I don’t know about you, but when I travel, I never want to waste stomach capacity on a mediocre meal. There’s only so many places a girl can eat! I’ve written about the logistics of my trip to South America and my itinerary, but realized that I haven’t talked about my meals yet. Today, let’s look at the best steakhouse (parrilla) in Buenos Aires – Cabaña Las Lilas!
Argentina is a beef capital of the world. With the world’s second highest consumption rate of beef, you bet the Argentines know how to cook a mean steak. When I stayed a week in Buenos Aires for work, I was determined to try the best steak in Argentina. There is no shortage of places to eat a steak in Buenos Aires, but during my research, I kept coming across 3 steakhouses: La Cabrera, La Brigada and Cabaña Las Lilas.
I was in Buenos Aires for work, so I went to grab dinner right after work at around 8pm. This felt a bit late for me already, but I was surprised to find this popular restaurant empty at this hour. As it turns out, Argentines don’t go out for dinner until 10pm or later. The next day, I asked my coworkers why they eat so late. Most say they enjoyed spending time between work and dinner on their hobbies such as getting together to play soccer with their friends before dinner. Fancy that, actually taking time to enjoy your hobbies every day after work!
As I was contemplating my wine choice, the waiter brought me a plate of assorted small bites. Since I’ve already had a few meals in Buenos Aires before this, I knew right away that I was going to get charged for the plate. It’s typical for restaurants to charge for couvert, in other words, a cover charge. This cover charge will be used towards a bread basket, a plate of olives, or in this case, this beautiful plate of bites.
It turns out the custom of a couvert is very popular in Brazil, Portugal and other Spanish/Portuguese cities. If you looked at the menu, it will usually let you know they are charging for couvert. This plate along with some freshly baked bread ended up costing $38 Argentine Pesos (currently the equivalent of $4.75 USD, but in 2012, it was more like $9). Not sure if you can refuse it, seems a bit rude – but this plate looked too yummy for me not to try. Too bad there was no way I was going to finish it on my own.
As I nibbled away at the octopus and mozzarella, I couldn’t help but feel at ease. I truly felt like I was treated like a welcomed guest at the restaurant since I was given a chance to settle in, have a few bites without being rushed to order anything. I settled on a glass of Argentine Melbec and Oje de Bife, a rib eye steak. At $175 Pesos, it was one of the priciest steaks I had in Buenos Aires. (Currently $21.75, at the time was double that).
Argentines actually like their steak cooked through, so a medium-rare usually looks like a medium to medium-well. So when I ordered my steak “rare”, I was surprised that Cabaña Las Lilas actually cooked their steak to a perfect American rare for me. As a result, this steak was a TAD more rare than I would normally order, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.
The beef in Argentina is noticeably more lean and tastes more “beefy” than the steaks in the states. Healthy cows live in Argentina as they’re mainly grass-fed. The fatty American in me has grown accustomed to a good amount of fat marbled through my steak, so while I thought this steak was good, I missed the bit of fat to each bite that helps the meat just melt in your mouth. Since my oje de bife was cooked rare, the steak at Cabaña Las Lilas was much less chewy and tough than the rest of the steaks I had in this country.
As I ate my way through the steak (I was getting real full and couldn’t finish!), the restaurant started to fill up. I would imagine if I ate dinner at a regular Argentine hour, a reservation would have been necessary if you don’t want to wait. My night ended with my waiter bringing me complementary limoncello and some clear booze that tasted like a not-so-smooth tasting vodka. The house-made limoncello was a much welcomed digestive that was just wonderful after scarfing down a huge steak.
Have as much as you’d like, my waiter said. This gesture was so nice and really helped extend the feel of the relaxing and welcoming atmosphere that I felt at Cabaña Las Lilas. If I was more of an alcoholic, I would have had more of the limoncello by myself, but I was already so full. And I was a girl alone in Buenos Aires who still needed to make her way home safely. So as appealing as the unlimited bottle of limoncello seemed, I stopped at just a small glass.
If I had a dining buddy, I could imagine just sitting here for hours, enjoying the view and the relaxing experience. What a wonderful way to end a night!
As the week progressed, I tried La Brigada two days after Cabaña Las Lilas and found it less remarkable. While the steak at La Brigada was so tender that it could be cut with a spoon, I didn’t love the way my steak was cooked (medium), the lame stale bread basket. I had planned to go to La Cabrera as my last meal, but decided against it on Saturday because reviews points that it was a bit touristy and the wait could have been really long.
If you’re planning to check it out, be smart like Jen of Tiny Urban Kitchen and make a reservation. If you want to get a feel of the restaurant, check out her recent post on La Cabrera.
Upon review, I feel that Cabaña Las Lilas still wins in both taste and atmosphere. It will be the priciest option of most parrilla you look at in Buenos Aires, but I’m telling you it’s worth it if you’re only going to choose one steakhouse to try.
3 reasons why Cabaña Las Lilas is the best parrilla in BA:
- I surveyed trusted foodies at work who have also been to Buenos Aires lately for work lately, and some have tried all three places. They all agree Cabaña Las Lilas wins in this category.
- It’s one of the few restaurants that had freshly baked bread and limoncello to end the night. Other nice restaurants in Buenos Aires gave me baskets of stale day old bread and charged me a ridiculous couvert for it.
- Cabaña Las Lilas is the only parrilla who will cook your steak as rare as you like. In other parrillas, I asked for my steak rare (even a “blue”), and only got a medium.
So if you’re in Buenos Aires, and you can only have one steak dinner, you know where to go. 🙂
Buenos Aires C1107AAL
Area: Puerto Madero