Buenos Aires Food: Best lunch spots in Recoleta and Palermo

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Buenos Aires has a food culture that rivals the most enthusiastic French or Italian gourmands. Argentinians like to savour their food, particularly if it’s a steak sourced from the vast grasslands that surround the city.

The lunch tradition is one I’m more than happy to indulge, so with a couple of weeks of writing lined up while I was in central Buenos Aires, I tried to get out of my hotel room to try to eat my main meal at lunch (something I do a lot as a solo traveller).

I chose lunch spots around where I stayed in Recoleta, but I was open to locations in trendy Palermo too.

Let me introduce you to some of my personal top lunch spots in Buenos Aires, for a taste of something fresh and local, plus a couple of familiar flavours for this steak-loving Irishman!

1. La Cholita for Argentinian Steak

A wooden board loaded with a cooked steak, fries and seasoned rice from a Buenos Aires restaurant, La Cholita

Rodríguez Peña 1165, C1020 CABA, Argentina

While ‘La Cholita’ might be a controversial term for a mixed race person, it’s been reclaimed as a badge of honour and used here to name a steak restaurant on Rodriguez Peña street, right in the heart of the Recoleta district of Buenos Aires.

I was staying across the road at the Apart San Diego hotel, but the roughly 4/5 stars that this place gets convinced me it would be perfect for lunch.

A wine jug shaped like a penguin, called a 'pinguino' in La Cholita, a steak restaurant in Buenos Aires, Argentina

First impressions are good – this is a long, high room with warm colours. The cubierto (cover charge) includes a fluffy bread roll, but it’s the pinguino (a penguin-shaped wine jug) that marks this out as a Buenos Aires restaurant!

Since this was my first day in Argentina, I ordered steak. The meat smelled great and had the kind of char that I love.

If I’m being critical, the cooking was over for my taste, but the seasoning and quality were both top notch. This is a good value restaurant open for lunch and dinner and friendly to both solo travellers and families.

2. Cumaná Restaurant for Argentinian Empanadas

Rodríguez Peña 1149, C1020 CABA, Argentina

Argentina is famous for its empanadas. It charms me that the term ’empanada’ comes from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning ‘enbreaded’ or wrapped in bread.

And of course this is just what they are: little turnover pies stuffed with a tasty filling and wrapped (here) in pastry before being baked or fried. I chose one beef and one stuffed with cheese and ham, as my appetiser. The beef was lightly spiced and was by far my favourite.

With a heavy starter, I chose a chicken salad for my entrée which might have been a mistake. The salad was not dressed and the chicken was topped with a “spicy mix” which was some raw onion and tomato more akin to a salsa. The chicken was excellent and properly seasoned.

You need to know: Cumaná is not just a full-service restaurant, but also offers take-out pizza. The delivery drivers roared up outside on all kinds of motorbike like they were film stars!

3. Quotidiano for Italian food

Av. Callao 1299, C1023 CABA, Argentina

Argentina is famous for Italian restaurants, not least because so many people of Italian heritage settled in Buenos Aires. My expectations for Quotidiano were high, a charming mid-range Italian place set up for quick lunches at a shared table and longer dinners.

Quick smart, my tortellini stuffed with chicken arrived in a waft of savoury umami scents. The dressing was the most delicious fresh herb butter. For some the seasoning might have been a little too high, but for me this was just about perfect. A large piece of crusty bread would have been the perfect complement to soak up those juices, but sadly was not on offer.

The portion size here is just big enough to fill one person. A perfect, rich bowl of carbs to power you through the afternoon!

4. Le Pain Quotidien for sandwiches & free wifi

Screen of computer showing work on the Planet Patrick blog  underway.

Armenia 1641, C1414DKI Cdad. Autónoma de Buenos Aires, Argentina

Sometimes the only thing that will satisfy a craving is a big sandwich packed with flavour. I stumbled across Le Pain Quotidien out on my walk through Palermo, a chain familiar for its tartines (open sandwiches).

The room is laid out in refectory style with smaller cafe-style tables perfect for a little work on their free wifi.

My choice was a lightly dressed chicken salad tartine on rye bread with sparkling water and fresh lemon, served with an unexpected side of pomegranate molasses.

The addition of molasses didn’t make sense to me, but if that’s your thing, go for it!

An international chain like Le Pain Quotidien may not win prizes for innovation, but this hit the spot for a light lunch in a lovely part of Buenos Aires.

5. Burger 54 for local fast food

Av. Santa Fe 1946, C1123 CABA, Argentina

Burger 54 is a popular Buenos Aires staple for burgers and fries and charges quite a premium price. The layout is modern, with big chunky shared tables.

I ordered a burger with salad and bacon. The meat was flavourful but the advertised ‘brioche’ bun was perhaps a little bit too damp to be the perfect holder.

My fries came topped with a fried egg and I wondered why this isn’t a regular topping in other fast food places? I liked it!

This was a mid-range burger joint with pretty good service at the counter and a solid set of choices. Some minor tweaks to turning over used tables more frequently and that specific burger bun would give a better review. Even saying that, I love trying out local fast food instead of just the same global names (though I will eat that too!).

6. Pani Recoleta for bread

Vicente López 2056, C1128 ACF, Cdad. Autónoma de Buenos Aires, Argentina

Pani is a cafe in Recoleta mall, the perfect stop-off location if you’ve been for a walk around Recoleta Cemetery (where you’ll find the grave of Eva Peron). The layout and interior design is so charming, but I’ve saved my least favourite of these 6 lunch spots for last!

Service is glacially slow. So I was getting a little hangry by the time my order showed up!

An underwhelming chicken burger at Pani in Recoleta, Buenos Aires

My chicken sandwich came with unexpected potato wedges, which are always welcome. The chicken was nicely cooked and had a bit of crunch.

However, the bun was kind of damp, maybe like a steamed bao bun, but in this setting it was unpleasant.

I saw some other choices at neighbouring tables and those looked better. I think this place is worth the visit, but be prepared for a little wait and pick carefully!

Summary: Lunch in Buenos Aires

Most visitors to Buenos Aires stay in Microcentro (the centre of town) which includes Recoleta and Palermo and there’s really no shortage of options from the very expensive to everyday neighbourhood joints. I hope my favourites have give you some inspiration to try empanadas, local steak and possibly a little pinguino jug of wine!

If you’re planning your trip to Buenos Aires, make sure to read my guides to two of the most popular stops: Téatro Colón and the magical El Ateneo Bookshop.

I'm Patrick, your Irish guide to the skies and beyond. With 58 countries visited, my journeys have taken me from busy economy to fabulous first-class.

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