Far South, a Beef-Lover's Paradise

henry mar28 steak.jpg

Photo by Terrence Henry

Las Cholas is a parrilla, or Argentine steakhouse, about two blocks down from our apartment. I haven't had the time or funds to do a comprehensive survey of all the steakhouses in town, but this is by far the best (and cheapest) we've been to since we got here about three weeks ago. We went three times last week alone.

Like many parrillas, they serve a huge (I'd guess 16 to 18 ounce) strip steak, with grilled onion and red pepper. Above that is a slice of provoletta cheese, also grilled. It comes with a purée of butternut squash (I swear they put a little thyme in there, too). And, of course, there are French fries topped with a fried egg.

Everything is wonderfully tasty because it's all kept simple. Like all good parrillas, Las Cholas uses real charcoal for grilling, which adds flavor and a perfect sear thanks to the very high heat (the grill cooks must be dying at their station).

You might convince yourself that you can actually taste the happiness and freedom that cow once enjoyed.

An unusual thing about Las Cholas is that they cook your steak to temperature. For whatever reason, Argentinians seem to prefer their steaks cooked medium-well, and for our first few weeks here we struggled to get a steak cooked to a proper rare.

Henry Feb 23 argentina2.jpg

Photo by Terrence Henry

The beef is perhaps not as velvety as American corn-fed beef can be, but it has this great nutty, grassy, natural flavor to it. Sure, about 40 percent of the cattle in Argentina are finished on soy or corn for the last four months of their lives, but those other six and a half years they are out on the grassy plains, grazing freely. Depending on how much wine you have with your dinner, you might start convincing yourself that you can actually taste the happiness and freedom that cow once enjoyed. Either way, in the end, your plate will look something like this:

And how much of your hard-earned cash will you put down for this dinner for two?

33 pesos.

That is nine dollars and 30 cents.

And if you want a penguin-shaped carafe full of house wine, it will set you back another $2.50.

There are literally dozens of steakhouses in the neighborhood, but this is the one that gets the crowds, and deservedly so. If you want to get a spot, it's best to get there before 9 p.m. (yes, the dinner hour is very late here). Everything is lit by candles, and each table is draped with a piece of butcher paper accompanied by a small basket of crayons, should you feel inspired to draw. We like to sit on the upstairs level, with its bamboo-slat roof and loose-pebbled floor. If you want to see and be seen, hold out for a sidewalk table downstairs, with a crowd that looks like it just finished filming Season 4 of The Hills.

Las Cholas
Arce 306 (y Arevalo)
Las Canitas