And if your stomach can handle it, you could order it all, since one of the real thrills of dining out in Buenos Aires is that it’s embarrassingly inexpensive. The Argentine peso was once at a one-to-one exchange with the dollar, but now it’s settled at about three to one, which means that at La Cabrera, one of the most expensive parrillas, the provoleta, at 13 pesos, will set you back just a tad more than $4. The bondiolita, at 23 pesos, costs less than $8 and can easily feed several. An indulgent dinner for two will total about $40, and if you budget another $20, you can let your finger drift to the bottom of the wine list.
While La Cabrera is a faithful re-creation of the traditional parrilla, some of the best of Palermo Viejo’s new places are about tweaking tradition. Elles, which opened last year in a former house and garage, has a small, and very good, menu of French-inspired dishes and cleaned-up Argentine classics like chipirones a la plancha, or seared baby squid with corn, and bife de chorizo, grilled rib-eye. The space has been whitewashed and left empty except for mismatched oak furniture and an opulent chandelier, giving the room a loftlike elegance. At Divina Patagonia, the regional sampler platter offers a refined introduction to the ingredients of the rugged south: an assortment of sausages, cheeses and cured meats, including smoked deer sliced as thin as prosciutto. Main courses are hearty dishes in delicate portions — Patagonian lamb, deer loin, wild boar braised in beer.
A wave of Italian immigration in the late 1800’s left a lasting impression on Argentina’s culinary landscape: the grilled steak may be the country’s most celebrated dish, but the Milanesa, a breaded veal cutlet, is its comfort food. Order it at El Preferido de Palermo, a 75-year-old Italian grocery and lunch counter, where schoolchildren in uniforms jockey with businessmen in suits for one of the chest-high tables. Milanesa de peceto comes piled high with fries or topped with tomato sauce and melted mozzarella. If you have time, you might linger over the gran picada, an antipasto sampler with 13 different small bites — sausages, olives, wedges of frittata, a hard-boiled quail’s egg neatly sliced in half — accompanied by Hesperidina, an Argentine aperitif every bit as minty and murky as an Italian fernet.
El Preferido de Palermo has weathered Palermo Viejo’s transformation just fine. So has La Cupertina, a homey spot where empanadas are an art, and the owner, Cecilia Hermann, who stands behind a rustic table like a captain commanding a flagship, is a legend. La Cupertina’s empanadas are half the size of what you buy on the street but immeasurably more delicious; try the humita y cebolla y queso, sweet corn and onion and cheese, which is as creamy as pudding, and the carne, a rich, spicy mixture of stewed beef. (And at a little more than 50 cents each, you feel like apologizing when you pay.)
Just a couple blocks away is Casa Cruz, Palermo Viejo’s most fashionable restaurant and the site of a nightly crush of actors, politicians, soccer stars and paparazzi. You can find entourages and expensive drinks there, and, for that matter, anywhere, but you can find food like La Cupertina’s only in Argentina.
WHERE TO STAY
Palermo Viejo is home to some of the city’s newest and coolest places to stay. 1555 Malabia House High-design B&B in a historical building. Malabia 1555; 011-54-11-4833-2410; www.malabiahouse.com.ar; doubles from about $105. Bo Bo Hotel Boutique hotel with modern rooms and a popular restaurant. Guatemala 4882; 011-54-11-4774-0505; www.bobohotel.com; doubles from $100. Five Cool Rooms In fact, 16 rooms, modern design and a great roof garden. Honduras 4742; 011-54-11-5235-5555; www.fivebuenosaires.com; doubles from $90. Home Hotel Bright rooms and a hip English-speaking staff, with a pool and a garden in the middle of the city. Honduras 5860; 011-54-11-4778-1008; www.homebuenosaires.com; doubles from $115. For luxe digs outside the neighborhood, try the new Palacio Duhau-Park Hyatt (011-54-11-5171-1234; www.parkhyatt.com; doubles from $410) or the classic Alvear Palace Hotel (011-54-11-4808-2100; www.alvearpalace.com; doubles from $550), both in Recoleta.
WHERE TO EAT
La Cabrera Cabrera 5099; 011-54-11-4831-7002; entrees about $6 to $12. La Cupertina Cabrera 5300; 011-54-11-4777-3711; entrees $3 to $5. Divina Patagonia Honduras 5710; 011-54-11-4771-6864; entrees $6 to $13. Elles Honduras 5916; 011-54-11-4777-9555; entrees $8 to $11. Jangada Honduras 5799; 54-11-4777-4193; entrees $5 to $19. El Preferido de Palermo Jorge Luis Borges 2108; 011-54-11-4774-6585; small plates $1 to $5.