Saturday, 10 January 2009

The hottest barrio in Buenos Aires

Want to know the hottest barrio in Buenos Aires right now? Start by looking beyond Palermo, which reached its boiling point so long ago that its soul is now danger of evaporating. Head instead to Villa Crespo, which is just starting to simmer.

It's not a place where you'll find rows of hip bars and nightclubs, but you'll be in your element if you are the sort of tourist who is happy to leave the guidebook alone, wander aimlessly, and enjoy soaking up local life. Here you're likely to encounter residents having a makeshift asado (BBQ) on the pavement, admire antique furniture in ramshackled street-side shops, or catch a glimpse through a window into one of the local artists' studios.

On my last three visits to the city, this barrio has been my favourite place to wander. It still has the cobbled streets and low-rise houses that you find in Palermo, but it's much more "tranquilo", as they say here. I love the way hip bars, like Ocho7Ocho (878 Thames, pictured), rub shoulders with some of the most old-school joints in town, like the delightful 1930s icecream parlour, Scannapieco (Córdoba 4826).

I tipped Villa Crespo as the place to be in Buenos Aires in last Saturday's Guardian Travel.
You don't have to be a local to be down with the local knowledge, but you do need to look beyond the obvious. How did I find the places I tipped in the Guardian? Aside from spending many an hour pounding the cobbles, I simply asked those in the know.

One afternoon, I had a particularly good brainstorming session round the kitchen table at La Cocina Discreta. Run by Alejandro and Rosana, this is one of the city's newest in-home restaurants. The pair gave me lots of good pointers - including alerting me to their friend, Shoni Shed, who hosts blindfolded gigs in his house (see the article for details).

In the end, I was spoilt for choice. Here are some of the other local finds that I couldn't fit in the article:

Carlitos (Scalabrini Ortiz, 701) - This popular pancake house has hundreds of options that are filling and cheap (10 - 15 pesos). To make things a little more interested, the best combos are named after famous people. Try a Chaplin (roquefort, onion, ham); a Pablo Neruda (cheese, tomato and oregano); or even a rather odd homage to the inventor of Viagra (cream cheese, roquefort, celery, green olives). Open from midday until 1am. 3am on Friday, Saturday, Sunday.

Thymus (Lerma 525)
Stylish restaurant in a converted home on a sweet residential street just behind Corrientes. It's run by a sculptor and famed for its multi-course tasting menu. Evenings only, Mon - Sat. Book ahead on 4772 1936.

La Perla (Canning y Triunvirato)
Classic bakery and a Villa Crespo institution. Stop by for facturas (little pastries to be enjoyed with coffee or mate). I haven't had chance to check it out myself yet, but it is highly recommended by La Cocina Discreta and they haven't been wrong yet.