Porteños love to eat out, and they love to wax nostalgic—both traits that help explain the popularity of their home city’s old, frequently rather decrepit, restaurants. Many of these places endure through good times and bad, even as their flashier neighbors fall by the wayside. You could argue, of course, that not every old restaurant in Buenos Aires is a “historic” one. But I would disagree. This is Argentina, land of tumult and upheaval. Any institution that can survive here for 50-odd years, unchanged and unscathed, deserves its place in the history books.
Most of the city’s old restaurants have this in common: In menu, décor and atmosphere, they blur the line between Old World and New. In one bodegón, you won’t be able to see the ceiling for the hams hanging from it, or the walls for the photos of Spanish royals. Another cantina will be resplendent with Italian football shirts and Pavarotti posters. And yet another cervercería may have gothic lettering above the door and sauerkraut stewing in the kitchen. These are the places where the menu can tell you as much as a history book.
The lights are bright and fluorescent, the walls plastered with sports and movie poster, but the ovens here have been baking up thick, delicious pizzas since 1934 (and I do mean thick: Buenos Aires look down on Chicago-style ones). Avoid the overloaded house specials and go for a fugazetta (stuffed cheese crust with onion), and wash it down with a bottle of ice-cold Quilmes.
Set on the 12th floor of a building that also houses the Danish embassy, this unpretentious restaurant serves smørrebrød, frikadeller, pickled herring and other Nordic classics—plus thimble-sized glasses of punchy aquavit. The downtown location and very reasonable prices make it popular with office workers, who also come for the spectacular views across the port and river. Ask friendly owners Santiago and Eduardo to guide you through the menu.
Club del Progreso
Founded in 1852 by the liberal wing of the Argentine political elite, this European-style club was a hotbed of progressive ideas up until the mid 20th century. Many former presidents and political leaders have wined and dined in the wood-paneled, chandelier-lit dining room and one, Leandro N Alem, was on his way here in 1896 when he had second thoughts and shot himself through the temple. Try the cochinillo (suckling pig).
El Preferido de Palermo
In a neighborhood that seems to reinvent itself at least once a week, this century-old Italian-style building houses a 60-year-old general store-turned-restaurant. Choose between the dining room and the bar; the latter is more atmospheric with its high shelves lined with tins and jars. On a cold day go for the fabada asturiana, a rich stew of beans, pork, chorizo and black pudding.