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Vegans and vegetarians, turn away now. Argentina is unapologetically carnivorous, and tucking into an oversized steak is a point of national pride. Working your way through a slab of barbecued meat at a local parrilla (a restaurant selling barbecue meat) is a right of passage for visitors travelling through Argentina.
Parrilla is an Argentine word with two meanings – it can be used to describe a typical Argentine steakhouse restaurant, or it can denote a metal grill used for preparing the meat. The metal grill is a part of traditional asado barbecues. It comes in many shapes and sizes, but it typically consists of a main grill with a firebox (called brasero) on the side.
Firewood or charcoal are loaded into the firebox, and once the embers drop to the bottom, the coals are placed under the main grill. The plate is often tilted on a decline so that the excess juices can drip downward in order not to cause any flare-ups.
Parrillas are not hard to find. They are everywhere, if there’s not one within your eye line, just follow your nose.
The beef is cooked slowly and steadily, over hot coals under a pile of burning wood rather than ready-made charcoal, under the watchful eye of the asador (grillmaster). Argentinians like their steaks well done and will assume you do to. Make sure you let the asador know if you’d like yours any different.
You’ll also be offered an overwhelming choice of cuts. You’ll recognise favourites like bife de chorizo (sirloin), cuadril (rump)and ojo de bife (rib eye), but tira de asado (thin strips of ribs and meat sliced crosswise), and vacío (flank steak that is textured and chewy), are worth checking out, too.
If you are in Buenos Aires an institution is the restaurant Don Julio. It has been building its stellar reputation since owner Pablo Rivero opened the steakhouse in Palermo more than 20 years ago in 1999. The restaurant is an embodiment of Argentine culture: sustainably farmed beef meets the embers on the traditional grill, accompanied by an outstanding wine list and friendly hospitality. It defined a new style of luxury, culminating in Don Julio being crowned The Best Restaurant in Latin America 2020.
For a perfect meal at Don Julio, start with the house sausages, then the offal and signature skirt steak accompanied by fries and grilled vegetables. For dessert, don’t miss the homemade ice creams and cheeses with regional sweets. Executive chef Guido Tassi, who trained in fine dining restaurants, adds value to the asador with a focus on high-quality products and his work making Don Julio’s outstanding charcuterie.