Buenos Aires’ Closed-Door Restaurants

One of the most interesting trends in the Buenos Aires restaurant scene is closed-door restaurants, also known as restaurantes a puertas cerradas or simply puertas cerradas. These restaurants aren’t really restaurants at all but rather dinners served in the homes of private chefs, or in exclusive private clubs.

Alejandro Langer, chef at La Cocina Discreta in Villa Crespo, describes them as “an environment that is intimate, exclusive and familiar at the same time. The people feel like they are having dinner in the home of a friend. But at the same time enjoy gourmet cuisine and a high-level of service.”

“I don’t feel like it’s a restaurant, I feel like people come to eat to my house”, says Diego Felix, chef at Casa Felix, a popular, informal puerta cerrada in Palermo.

Closed-door restaurants are typically open only certain nights of the week with limited seating. Prices tend to be high by Buenos Aires standards. For example, Casa Saltshaker charges 150 pesos (US$43) per person for a five-course meal with matched wine, or 110 pesos (US$32) without wine.

Menus are usually fixed by the chef. Some chefs feel this format allows them to be more creative and adventurous with their cooking.

Reservations are essential. You can’t just show up at the door and expect to be seated. Expect to pay in cash. Few closed-door restaurants accept credit cards.

Here’s a list of a dozen or so closed-door restaurants in Buenos Aires for you to explore.

 

Casa Felix (Palermo)

  • Chef Diego Felix cooks up “pescaterian” cuisine with exotic flavors and spices. Only 12 seats.
  • http://www.diegofelix.com

Treintasillas (Colegiales)

La Cocina Discreta (Villa Crespo)

Casa Coupage (Palermo) 

Casa Saltshaker (Barrio Norte)

Kensho (Boedo)

Paladar Doña Fela (Almagro) 

Ocho7ocho (Palermo Soho)

  • Bar/restaurant named for its location at Thames 878.
  • No website – Tel: 4773-1098

Caracoles para Da Vinci (Villa Crespo)

Casa Roca (Micro Centro)

Tipo Casa (Almagro)

El Poney Pisador (Villa Urquiza)

MAAT Club Privado (Belgrano)

Print This Free Travel Guide Before Your Trip

Looking for a good Buenos Aires travel guide? The Government of the City of Buenos Aires has published a handy, 26-page travel guide that you can download and print before your trip.

The guide, which is in PDF format, contains all kinds of useful information for tourists. Topics include, museums, sports, festivals, neighborhoods, getting around the city, restaurants, and accommodations. It also gives basic, essential information such as important telephone numbers and addresses.

The guide offers a good introduction to the city for first-time travelers. And best of all, it’s free.

You can download the English-language version of the guide here

The guide is also available in other languages at the gobBsAs website.

Renting a Furnished Apartment from a Local Owner

Most tourists who rent a furnished apartment for their stay in Buenos Aires use a rental agency such as Apartments BA or ByT Argentina to arrange their accommodations. But that’s not the only way to do it. You can rent directly from a local owner, which can be cheaper since you eliminate the middleman.

But there are a couple caveats. First, there is extra risk involved in renting from a local owner since they may not have an established reputation, so you may not be confident they are trustworthy. Second, unless the owner is an expat, you will likely need to be able to speak Spanish pretty well to comfortably navigate the process.

Most people find local owners through Craigslist or through postings on various blogs or forums. In my case, I found the apartment I wanted to rent through an advertisement taped to the window of a Palermo store.

The apartment I rented was a furnished one-bedroom on Cerviño in Palermo Chico next to the zoo. That’s a nice, quiet, upscale neighborhood. The apartment measured about 60 square meters. Since it faced an interior courtyard it was dead quiet. Like most buildings in this area, it had 24 hour security.

The price was good, only $600 per month. The agencies list similar apartments for between $900 and $1200.

After seeing the apartment and deciding I would rent it, I arranged to meet the owner a second time to pay, sign the agreement and get the keys. The owner was an upper-class, middle-aged porteña who spoke no English.

After reading and signing the agreement, which was several pages long and in Spanish, we did a time-consuming inventory of every item in the apartment — every glass, knife, fork and light bulb.

I paid in cash, $600 plus a $600 deposit. The owner meticulously scrutinized each bill and wrote each serial number on the contract. Thankfully I had hundreds. If I had twenties we would have been there all afternoon. I’m not sure what the purpose was in recording the serial numbers. I asked the owner and she said that banks sometimes reject US bills so it was wise to keep a record.

Other than the fact that this was a lengthy process, all went smoothly. And during my stay, the owner proved to be both kind and honest. 

After my month was up, the owner came by to return my deposit. But first we had to go through that tedious inventory sheet. To my surprise, four wine glasses were missing. When she saw how surprised I was, she exchanged a glance with the maid, then decided to let it slide. I guess she assumed that the maid either stole or broke the wine glasses, so I was off the hook.

In case you’ve never stayed in an apartment in Buenos Aires, I would like to tell you about a couple things that strike me as strange. First of all, the lights in the hallways are usually set on timers. So when you get out of the elevator, you have to stumble through the dark to find a switch to turn on the lights, which will go out automatically after a minute or two. Second, my apartment had a clothes washer but no dryer. This is quite common. People hang their clothes to dry on the balcony. Also, many apartments, including this one, have wooden roll-down shutters on the outside of the windows. They’re great for keeping the sun out and making the bedroom pitch black.

Proposed Tourist Fee Postponed

Argentina has postponed implementation of a proposed tourist fee that was set to take effect this March, according to the American Citizen Services Newsletter published by the US Embassy in Argentina.

In late 2008, Argentina announced it would charge a reciprocal entry fee from citizens of all countries that charge Argentines visa or entry fees. That fee was scheduled to come into effect in March 2009.  For U.S. tourists, the fee would have been USD$131. 

The newsletter didn’t say whether a new implementation date has been set or whether the fee has been placed on hold indefinitely.

Tourism is down in Argentina in recent months. A new tourist fee implemented during the current economic crisis would likely further harm Argentina’s tourism industry.

Is Buenos Aires Cheap?

How much do things cost in Buenos Aires? Is Buenos Aires cheap?

Compared to other major cities around the world, yes, it is cheap. In this article we’ll look at the costs of common items to give you an idea how much things cost in Buenos Aires.

But first, a little history. 

Buenos Aires wasn’t always a cheap tourist destination. In fact, prior to Argentina’s economic crisis in 2001-2002, it was darn right expensive. Prior to that the Argentine peso was pegged to the US dollar. In other words, one peso was worth exactly one dollar. But then the crisis hit and the government could no longer support the peso and practically overnight its value dropped from 1 dollar to 0.2 dollar. It was calamity for many Argentines but proved to be a boon to tourism.

Here’s how the peso compares to common currencies today (as of this writing):

  • 1 US dollar =  3.5 Argentine pesos
  • 1 Euro = 4.5 Argentine pesos
  • 1 British Pound = 5.0 Argentine pesos
  • 1 Canadian dollar = 2.8 Argentine pesos
  • 1 Australian dollar = 2.3 Argentine pesos

But Buenos Aires is not as cheap as it was just a couple years ago. The inflation rate is high, estimated at 20 to 25% per year. So prices are rising fast.

Now, as promised, let’s look at some typical prices, converted to USD.

 

Accommodations

  • Condo (furnished rental, 1 bedroom, Palermo) $250/week
  • Condo (purchase, 1 bedroom, 60 sq. m., Palermo) $120,000
  • Hostel $25/night
  • Hotel (3 stars) $80/night
  • Hotel (5 stars) $300/night

Entertainment

  • DVD rental $1.50
  • Movie ticket $6

Groceries

  • Beer (1 can, local) $0.50
  • Cheese (500g, queso por salut) $3.50
  • Cigarettes (pack of 20) $1.25
  • Milk (1 liter) $0.90
  • Strawberries (500g) $1.50
  • Toothpaste $2
  • Wine (bottle, local) $2.50
  • Yogurt (single serving) $0.35

Restaurants

  • Breakfast (coffee, toast, orange juice) $3.40
  • Cafe latte $1.20
  • Empanadas (2) $1.10
  • Pizza (large) $6
  • Steak and fries $6.75
  • Wine (glass, house wine) $2

Shopping

  • Jeans $25
  • T-shirt $3.50

Services

  • Maid (2 hours) $8
  • Spanish tutor (private) $7.50/hour

Tango

  • Milonga (with lesson) $4.30
  • Tango show (with dinner) $85
  • Tango lesson (group) $4.30
  • Tango lesson (private) $40/hour

Transportation

  • Bus $0.25
  • Subway $0.25
  • Taxi (airport to Recoleta) $27
  • Taxi (Palermo to Micro Centro, 4km) $3.50
Other
  • Gas (liter) $0.80

Most Tourists Don’t Need a Pre-arranged Visa to Enter Argentina

Most tourists don’t need a pre-arranged visa to enter Argentina but it depends on your country of citizenship. Tourists from Canada, United States, Germany, Australia and the UK — just to name a few countries — don’t need to get a visa in advance of their arrival. If you are a citizen of one of those countries, you simply need to arrive in Argentina with your passport. The immigrations officer will stamp your passport to allow you to stay in the country for 90 days as a tourist. A return ticket may also be required.

You can check whether or not you need a visa at this government website. And if you ever have any doubt, it is always a good idea to contact the Argentine consulate in your country. They can give you full information on all entry requirements.

If you wish to stay as a tourist for longer than 90 days, you have several options. Probably the simplest and most popular method to renew your tourist visa is to exit and re-enter the country. To do this, some people take a day trip to Colonia in Uruguay on the Buquebus. When you re-enter, you will get a fresh stamp on your passport and be good for another 90 days. I’ve used this method myself.

Another option is to overstay the 90 day period. If you do this, on exiting the country you may be required to pay a fine.

Another way to extend your visa is to go to the Immigration office and apply for an extension. If you choose this method, be prepared for long lines and possible bureaucratic complications. The office is located in Puerto Madero close to the Buquebus terminal at Antartida Argentina 1355.

Flying Out of EZE – Get There Early

The Pistarini International Airport, EZE, is a busy airport. Departure is much less organized than arrival. I recommend arriving at least two hours before your flight. Two and a half hours would be better. Three hours may be needed if the airport is busy.

A taxi ride from central Buenos Aires (Palermo, Recoleta, Micro Centro, etc.) takes about 45 minutes. If traffic is bad it can take longer. I usually take a remise (private car) or Taxi EZE, whichever is cheaper.

When you arrive at EZE, go to your airline’s check-in counter and get your boarding pass. You will receive a form to fill out for Immigrations. Also, if you lost the form they stuck in your passport when you arrived, you can get another one here.

I’d advise against putting anything of value in your checked luggage. Keep it in your carry-on. Airport staff have been known to steal things like digital cameras and ipods. They will even break your lock or cut through plastic security wrap. 

Next, find the line to pay your exit tax. It’s on the main floor close to the check-in counters. The tax is about $18 per person. Argentine Pesos, Euros and USD are accepted.

If you will be claiming a tax refund on any purchases you made, go to the Customs counter on the main floor to get your receipts stamped. Then go to the Global Refund booth on second floor to get the refund. If the line-up is terrible you could wait and go to the Global Refund booth by the departure gates. But if you have time it is better to get your refund here in case the booth at the gate is closed.

Next, line-up to go through security screening. This might take a while. Be patient.

After you go through security, you have to line up again to go through Immigrations.

Once you clear Immigrations you walk through a duty-free shop and head to your gate. There aren’t a lot of good eating options in this area — primarily coffee and sandwiches.

Have a great flight home! I hope you had a wonderful time in Argentina.

Are Buenos Aires Women Beautiful?

The women of Buenos Aires, porteñas as they are called, have the reputation of being among the most beautiful women in the world. But is it true?

I’ll answer this question two ways: first with a few facts and observations, and second with opinions from people who have visited the city.

Porteñas take good care of themselves. They are vain and extremely conscious of their appearance.

Dieting is the norm. You don’t see a lot of overweight women in Buenos Aires. (And that goes for the men too). I’m seeing more and more pilates studios in the city.

Plastic surgery is extremely common (and inexpensive). I’ve seen the trend to more plastic surgery described as “a rage”.

Even though your average porteña doesn’t have a lot of extra money, she still does her best to look good. Nails are done. Clothes are sexy and coordinated, even if it is just jeans and a shirt. Makeup is not heavy, but it is used.

Their features show European influences. Many Argentines have roots in Italy, Germany, or even Poland.

Now a few random opinions.

“They are hot. I can’t really explain it. It has something to do with the effort they take to make themselves look good and their willingness to flirt.”- Martin, 31, Argentina

“Good looking but not a lot of variety. I’m used to seeing women of all colors and races. Argentina seemed very homogeneous.” – Gord, 43, Toronto, Canada

“Nothing special. They are definitely more fit than American women but not drop-dead gorgeous or anything.” – Maria, 25, Vancouver, Canada

“Very nice. I married one.” – Nicolas, 34, Paris, France

“Nice looking but I don’t know about their personalities. Definitely not as fun as Brazilians. – Brad, 26, Seattle, USA

Bahrein Pumps Out Electronic Beats to a Young Crowd

Bahrein is one of the better clubs in Buenos Aires for techno, psychedelic, trance or other forms of electronic music. Other styles are also played, depending on the night and the DJ.

Bahrein epitomizes the type of clubbing you can only find in the biggest cities of the world. The club has two levels but the basement is where the action really happens. A huge wall of LED lights pulses to the rhythm that, coupled with the killer sound system, creates an out-of-body dance experience. Of course there are chill out spaces where you can take a break from the packed dance floor and down another Red Bull.

The crowd here is young, typically 18 to 24.

You can get a feel for the atmosphere with this YouTube video. The quality of the recording isn’t great but good enough to let you know whether this is the kind of club you might want to visit.

Like all Buenos Aires nightclubs, Bahrein doesn’t really get rolling until after 2am on weekends. The time I went, cover was 40 pesos, if I remember correctly. It might have been more. The combination of high-decibel music and alcohol erased a few memories.

Bahrein is located in Microcentro at Lavalle 345.

Here’s a link to the Bahrein website.

1810 Cocina Regional Serves Traditional (and Tasty) Argentine Cuisine

1810 Cocina Regional specializes in traditional, regional Argentine food. Eating here is almost like having a home-cooked Argentine meal.

Empanadas are a house specialty. If you’ve never tried an empanada, it’s a pastry stuffed with a savory filling. The most popular fillings are ground meat (carne), ham and cheese (jamón y queso) and ground corn and sweet red peppers (humita). Warning: They are addictive.

My favorite dish on the menu at 1810, and the reason I will come back, is the lentils with bacon and sweet potatoes. If there is a better food combination than lentils and bacon I have yet to discover it.

The atmosphere is simple and homey. Prices are moderate.

If you go to the Palermo location, note that the restaurant’s doors slide open. I thought the door was locked until a waiter came to my rescue and let me in. It was a little embarrassing.

The Palermo location is at Julián Álvarez 1998. There are also locations in Belgano and Microcentro.

Here’s a link to the 1810 website.