Other places are a bit more egalitarian. Maat, a restaurant in Belgrano, modeled after an English clubhouse, allows guests to dine three times before they are asked to pony up the $2,000 membership fee (levied in U.S. dollars) — or not come back (Sucre 2168; 54- 11-4896-1818; www.maatclubprivado.com.ar). Dishes include a grilled lamb filet served with an eggplant emulsion and goat-ricotta gnocchi (50 pesos). The owner, Nora Julián, an Argentine financier, said she got the idea from the Aspinalls club in London.
The speakeasy aura also extends to grittier establishments. Ocho7Ocho (Thames 878; 54-11-4773-1098), a restaurant and bar popular with bohemian types in their 20s and 30s, is hidden behind an unmarked wooden door in the residential Villa Crespo district. And Providencia (Cabrera 5995; 54-11-4772-8507), a hippie bakery and cafe in the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood, is in an old warehouse, behind an orange door with a handwritten note that says “golpee fuerte” (“knock hard”). Vegetarian curries are about 15 pesos.
But perhaps the most exclusive place to flaunt one’s status are the puertas cerradas (or restaurants with closed doors) that have recently boomed in Buenos Aires.
Among the insiders’ favorite is Casa SaltShaker (54-9 11 6132-4146; www.casasaltshaker.com), held twice a week at the ground-floor rear Recoleta apartment of Dan Perlman, an American chef and sommelier, and his Peruvian companion, Henry Tapia. The five-course menu is built around a theme, often wacky, like the Great Moon Hoax of 1835, or the film “Babette’s Feast.” Dinner is 60 pesos and up to 12 can be seated.
“There’s something kind of cool about knowing what’s behind the secret door,” Mr. Perlman said, “of being in on something that no one else knows.”