Milanesa a la Napolitana. Four words sure to put a sparkle into any real Porteño’s eye and bring on a gentle, unconscious lip smacking. These finely sliced and breaded veal cutlets, topped with tomato sauce, ham and cheese, are the super-clasico of the Buenos Aires table, possibly more common even than the asado. Although the addition of toppings can be reliably credited to an Argentine restaurant, it is a clearly the love-child of the Italian cotoletta. Giving us a delicious crumbed and fried metaphor: there is a little bit of Italian in everything here, the intonation, the slang, the vigorous hand gestures, the tendency for explosive tirades of profanities and definitely, the food. Italian food and its local derivatives are everywhere, and menus are heavy with pizzas and pastas, much of it decidedly average; here though, are some gems.
Guido Restaurant (Blvd. Cerviño 3943, Palermo Botánico. +54 11 4802 1262)
If Cheers was an Italian restaurant, this would be it. Every evening, Guido Sosto sits behind his bar, chatting with his ever-present regulars, and watching as his tables fill up with diners thoroughly enjoying Italian food done right. And this means not only great dishes, deeply flavorful like they should be, but also a warm, energetic décor, good wine and plenty of laughter. Like his dad’s place nearby (Guidos’ Bar), the menu grew from his grandmother’s recipes, and has expanded to take in Guido’s evolving tastes. Don’t miss the fusilli al fierrito with meatballs, lamb sorrentinos with wild mushrooms, and the excellent parmesana de berenjenas (eggplant lasagna). Add a talented Peruvian bartender who whips up a superb pisco sour and you have a great evening out.
Siamo nel Forno (Costa Rica 5886, Palermo Hollywood. +54 11 4775 0337)
On November 14, the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana had only 424 members, by the 15th, this number had grown to 425, and it had its first member in Argentina: Siamo nel Forno. Owner Nestor Gattorna has translated a certain perfectionism in his past life as an industrial designer into, arguably, the best pizzas in town. Starting with the dough recipe, the kneading technique, 8 hour rising time, and one and a half minute cooking time at a fiery 900ºF, this is real Neopolitan pizza, ladies and gentlemen. Simple, top class ingredients sit on a base that is crunchy outside and spongy inside. Try them all. Best of the best: the Spinaci and the Patate.
Doppio Zero (Soldado de la independencia 1238, Belgrano. +54 114899-0162)
Like any real beauty, Doppio Zero doesn’t need much make-up. She dresses down in fine white linen and puts on some smooth jazz to get you in the mood. In this simple, warm environment, watched over by racks of empty bottles lining the walls, the real seduction begins when you open the menu. Chef Laura Arnau, ever-present owner, sommelier Mariano Akman, and their close-knit team serve up a short, creative, daily menu, clearly developed by folk with a passion for good food. Wrap those pearly whites around the best of their fresh, hand-made pastas, the roast beef ravioli with a sage butter, or the orecchiete with lamb ragout and caramelized cherries. The daily risotto is heaven-sent, and the best news is that, aside from an interesting wine list, they allow diners to bring their own wines for a decent corkage fee, a rarity in Buenos Aires. It doesn’t get much better than this.
La Locanda (José León Pagano 2697, Recoleta. +54 11 4806 6343)
Sardinia, that iconic, turquoise-watered Italian island, is represented ing Buenos Aires thanks to La Locanda's chef and owner, Daniele Pina. Often you will find him at his table by the window, working up a new batch of fresh pastas for the day’s menu, surrounded by black and white photos from the homeland and piles of imported pasta and panettone. The dishes are varied, traveling the canon of Italian cuisine, with greats like the exquisite culatello di Zibelloi, the king of cured meats, Pecorino Sardo and the miniature amaretto cakes, and amaretti sardi. Though there is a lot of good eating to be had here, try the gnocchetti with shrimp, tomato and bottarga which just smacks of Southern Sardinia. Book in advance (for groups of four or more) to sample the cena sarda, a six course traditional Sardinian dinner.
Il Ballo del Mattone (Gorriti 5737, Palermo Hollywood. +54 11 4776 4247)
A barely contained explosion of color, creativity and food, this is Italian on psychedelics. The music is loud and energetic, the walls are filled with rotating art exhibitions and tables fill up...fast. Il Ballo offers a great space for those looking for well-priced, solid Italian food, with a healthy dose of funk. House favorite is the caramelle di burrata, mozzarela wrapped in filo pastry with tomato and rocket, salmon ravioli, and the lunch time classic fussili alla scarparo.