If you’ve had your fix of Buenos Aires’ many parillas and want to try something else, the city’s puertas cerradas or closed-door restaurants may be exactly what you’re looking for.
Closed-door restaurants are clandestine dining at its best. There are no signs to let you know you’ve arrived at the right building and no host waiting to seat you. In fact, you’ll need a confirmed reservation before you’re even given the restaurant’s address. And when you arrive, you’ll find yourself standing outside someone’s house or apartment. You’ll ring the bell as if you were visiting a friend’s place and after confirming that you do have a reservation, someone will come over and let you in into the restaurant. If you haven’t figured it out by now, you will when you sit down that you’re dining in someone’s home-turned-restaurant and the chef is cooking you a multi-course meal out of his/her kitchen!
I’ll admit, initially, I thought the whole concept was a little weird but after visiting my first puerta cerrada, I was hooked! The meal was delicious, the setting was intimate, the owners were super friendly, and at a price point of only $30-$55USD per person, it was a no brainer of a good deal! At this point, there’s no reason not to check them out. On top of it all, each restaurant and dining experience was so unique; you get a peek into a real Buenos Aires home which, for a traveler like me who loves to see how the locals live, is a real treat.
During this trip, I checked out three closed-door restaurants – all of which I recommend for different reasons:
If you’re craving darn good asian food in the land of empanadas, milenesas, and asados, then look no further than Cocina Sunae. This puerta cerrada was started by an Asian-American woman who married an Argentine man and every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, they cook up four course meals influenced by the flavors of Southeast Asia (think: Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia). I loved every single one of my courses since they tasted so unexpectedly authentic! I also loved that since I was dining solo, they gave me the option of dining with another solo diner who coincidentally was also from the US. I was feeling particularly gregarious that night so I took them up on the offer, and I ended up enjoying lovely dinner conversation swapping travel stories and restaurant recommendations (for the US and Argentina). The best part of the night? The whole meal was only $150 pesos (~ $32USD)!
Oh, Restaurant Paladar, how I love you so! The place immediately made a good impression on me the minute I stepped inside. The staircase was lined with candles and the whole place smelled so clean – they must have had soap-scented candles. When I stopped wondering where I could get my hands on some of those candles, I sat back at my table and really enjoyed the intimate atmosphere at this restaurant. The walls are painted a sensual red, the dinner is served by candlelight, and there’s even an option to sit at a couch in front of a fireplace! The menu consisted of five courses (although one is a small sorbet course right before dessert so I almost considered it more like four courses) with very generous wine pairings for $210 pesos (~$45USD). The food at Paladar reminded me of fine dining restaurants in the US with French influences and every course was delicious. In fact, of the three puertas cerradas I tried, Restaurant Paladar definitely wins for the best food. Not only that, the husband and wife owners were the most friendly and gracious. If you can only go to one closed-door restaurant in Buenos Aires, go to Restaurant Paladar! PS. If you’re hoping to turn up the romance, request the seats by the fireplace!
Casa Saltshaker was the most interesting of the three closed door restaurants I tried because it felt like a private dinner party. The chef is an American who moved to Buenos Aires and lives in the city’s upscale Recoleta neighborhood. He promises diners a fancier version of a home-cooked meal and serves five courses with wine pairings to 8-10 diners at a communal table. Being that I was dining alone, I thought the set up was a nice way to mingle with other diners (the night I was there, ironically, everyone was American) when you’re off in a foreign country if nothing else than to bond over all the observations you’ve made about Argentina. The food at Casa Saltshaker is “eclectic” and while I wasn’t blown away by each course (he’s not trying to out-do celeb chefs here; like I said, it’s like gourmet home cooking), I thoroughly enjoyed the over all experience — five courses, wine, the opportunity to see the inside of a Recoleta apartment, interesting dining companions, and a welcome shot upon arrival! All for $250 pesos ($55USD). What else does one need?
Next time I head to Buenos Aires, I’m definitely planning on checking out some more closed-door restaurants – there are well over 30 of them in the city, and if they all served up the quality of food I got at these places, I’d say they are not only the best kept secret in dining, they are also the best deals around!