For most of the world, Argentina and steaks – and red wine – are inextricably linked. There’s more than 5,000 restaurants in Buenos Aires – according to Trip Advisor, and almost 6 million tourists a year – so how’s a new holidaymaker to the city supposed to find a decent hidden gem off the beaten track?
I stumbled upon Juana M on Google Maps. Looking for a restaurant close to our hotel was a priority after almost being robbed in Microcenter earlier in the day. The reviews that automatically loaded were as patchy as always, some mentioning a self-serve salad bar. For my parents, who I was dining with, they inevitably consider this a dealmaker.
The restaurant is burrowed in a below-ground-level basement on a major freeway. CCTV assertively watches on at close range as you challenge the heavyweight and graffiti laden door. When my eyes adjusted, I realised we were now inside a room as vast as a warehouse where staff far outnumbered diners – not surprising, given how late diners in South America tend to start.
There was a cosy cocktail bar area with large comfy sofas, big cushions and beanbags. Dimly-lit pendant lights softly glowed around the bar, candles twinkled on the tables and amateur works of art hung from the walls. It felt like a pop-up with elegance.
The menu offered the usual staples: steaks, grilled chicken, pasta dishes. We ordered the steaks (when in Rome) with sides of salsas, but it turned out they were on the self-serve salad bar and we could help ourselves when our dishes arrived. At this point I was quite excited about what else may be on buffet table!
When the steak arrived I was surprised to find an extensive selection of not only salad, but sides and condiments. Salsas, preserves and sauces; homemade potato wedges, pickled vegetables and pastas. By far the most original buffet-style options I’ve tried, and also the most generous.
Sadly, the steak was overcooked and dry. A sacrilege to Argentina. On reflection, our waiter hadn’t asked how we’d like it cooking, and this could have been down to the language barrier.
As the two hours passed, the sizeable space had completely filled with guests of couples and larger groups. This self-serve restaurant was a long haul of difference from the tasteless feasts of home. Now we just have the flight home to look forward to.
This article was written in February 2018. My target media style was the New York Times – Travel.