“What’s a bife de chorizo?” We ask our semi-English-speaking waiter.
“Ummm… it’s hard to explain,” he stumbles. “Chorizo is a sausage.”
“Oh ok, so it’s a beef sausage.” We help him out.
“No no no. But it’s not a sausage. It’s beef. It’s a very Argentinian thing.”
At this point, we are utterly confused. Where I come from, chorizo is a spicy Mexican sausage. So in order to avoid getting something totally weird, we order something else instead.
Sigh… As you can see, ordering steak in Argentina can be a real challenge if you don’t know the lingo. Many places also will not have an English translation menu.
For meat lovers, one of the highlights of coming to Argentina is indulging in mass amounts of high quality beef at super reasonable prices. But it can be a disappointment if you accidentally order the wrong thing. Or worse, if a perfectly good piece of meat is ruined by having overcooked it.
The first time we went to a parrilla (an Argentinian steakhouse), we ordered the complete mixed grill, which came with a little bit of everything (the lower quality stuff) so we didn’t have to learn their names. It was fun for boasting rights, but as evidenced by our reject pile, there was plenty we didn’t like. The second time we ordered steak, it was at an Italian restaurant, and served by the poor clueless waiter mentioned above. (Don’t ask why we’re ordering steak at an Italian place, but D really wanted meat that night). We ended up getting a piece of overly done beef, that we think was filet mignon.
It took a couple more visits to our neighborhood parrilla to get it right, and after a dozen or so visits (yes, a DOZEN, we went beef crazy!), I think we’ve mastered the art of ordering steak.
This is a complete guide to ordering at a parrilla, to help you get exactly what you want.
The most popular cuts:
In order from the cheapest to most expensive:
Entraña – skirt steak (a cut from the cow’s diaphragm muscle), and always served in a long flat strip. Used to be a toss-away cut, people say this piece of meat isn’t particularly tender, but I happen to really like it when done to a juicy medium rare. This is also one of the most popular cuts among Argentinians, as it’s one of the most affordable.
Vacio – flank steak, with a layer of fat around the edge. This is usually a tougher cut (which means a cheaper cut), but it’s full of flavor and is delicious if done right.
Asado de tira – short ribs. Cut and grilled as long, thin strips with the rib bones, with a layer of fat in between. Best cooked medium. This is one of my favorite cuts because it’s always juicy and fatty. The fact that it’s also affordable is a definite bonus.
Asado – a thick cut section of short ribs.
Ojo de Bife – rib eye. I don’t think I need to explain this, since this is often hailed as the cut to get for serious steak lovers. We found that the rib-eyes here tend to be on the much leaner side.
Bife de Chorizo – sirloin (essentially the same as a New York strip steak in the US). Best cooked medium rare. This is no doubt the most popular cut in Argentina. This is D’s favorite for the flavor and juiciness. After the initial confusion about what exactly this is, we ordered it at a top-notch parrilla, and D swore that it was the single best piece of meat he’s ever had.
Lomo – the absolute prime cut, which is the tenderloin / filet mignon. Obviously, the most expensive cut. This cut has very little fat content, and is best cooked on the rare side for maximum tenderness. However, many true beef aficionados say the flavor is just not there.
How you want it cooked:
For a country that prides itself on consumption of beef, they really know how to overcook it. I found it very necessary to specify how you want your meat cooked.
A punto – medium. Although sometimes, their definition of “medium” is still slightly overcooked for my taste.
Jugoso or A punto jugoso – this literally means “juicy” or “medium juicy”, so essentially “medium rare”. I found that this was a pretty safe one to use, because your steak will probably come out around medium. I guess if you wanted to specify that you want it more rare, you can stress on the jugoso part.
In general, we found that fattier cuts like short ribs are best a punto so they’re not too chewy. And large, thick steak pieces like the ojo de bife and bife de chorizo are best jugoso, so they remain tender.
And if you must know, bien hecho is “well-done”, but if you are ordering steak that way, we can’t be friends. ;)
For the adventurous eaters who are looking to try some of the more unusual stuff, check these out!
Morcilla – blood sausage
Chorizo – regular pork sausage (no, it won’t be spicy)
Salchicha – curly fatty pork sausage
Mollejas – sweetbreads (or thymus gland)
Chinchulines – intestines
Riñones – kidney
As I mentioned before, Argentinians eat very plain. Sometimes, a parrilla will not even salt the steak before grilling it up. You can request sal (salt) or chimmichurri to flavor it yourself.
And lastly, we went to several parrillas during our month in Buenos Aires, and the statement of “you get what you pay for” definitely applies here. There will be a noticeable difference in meat quality and preparation between the cheaper parrillas and the more expensive ones. A more pricey one will also ensure that you get your steak cooked exactly how you want it, whereas a cheaper one will not take as much care.
Here are some of my recommendations for all budget levels:
Las Cholas | Arce 306, Las Cañitas – Best for its fun ambiance and affordability (see my full review). You will get MASSIVE portions here and will not break the bank.
Campo Bravo | Baez 292, Las Cañitas – A step up from Las Cholas in price, and the quality is also a step up.
La Josephina | Lafinur 3006, Palermo – My favorite one (but I’m probably a little biased because it was only a couple of blocks from my apartment). This parrilla restobar is on the pricey side, but everything is always grilled to perfection. In fact, the entire restaurant is perfection, from the complimentary eggplant appetizer, to the fresh chimmichurri, to the impeccable service.
Now that you’ve learned the cuts and know how to order them, have fun overdosing on beef, my friends!