Buenos Aires might be synonymous with beef, but Porteños don’t live by steak alone. In a metropolis defined by the character of its neighborhoods, the best way to navigate the city—and soak up authentic barrio spirit—is through its cafés, bakeries, ice cream parlors, and pizzerias. Whether you crave juicy empanadas, flaky medialunas, or decadent dulce de leche gelato, here’s where to snack like an Argentine.
Café des Arts
To whet your appetite, start your visit with a stroll through the contemporary Latin American art collection at the malba before ordering nibbles and perfect espressos at its white marbled, glassed-in café. Then again, the Franco-Latino mini-brioche embellished with sculptural dots of dulce de leche is a work of art itself, albeit not one by Frida Kahlo. In warm weather, sit outside under a huge jacaranda tree.
Don’t Miss: The “Argentino”: tender lomito (beefsteak) wedged between plancha-crisped flatbread with red peppers and a tangy zap of chimichurri sauce.
Lunch for two $25.
El San Juanino
Tucked away in Recoleta, this rustic nook with red leatherette booths is home to the town’s best empanadas. Flash-baked to order, the pastries arrive blistered and plump with creamed corn, mozzarella and basil, or hand-chopped beef sweetened with onions. You’ll eat surrounded by Porteño matrons impatiently waiting by the tiled takeout counter, ravenous tourists, and jovial old-timers into their umpteenth carafe of coarse wine.
Don’t Miss: Empanadas fritas with a beef relleno so succulent it squirts juices down your chin.
Light lunch for two $15.
A city of Italian immigrants, Buenos Aires is pizza-mad. But while old faithfuls like El Cuartito offer bland, doughy pies in atmospheric surroundings, the oak-fueled ovens at Filo churn out wispy, chewy marvels in a nineties-kitsch space steps from Calle Florida. Long-haired diners nibble on elegant arugula-and-Parmesan salads while trying to decide among some three dozen toppings. Should it be palm hearts and bacon or something more classic, say the “Mediterraneo,” zesty with oregano, anchovies, and capers?
Don’t Miss: The potato-and-smoked-mozzarella pizza alla patate.
Pizza for two $12.
Stuck in a late-Modernist time warp amid the Microcentro bustle, this 60’s café is for certain media and politico types an office, living room, and caffeine-emergency ward. Behind the 42-foot-long vintage wood-trimmed marble counter, bow-tied baristas reverentially tend the copper coffee machine while snappy-suited customers check fútbol scores on their iPhones. Who cares if the pastries can be a bit leaden when the Brutalist interior is so fetching—and when you can have an excellent coffee, ground from two types of beans, at the window table once favored by Borges?
Don’t Miss: The house signature “chips de pavito,” turkey on a brioche-like bun served with mayo and—oddly—no chips.
Snacks for two $14.
This tall, airy storefront in Palermo Viejo is presided over by the colorful Cecilia Hermann, who could have stepped out of a magical-realist novel. Guardian of Argentina’s culinary traditions—with a penchant for angel figurines—she presents a nearly anthropological display of sweets. She also makes sure that the humitas (corn tamales) and guisos (stews) on the small savory menu deliver the flavors of home.
Don’t Miss: Empanadota de acelga, an extra-thin sugar-dusted pastry collapsing into a mass of delicious chard and hard-boiled eggs. Follow with a dense, orange-glazed chocolate cheesecake.
Lunch for two $25.
Bronze Corinthian columns, stained glass galore, marble tables set on terrazzo floors—this ballroom-scale 1884 institution would give any Parisian grand café a run for its petits fours. Calorie-unconscious Porteños throng the pastry case festooned with ribbons and toys. And though the thick menu reads like something from a 1930’s cruise ship, connoisseurs come for the simple facturas (breakfast pastries) such as the flaky medialunas de grasa (slender croissants). And isn’t it nice that even a $2 coffee order is delivered by white-jacketed waiters with a glass of mineral water and cookies alongside?
Don’t Miss: Tarta de membrillo, crumbly shortbread beneath a shiny cap of quince jam.
Breakfast for two $15.
Un Altra Volta
Evoking the laboratory-style new wave Italian gelateria, this high-design mini-chain keeps it cool with 65 intensely flavored creations under gleaming stainless-steel lids. Try several scoops: aromatic maracuyá (passion fruit), studded with crunchy seeds, and rich, silky cremas in flavors like nougat or marrón glacé. The snazziest branch is on Avenida Santa Fé, in Recoleta, replete with loungy armchairs and a pretty garden where couples nuzzle, girlfriends gossip, and perfectly coiffed ladies decorously attack orange cream truffles and lemon meringues.
Don’t Miss: Dulce de leche gelato, wickedly caramely with candied almonds and hazelnuts.
Ice cream for two $12.
Get the Guide
From steak houses to tango halls, T+L’s got you covered in B.A.—go to TravelandLeisure.com/guides/buenos-aires for details.