at Plaza Dorrego in San Telmo, Buenos Aires.
Photograph by Alexander Hassenstein, Getty Images
Buenos Aires welcomed me with the longest strike in the hundred-year history of Argentina’s subway system. Ten days of horrific traffic forced me to tackle a daily 60-block walking commute. All that walking forced me to adapt to the simultaneously slow and chaotic pace of life in Buenos Aires. Four years later, I wouldn’t choose any other city.
Argentina’s capital is a beautiful mix of chaos, intensity, frustration, and love. Foreigners are drawn to this city for the tango, the Malbec, and the romance, but after living here for a while, it’s the subtler things that keep me around. While it takes a bit of patience to enjoy it, I will never get bored of the people, the crazy never ending streets, and the food of Buenos Aires.
People move through a busy street corner in La Boca, Buenos Aires.
I admire porteños—as residents of this port city call themselves—for their characteristically easygoing attitude, but that ability to go with the flow is not without its share of economic tumult and political instability. When you’ve lived your whole life in a country with a political and economic roller coaster like that of Argentina, flexibility becomes a necessity. Residents struggle against a history of unpredictable economic conditions, recurring crises, and rising prices in the face of a yearly inflation rate of more than 40 percent.
One of the best places to get a sense of this imperfect history, along with the warmth and charm of the city, is in the old barrio of San Telmo. The slightly crooked streets are littered with both the old and the new, and I fall in love with the centuries-old facades at every turn.
The global food scene is slowly coming to San Telmo, with the Middle Eastern-inspired burgers of Banco Rojo and the remixed Argentine classics of Ostara. These exist alongside traditional corner restaurants, or bodegones, and cafés with white-haired men playing cards or dominoes over half-empty bottles of Malbec.
Plan your trip for South American springtime—September to November. It’s warm enough to enjoy some gourmet dulce de leche ice cream at Rapa Nui but not so hot that you start sweating as soon as you step outside. The gray lethargy of winter finally lifts, and the city and its summer-loving residents begin to come alive.
When friends and family visit and ask for recommendations, the must-see-and-do lists that I give them inevitably trend toward must-eat lists, as the real magic is in the patient, relaxed art of eating and connecting for hours over quality food and drink.
For a truly spectacular evening of grilled delicacies and creative accompanying dishes, follow in the footsteps of Argentine presidents and the likes of Louis Armstrong, Fidel Castro, Madonna, and more for a night of grass-fed certified Angus beef at La Cabaña along the water in Puerto Madero.
Sometimes, though, it’s even more satisfying to have a juicy bife de chorizo mariposa, a butterfly-cut sirloin, in a no-frills parrilla like Lo de Jimena, a well-hidden secret in the barrio of Villa Crespo. I have never spent more than 200 Argentine pesos (about U.S. $13.50) on a satisfying dinner with various cuts of meat, simple side salads, and plenty of Malbec. When the dining room fills up, the waiters start hauling out plastic tables and line the sidewalk with tables of happy carnivores.
The Recoleta Market and San Telmo Market are great weekend fairs for strolling and buying artisan crafts. But a little effort and public transport bravery rewards you with the real gem—the Feria de Mataderos. Here, you’ll feel like you’ve traveled to another Argentine province—or time period, for that matter—for the day. Eat regional empanadas or the most tender vacío (flank steak) sandwich of your life while listening to folk bands from all over the country or watching horse races or couples dancing traditional Argentine chamamé.
Despite the hustle of the city, porteños live for slowing down to drink coffee, maté (a communal loose-leaf tea), or wine. Take part in the pastime with local wines when you wander through Palermo for a private wine tasting at Pain et Vin, where husband-and-wife duo Ohad Weiner and Eleonora Jezzi Riglos lead wine beginners and connoisseurs alike through a history of Argentina by way of their palate for 400 Argentine pesos (about U.S. $27).
The influence of the city’s Italian history is everywhere—you can see it in the colors of La Boca, hear it in the enthusiastic intonation of porteño Spanish (castellano, as they call it), and taste it in the Italian milanesas, pizzerias, and restaurants across the city.
For a magical way to wrap up your stay, have some of the blowtorched buffalo cheese, mushroom risotto, and mind-blowing chocolate mousse with olive oil, Himalayan salt, and Jamaican pepper at La Locanda. Owner Daniele Pinna often pulls up a chair to guests’ tables to discuss the menu, and the restaurant makes for the perfect mix of casual intimacy and elegance that truly embodies the warmth of the city that I love so much.
So eat, drink, walk, talk, and appreciate the simultaneously furious and leisurely pace of life here. And be patient, no matter how much the transit system tests you. Buenos Aires’ charm, like many other elements among its chaotic streets, cannot be forced or rushed—begin to embrace it, however, and you’ll find it hard to shake it off.
Experience Annie’s favorites in Buenos Aires:
In the spring you should find a table on the wide sidewalk outside of El Refuerzo Bar for an afternoon drink and a picada (cured meat and cheese plate).
To escape the crowds, run, bike, or stroll along the dirt roads of the city’s Ecological Reserve.
Hierbabuena is my favorite place to grab breakfast or brunch.
Just outside my city, you can take the ferry across the river to Uruguay and spend the day exploring historical Colonia del Sacramento.
In the winter you should enjoy the best latte of your life in cozy café LATTEnTE.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is the Palermo Lakes.
You can see my city best from the top floor of Palacio Barolo.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the The Bubble’s “What to Do in Buenos Aires This Weekend” articles, published every Friday.
Annie Bacher works as a copywriter and freelance journalist in Buenos Aires, where she spends her free time running, cooking, and searching for hidden, hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Follow her on Twitter @atbacher.
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