For the simplest food direct from the Tucuman province in the north of Argentina and the hottest picante sauce I have been able to find in two months of desperate searching, go to Manos Costumbristas.
When you enter the building that was constructed in 1810 you feel like not too much has changed. The concrete floor is bare and the windowless and the high brick walls are largely unadorned, joining with an undecorated ceiling. The chairs are simply crafted and the 18 tables are covered with cheap table clothes, the kind you could find at a country fair picnic in the United States. At the front of the dining hall there is a small stage bookended by Argentine flags. In the past there were shows, but after the disco fire of 2004 they haven’t been able to use it because of more stringent fire regulations.
As for choices, don’t worry you won’t be overwhelmed by an extensive menu that paralyzes your decision making faculties; there are only empanadas or tamales..or both. But wait, you actually have four choices, because your empanada can be either chicken (de pollo) or beef (de carne) while the tamales comes as either beef (de carne) or vegetable (humita). In the winter they do a thick stew, but summer months are too hot.
After downing two epanadas and two tamales ( I had to try everything on the menu) I had a desert as well. It was very sweet, but very good although it may not necessarily come across that way when described. There is no short name for it in Spanish, but here it is anyway: quesillo con miel de caña y dulce de coyote. That is, “little cheese with sugar cane honey and sweet melon pulp sauce”, more or less. The thin slices of cheese had the consistency of chewing gum and were covered with a sweet glaze with a glob of sweet melon sauce slapped on top. Delicious.
The ambiance alone is worth the visit, but the hot sauce was hot and the food was simple and great.