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October 20, 2014

There's a great episode of The Sopranos where Tony, Christopher and Paulie visit Naples for a meet, greet and eat with the local Mob. Over supper, Paulie is handed a plate of pasta. He stares at it, aghast. "Where's the gravy?" he whispers, as his hosts sneer behind their napkins. Clearly, there’s more than an ocean dividing the Italians of Naples from the Italian-Americans of Newark.

Ninety-seven percent of Argentines have Old World roots, but I’d wager no more than ten percent of those are any more attuned to the gastronomic gospel of their motherland than was Paulie. And why would they be? Like folk songs, recipes are both reusable and unstable, apt to mutate and evolve as they pass through space and time. It’s remarkable how many foodies who claim to admire diversity and localism spend their time in Buenos Aires harrumphing, “This isn’t real pizza.” (Or paella or goulash or pot au feu …). A better response? “Vive la différence!”

Fleur de Sel

French restaurants in Buenos Aires tend to get it wrong, being either too fusty or too Left Bank pastiche. Intimate and sophisticated without trying too hard, Belgrano’s Fleur de Sel gets it spot on, impressing with details such as hot stones at the bottom of each bread basket. The five-course tasting menu may include organic asparagus, red snapper with spicy chorizo, and medallions of tenderloin garnished with truffles.

Doppio Zero

Pasta is everywhere in this city. You can walk into a random place, order fusilli tossed in filetto and expect to get exactly that. But for top-shelf homemade pasta, as well as port-spiked chicken-liver pâté, hearty oxtail risotto and one of the city’s sexiest chocolate semifreddos, try this stylish trattoria in Las Cañitas.

Chipper

When a chill wind blows into Buenos Aires from the Patagonian south, I find myself missing fish and chips, the greasy Saturday night fix of my British childhood. That’s when I’m especially grateful for this sweet little canteen in Palermo Viejo, where the cod-like abadejo (pollack) comes in a crispy batter and where chips are chips (thick, misshapen and squishy) rather than French fries.

Oviedo

With its polished brass light fixtures, starched white tablecloths, leather banquettes and taciturn waiters, Oviedo feels like the kind of place where hacks huddle with politicians—and it is. Stick to the most Spanish-sounding dishes on the menu—potato tortilla, grilled squid, octopus with patatas bravas— and you won’t go far wrong. The wine list is more like an encyclopedia. 

La Crespo

There are tummy rumblings and food cravings, and then there is that feeling that only a hot pastrami sandwich can save the day. This little gem in Villa Crespo has the answer to that prayer and others, with lox bagels, strudel, goulash, knishes and a not-too-sweet cheesecake on the menu.

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