steak with a side of tango at Candilejas

The bellman who helped us out of our taxi at the Hotel de las Americas (see “digs”) was persuasive to say the least.  Coercing us into purchasing tickets for a dinner/ tango combo before our luggage even hit the bed, he advised us on a show that would provide a more realistic and down-to-earth experience than others at more flashy venues in town.  This program was apparently so authentic that it was regularly attended by Buenos Aires locals for special family get-togethers.  Sounded intriguing enough, and thus, the festivities for our first evening in town took place at Candilejas in San Telmo, the lovely neighborhood where trees grow out from the stonework of old buildings!

Naturally, we were one of the first couples to arrive; Set of Drifter Doug is rarely late for anything!  While most of the restaurant was decorated to mimic an "authentic” gaucho outpost somewhere in the distant Pampas, we were digging the more modern and groovy artwork that adorned some of the lesser walls.

Dinner was served prior to the show, and based off of a prix-fixe menu that boasted a series of hearty Argentine courses, went down smoothly with our bottle of Malbec from the Mendoza region of Argentina.  True to our bellman’s promise, local porteños sat nearby celebrating some sort of reunion between long-lost friends.  Their party, and robust sing-a-longs, certainly brought a special element to the evening, particularly once the show started.

A severe change in lighting soon segued the dinner into the performance aspect of the evening which took place from a stage off to the side.  The cast of six dancers performed their way fastidiously through a series of iterations on the captivating tango. 

At one point, a married couple from the porteño party came up to do a “courtship dance.”  Were they planted because they surely knew their stuff!  (They later received a standing ovation.)  Still, our favorite tango couple was the folk dancing duo of Florentino and Graciela who performed a similar courtship dance with white napkins as if to show the audience how it’s really done.

 Later, while Graciela took up percussionist, Florentino brought out a set of boleadoras, weighted balls fastened to the end of straps that are traditionally used to capture livestock by entangling their legs!  Of course, there were no live animals at Candilejas.  Here, the bolas were used as a rhythmic accompaniment to a dance not dissimilar to Spanish flamenco!  Shocking the audience into submission with his almost metronomic precision, Florentino’s hypnotic performance was easily a highlight of the evening.

Live music was further supplied by a pianist, a guitarist, someone on the bandoneón and a musician who played a mean Greek arpa!  Singer Fabio Santana was our "Carlos Gardel" host for the evening... though it was chanteuse Laura Bogado who really stole the show at Candilejas!  Her performance during a finale that joined together all three tango couples on stage certainly brought down the house!  All together, the tango spectacular at Candilejas provided an evening that we won’t soon forget!  BRAVO all around!

Showtime is usually around 8:30 PM though check the restaurant’s website for the week’s current schedule.  Tickets to the Candilejas dinner and show were quite reasonable.  Including wine and transfers to and from the hotel, the entire evening set us back only AR$200 each (about $50 USD), though we expect ticket prices vary depending on which outlet you purchase them from!

Set of Drifters tip:  Talk to your fellow travelers and share your experiences!  You’ll pick up new tips from people who just may become future friends and travel buddies.  Just before the tango performance at Candilejas we met fellow travelers who sat nearby from Brazil and Australia.  Funnily enough, in order to speak with the Brazilian family we had to do it via Spanish since they did not understand any English and we, if you hadn't already noticed, are not so hot with the Portuguese!  The somewhat clumsy interaction provided us with a nice tie to our week in Brazil even though we had already moved on to other adventures!

Candilejas - Estados Unidos 1500, Monserrat, Buenos Aires, 011 (54) 11 4304-0885, 011 (54) 4304-3241

the unexpected allure of pizza in Buenos Aires

An interesting quirk in Argentina is that there is certainly no lack of pizza to be found!  That’s a good thing since pizza is one meal option that your “Set of Drifters” always seem to agree upon!  How can you really go wrong?  Well... to be perfectly honest, we have experienced quite a few pizza purveyors throughout the years who do get it wrong!  Perhaps unexpectedly, those in Buenos Aires know what they are doing!  Then again, since the majority of immigrants who began arriving to the country in the 1850’s were of Italian descent, it really shouldn’t be any surprise at all that here in Buenos Aires pizza reigns supreme!

We had heard from several porteños that one pizza joint we should not miss was El Cuartito.  Luckily for us, the enduring establishment was located only a few blocks away from our hotel in the Retiro; it’s gleaming neon sign had actually caught our attention well before we discovered it was the “pizza de resistance” in town!

Opened in 1934, El Cuartito is a veritable Buenos Aires institution, and celebrated its 75th birthday in 2009!  Somewhat like Katz’s Deli in New York’s Lower East Side, the family style restaurant is bustling with energy - and hungry customers - but short on extravagance.  High tin-paneled ceilings offer an abundance of bright open space lit by florescent bulbs, while the restaurant’s walls feature decoupaged magazine articles touting Argentina’s famed fútbol and boxing stars from years gone by.

El Cuartito features pizza by the slice, and also by the very generous pie!  Visitors will be astounded by their array of mouthwatering special varieties.  Why not try their specialty, the “Fugazza” (double creme cheese, mozzarella, sauteed onions and olive oil), or the “Verdura con Salsa Blanca” (sauteed spinach, bechamel and mozzarella).  Naturally, we also appreciated the seemingly bottomless wine options as well!

Of course, if pizza is not your thing, El Cuartito also features some incredibly flaky empanadas that impress locals to no end!  (Just look at those lines out the door!)  Though the service was a bit slow, the place was rammed with guests and we could certainly not find fault once we had tasted their goods!  El Cuartito is open Monday through Saturday from 12:00 PM until late.  Slices are priced around AR$4 (about $1 USD).  Added bonus:  Their menu is conveniently written in both Spanish and English, so order away and bring an empty stomach!

Another possibility for pizza, and other Italian delights, is Piola, a chain restaurant that originated in Treviso, Italy back in 1986!  Piola’s franchised brand has been so well received throughout the world that locations in Brazil, Chile and Turkey have since been joined by relatives in that other “Big Apple” all the way in the United States!

A quirky, artistic atmosphere that attracts both bohemians and the “happy hour” crowd alike has become one of the brand’s signatures.  Believe it or not, their symbiotic relationship to the arts has even spawned its own publishing company!  Of course, we’re talking about its food, and one thing that really stands out about Piola its pizza, generated from fresh ingredients, buffalo mozzarella, and a most perfect crust that almost resembles a calzone more than a traditional pizza.  Nevertheless, the taste will still make your mouth water!

We chose Piola as our final meal before heading to the airport, once again thanks to its quick proximity to our hotel in the Retiro.  Though we were physically drained after 17 days of traveling throughout South America, the pastas, pizza and Chimay at Piola sure hit the spot!  Ultimately, we will never forget the warmth and hospitality provided by everyone in Rio de Janeiro, Iguassu Falls and Buenos Aires!  Salud a todos!

Piola, and its well-stocked bar, are open Monday to Wednesday from 12:00 PM to 2:00 AM, Thursdays and Fridays from 12:00 PM until 3:00 AM, and Saturdays and Sundays from 7:00 PM until 2:00 AM.

El Cuartito - Talcahuano 937, Tribunales, Buenos Aires, 011 (54) 11 4816-1758,

Piola - Libertad 1078, Barrio Norte, Buenos Aires, 011 (54) 11 4812-0690, or 011        (54) 11 4815-4746,

it’s grill time at La Rosalia Parilla de San Telmo

After an evening of serious bar-hopping, not much can match a round of good old-fashioned late-night eats!  And just like other sultry Latin-vibed locations (think Miami Beach), Buenos Aires offers a slew of outdoor restaurants that never seem to close their doors, or their sidewalks!  While strolling along the busy Avenida Santa Fe early one morning we happened upon just such an establishment.  While we cannot remember the name of the restaurant, it followed in the grand tradition of an Argentine parilla, a grill restaurant that focuses its menu’s recipes around various types and cuts of meat (blood sausage, chitterlings, kidney, or gizzard anyone?)  Somewhat akin to a Brazilian churrascaria, yet more elegant and decidedly less gluttonous, Argentine parillas cater to those seeking to indulge in the country’s rich tradition of high quality beef.  Typical entrees include bife de Lomo (tenderloin), matambre de cerdo (pork flank steak) and brochet de pollo (chicken brochettes).

While we enjoyed our late night meal in the Retiro, a more traditional bet was the Parilla la Rosalia in quaint San Telmo; the restaurant provided what was perhaps our favorite meal in Buenos Aires.  Housed in a simple yet well-dressed mansion that dates from 1900, La Rosalia makes for the perfect respite after shuffling endlessly through the Mercado de San Telmo (see “goodies”).  We loved the picturesque views from the windows almost as much as the understated, yet still delicious, menu choices.  If you are looking for unique parilla items like offal, La Rosalia’s got ‘em!  And yet, if you’re not feeling so adventuresome, a plate of their fantastic empanadas will pair well with any number of selections from their extensive wine menu.  Maybe it was the refuge from the raging rainstorm outside, but at La Rosalia, every element, from the fresh-baked breads to the chocolate orange ice cream was juuuuust perfect.

La Rosalia is open daily from 10:00 AM to 1:30 AM.  The parilla restaurant also showcases tango shows on Friday and Saturday nights; check their website for more information.

Parrilla La Rosalia de San Telmo - Estados Unidos 482, San Telmo, Buenos Aires, 011 (45) 11 4361-6887

Bar 6

No doubt about it, sauntering through Palermo Viejo’s innumerable shopping opportunities (see “goodies”) is going to wear you out, especially if it’s the middle of Argentina’s summer (January - through March).  Taking a break from our credit cards, we popped into the very trendy Bar 6 for lunch, and some much-needed A/C.

Bar 6 reminded us somewhat of Space Untitled, one of our favorite cafes in New York’s SOHO enclave.  Ironically, a subdivision of Palermo in Buenos Aires is also dubbed “Soho” - and for a good reason as there is oddly a resemblance between the two!

Comfy multicolored seating and tall brick walls set the tone for a crowd that mixes together all sorts of Buenos Aires porteños.  This funky space is where bohemian artists and writers dose up on caffeine alongside groups of well-to-do damas catching up over a salad before an afternoon of retail therapy.

We enjoyed some simple pastas and tasty olive breads from Bar 6’s always changing lunch menu.  For dessert, it was all about the delicate medialunas, sorbet, and some pretty strong cappuccinos, albeit at prices slightly more expensive than need be! 

Bar 6 opens daily at 8:00 AM with a breakfast menu that is served until 12:00 PM.  Lunch follows with an all-day menu that heads straight into the evening where DJ’s spin lounge grooves on the weekends.

Simply in need of a glass of malbec?  Bar 6 features a nice wine list that will undoubtedly keep you company all night long!  Set of Drifters tip:  The bathroom at Bar 6 is on the second floor, and almost seems like it belongs to a different establishment!  It is nowhere near as clean, or cool, as the restaurant/ cafe below!  Try not to spend too much time there if you can help it, which apparently, we could not.

Bar 6 - Armenia 1676, Palmero Viejo, Buenos Aires, 011 (54) 11 4833-6807

Empire Thai

Our previous week in Brazil had been magnificent and special in its uniqueness, but upon arriving in Argentina, it was nice to have a few extra creature comforts within our reach, most notably in the form of added food choices!

After arriving in Buenos Aires and unpacking at our hotel, we ventured out onto the streets of the Retiro neighborhood.  It was not long before we had made it to Plaza San Martín along the busy Santa Fe thoroughfare.  To be honest, we were exhausted and attractions like the Monumental Torre de los Ingleses felt barely intriguing.  It seemed perhaps that we just needed to relax, and thus, having located Empire Thai, a restaurant we assumed would not be “authentic,” we collapsed into a comfy booth in the rear of the bar. 

The interiors of Empire Thai were dark yet colorful at the same time, with large paintings of elephants looming overhead.  Great care had gone into the tiniest of decor details, which is usually just the way we like it!  Friendly staff, including the gregarious host Kevin who chatted us  up about living in Los Angeles, kept us comfortable and satiated throughout the meal, and though the food was nothing spectacular (spaghetti noodles in Pad Thai?), it certainly hit the spot after the non-stop fried steak-cheese-beef parade that was Rio de Janeiro!

Thanks to its proximity to the financial district of BA’s “Microcentro,” Empire Thai does hearty lunch business starting at 12:00 PM daily.  While we would not necessarily recommend the experience for dinner as one of your nights out on the town, the “American-style bar” does stay open until 1:00 AM Monday through Friday and 3:00 AM Saturday and Sunday.

Empire Thai - Tres Sargentos 427, Buenos Aires, 011 (54) 11 4312-5706,

Pride Café

While wandering the lovely cobbled streets of San Telmo on our final day in town, we happened upon a cute little corner cafe that emanated a delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee.  Your Set of Drifters like their coffee, and it just happened to be that time of the day when you need a quick hit to keep you going.  We popped in, ordered our drinks and saddled down into one of the outside tables to watch the day pass lazily by.  To our surprise, Pride Café was a gay run coffee shop and bar (sarcasm, friends!)  I guess the nose knows these things.

At any rate, Pride serves as a great place to have a snack, check out the locals, and of course, down a few capu’s.  A certain amount of care clearly goes into the preparation of their drinks and the baking of their pastries.  We tried out a dark chocolate brownie concoction that was accompanied by some tasty chocolate ice!  “Groovespotting” never tasted so good!

This quaint little place is open every day from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM.  In the afternoon hours, feel free to take advantage of their full bar that shows off an eclectic array of cocktails.  And on Thursday nights, Pride Cafésteps it up a notch by holding a weekly drag show that keeps the joint open until late, though we weren’t around to see the festivities.

Pride Café - Balcarce 869, Buenos Aires, 011 (54) 11 4300-6435