Patagonia Cuisine: As Delightful as its Scenery and its Adventures

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Breakfast at Del Bosque in El ChaltenFree associating about Argentine Patagonia usually conjures up imagery of the expansive landscape accompanying Ruta 40, the breathtaking immensity of the Perito Moreno Glacier, the towering peak of Torre Fitz Roy, or the majestic snow-capped mountains circumscribing Ushuaia at the “end of the world.” Local guidebooks preach endlessly about the innumerable outdoor adventures and activities in which one can partake.

However well informed of the destination, most books and tour organizers fail to elaborate on one thing: the great food. Some of the best meals I’ve consumed during the past three months living in Argentina were sampled during my two-week navigation of Patagonia.

La Cocina Restaurant in El Calafate

El Calafate, best known as the gateway town to the illustrious Parque Nacional Las Glaciares and the Perito Moreno Glacier, should also be known for its quaint restaurant La Cocina (Av Libertador 1245). Suffering from a bad cold after several days of overnight buses and noisy nights in hostels, I found my cure in La Cocina’s heaping bowl of vegetable soup.

Also specializing in large servings of ravioli and pasta, La Cocina’s home-style cuisine and friendly service kept me coming back several times during my stay in El Calafate. There’s no better way to keep patrons returning than finishing a meal off with La Cocina’s fruit salad, complete with Calafate Berries (legend has it that anyone who consumes the tasty berry is certain to revisit Patagonia).

Home of the stately Fitz Roy Range, El Chaltén is located just four hours (by bus) from El Calafate. Though the town itself is quite charming, most backpackers see very little of it, staying only a night or two at a cheap hostel and spending the daylight hours trekking through the northern half of Parque Nacional Las Glaciares. Due to a lingering knee injury, I spent less time than your average backpacker hiking through the park and more time exploring the neglected culinary delights.

Ruca Mahuida and Del Bosque in El Chalten

Tucked down a smaller side street in town, Ruca Mahuida (Lionnel Terray 104) appears more like a vacation cabin than a restaurant. The atmosphere is cozy, dare I say romantic, with sheepskin-covered benches, a small wooden bar, and a panoramic view of the mountain range towering above the tiny town. Ruca Mahuida lays claim to the most tender, juiciest melt-in-your-mouth steak I’ve sampled in Argentina (a colossal accomplishment in a country rampant with parillas).

Breakfast at Del Bosque in El ChaltenAfter sleeping off the evening’s delectable provisions I stumbled into Del Bosque (on San Martín near Rancho Grande Hostel). The cure for the common hostel breakfast (read watered down coffee, soggy toast and peach jam), Del Bosque served up a fluffy waffle covered with a mountain of mouth-watering fresh fruit and an unbelievable cup of Argentine-born chai tea (Inti Zen’s Chaman Chai – available at the supermarket chain Norte!)

Heading north from El Chaltén and El Calafate, travelers’ next stop on the Patagonian tour route includes the Lake District Capital of Bariloche. Known as the ski capital of the country and arguably the most popular ski destination in all of South America, the city is also host to a whole slew of outdoor activities from horseback riding to trekking to paragliding.

El Vegetariano in Bariloche

El Vegetariano sign in BarilocheWhat better way to build an appetite than by spending all day mountaineering through the backcountry of Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi? One needs to bring along only one thing to Bariloche’s vegetarian hotspot El Vegetariano (20 de Febrero 730): a voracious appetite. With bountiful portion sizes and daily set menus for lunch and dinner, El Vegetariano dished up some of the tastiest grilled vegetables and fresh soup and juice I’ve ever had (this coming from a girl raised in California). In addition to the monstrous portions, the friendly wait staff and the delightful complimentary homemade tea rounded out the laudable dining experience at El Vegetariano.

La Cocina – Av Libertador 1245, El Calafate
Ruca Mahuida – Lionnel Terray 104, El Chalten
Del Bosque – on San Martín, near Rancho Grande Hostel, El Chalten
El Vegetariano – 20 de Febrero 730, Bariloche, Argentina

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