As much as I rave about Uruguay, it does have its downsides, such as the lack of imaginative food. You’re most likely to encounter pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, the chivito (their version of a burger), and maybe a parrilla or two. Even locals will say that the food here is not very creative or progressive. Uruguay is very much a meat-and-potatoes kind of culture.
And what’s even worse is that eating out in Montevideo costs a pretty penny. If I thought food in Buenos Aires was on the pricey side, then Montevideo makes BA seem like a budget destination. But during my time in Ciudad Vieja, I have found some really outstanding restaurants that make the high cost of food worth every penny. The quality is always top-notch, the ingredients fresh, and the cuisine innovative. These chefs are not afraid to push the boundaries of traditional cuisine.
Here are some of my best restaurant recommendations in Montevideo Ciudad Vieja.
5. Wasa [Ethnik Food]
Zabala 1341 | Ciudad Viejo, Montevideo, Uruguay
A serious little hole in the wall, you will never ever guess that such delicious food is served behind its slightly grimy, nondescript doors. This tiny little restaurant provides seating mainly at the bar counter in front of the open kitchen, where the French chef whips up fresh French/Uruguyan fushion cuisine. The paper menu you will be given will only consist of a few items: salads and bagels, as well as a selection of natural juices and desserts.
But as with a lot of the restaurants here, the thing to order is the daily menu, which will be written out on a chalkboard. The daily menu at Wasa is one of the best value around, as it includes an appetizer and entree for a set price. Due to my limited Spanish, I’m never really sure what it is, but always have been pleasantly surprised… whether it’s tuna over rice cake, or roasted chicken with a sweet & sour sauce, with cauliflower mash. Whatever it is that day, it’s guaranteed to be delicious and healthy.
And the best part? This place is one of the most affordable restaurants in Old Town. The daily menu is usually around UR$250 peso (or US$12), which is a great price for the amount and quality of food.
Open: Monday – Friday for lunch only. Get there early because it fills up fast.
Prices: From UR$150 to $250. Cash only.
Best for: Delicious, healthy food at affordable prices.
4. Café Brasillero
Ituzaimgo 1447 | Ciudad Viejo, Montevideo, Uruguay
Café Brasillero is the oldest café in Montevideo (opened in 1887) and it exudes old-world glamour, with its wood paneled walls and luxurious bar with the large mirror hanging overhead. Being here is like stepping away from the modern world, and falling back in time into a big warm, cozy cave. This was our favorite place to spend a cold, rainy afternoon.
Their menu is one of the most extensive, from sandwiches to meats, and also includes a large selection of drinks and desserts. As this café houses a full bar, it features an impressive cocktail menu as well as a good variety of local wines. Even though the menu stays pretty true to the traditional fare, the most interesting thing served here in the black squid ink risotto. It comes out looking scary, but is so delicious.. full of fresh seafood flavors and melty cheese.
Open: Monday – Saturday, 8 am – 8 pm.
Prices: Sandwiches from UR$180 to meats for UR$350. Credit card accepted.
Best for: Ambiance, history, and the friendly barman
Sarandí 349 | Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo, Uruguay
This little restaurant surprised me most of all. Much like Wasa, it’s hidden behind a nondescript storefront, and the only seating is along the counter in front of the open kitchen. I was completely transfixed on watching the staff work. I’ve never witnessed such attention paid to detail to the quality and presentation of food. We saw a sous chef inspect and manually shear each leaf for the salads, and carefully place each sundried tomato or crouton on the salad arrangement. Unbelievable! Everything served here is a result of a labor of love.
The menu here is also very creative, infusing Uruguayan dishes with Asian flavors. One of my favorites here is the smoked salmon baguette sandwich, with cucumber slices, avocado, and wasabi mayo – like a salmon sushi roll in sandwich form. The wasabi was so strong that it made my nose water and brain hurt. Delicious! And much welcomed from the normal plain flavor profiles of the country’s cuisine. D’s halibut, accompanied with lemongrass infused mashed potatoes and baba ganoush, was another ingenious creation!
Unfortunately, this place is on the pricey side (made even more so that it’s cash only). But it wins my #3 spot for the unique flavor combinations, especially in a country where Asian flavors are hard to find.
Open: Monday – Friday for lunch only.
Price: Everything in the UR$230 (sandwiches) to UR$350 (meats) range. Cash only
Best for: The most innovative menu, and will satisfy cravings for Asian food
Sarandí 349 | Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo, Uruguay
Jacintos (restaurant, café, and bakery all in one) is located towards the end of the pedestrian street where it starts to get more deserted, but it’s definitely a place NOT to be missed.
Again, the cuisine is a fusion of French and Uruguyan (a popular theme around here), but they do it better than most! This bright, charming restaurant is renovated from an old building, and is decorated with a fun shabby chic ambiance. The menu consists of the usual meats, salads, sandwiches, and desserts, but all are just spectacular and more than meets the eye. When the food comes, it’s simple and unpretentious, but everything is so intensely flavorful and executed to perfection.
Open: Monday – Saturday for lunch only, 12 pm to approx. 4 pm.
Price: main meat dishes run around $350 peso, or US$15. Credit card accepted.
Best for: Simple fresh fare, with a twist
*Note that the location has moved. The new location is:
Ramón Fernández 285, 11300 Montevideo, Uruguay
Oh, Foc, what more can I say about it?
As soon as you sit down, you’ll be surprised with a couple of complimentary hor dourves. Maybe you’ll get shrimp dipped in aioli, or maybe it’ll be an ingenious zucchini soup shooter. Maybe it will look and sound weird, but you can be assured that it will be absolutely delicious.
I love everything about this little restaurant, from the cozily, rustic brick wall interior to the super friendly and humble chef who will personally serve you. And oh yeah, about the chef… he previously owned one of the top restaurants in Spain, before moving back to Uruguay to open Foc, a Catalan restaurant. Everything he creates is magic.
I’ve already written a bit about Foc, so let’s just say that it succeeded in convincing me to eat rabbit, something that I swore I would never do. Yep, it’s that good.
Open: 12 pm to 4 pm (lunch); 8 pm – 12 am (dinner)
Price: all dishes run around UR$300. Cash only.
Best for: just THE BEST.
Bonus tip for dining in Uruguay: All prices include taxes. When paying with a card, you automatically get a discount of 18%, because tourists do not need to pay the resident taxes. If you pay with cash, you’ll have to pay the full amount. This is why even though some places like Jacintos is more expensive, we still went there because we were able to pay with card. Receiving a discount AND double points on our card? Yes!
I didn’t go to Montevideo expecting good food. But it turned out that with the discovery of these restaurants, I have never eaten better than I did during my time in Montevideo. And even though it wasn’t good for our budget, I think even my wallet agreed that it was all money well spent!
If you found this article useful and want to eat where I ate, you can download this on GPSMyCity here. You’ll get a GPS-guided map of these locations that you can use offline!