Illustration by Aly Miller

The Best Jewish Food in Buenos Aires

The best alfajores, pastrami sandwiches, and kosher steak in Buenos Aires.

Buenos Aires, the sultry South American capital known for its steak, tango, and soccer fanatics has a long history of vibrant Jewish life and culture. Argentina is home to the largest Jewish population in Latin America and the fifth largest in the world outside of Israel. A mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews have immigrated to Argentina–largely concentrated in Buenos Aires–in various waves throughout the 19th and 20th centuries thanks to Argentina’s open-door immigration policies.

Today, Jewish life in Buenos Aires centers around several barrios (neighborhoods). There is the family-oriented upper-class neighborhoods of Palermo Chico and Belgrano and the artsy middle-class neighborhood of Villa Crespo, lovingly referred to as Villa Creplaj (kreplach). Flores, an older Jewish neighborhood that developed around one of the city’s major garment districts, has since transformed into a melting pot of Jews, Koreans, Peruvians, and Bolivian immigrants. And today, the bustling Jewish neighborhood of Balvanera Barrio, also known as Once, is one of the most active Jewish neighborhoods in the city. The crowded streets and garment shops give it a Lower East Side flavor.

With such a dynamic Jewish community, it makes sense that Jewish gastronomic culture in Buenos Aires is robust. Here, Porteños (people of Buenos Aires) cook a mixture of Middle Eastern and Eastern European delights. There’s a strong presence of Israeli, Syrian, and Lebanese Jewish influences, while Russian, Polish, and Ukrainian specialties are still made the old-fashioned way. You’ll also find North American Jewish deli staples and bagels. Keep in mind that Porteños eat dinner much later than North Americans (think 10:00 pm or later). You don’t need to be part of the local “cole” (short for colectividad, or Jewish community) to explore the city’s exciting culinary scene, just follow this guide to eat your way through the city’s best Jewish foods.

Photo Credit Alvear Milk & Co.

No trip to Buenos Aires is complete without gorging on endless platters of grilled meats. Every barrio has its favorite parrilla (steakhouse). Al Galope is the choice steakhouse of the Once neighborhood. Devout fans flock there for juicy kosher steaks, milanesas (schnitzel), and the house specialty parrillada especial al galope, a sizzling tray overflowing with sausages, sweetbreads, tripe, ribs, tenderloin, and chicken. El Paisano Kosher House has a nondescript front and doubles as a synagogue, but don’t be fooled because the meat is extremely high-quality. For a casual kosher parrilla experience, head over to Lo de Victor, which specializes in fast food barbecue like chorizo, burgers, steak sandwiches, and fries. La Empanadería Kosher features — yes, you guessed it — kosher empanadas. Try dairy empanada flavors like cheese and onion, eggplant, and squash, or meat empanadas like carne cuchillo (chopped steak). Glitter stands out for putting a modern spin on Argentine fine dining steakhouse classics, like merluza negra (Chilean sea bass) and iron-grilled ribeye with roasted potatoes and chimichurri sauce.

Al Galope
Tucumán 2633
+54 11 4963-6888
Neighborhood: Once
*This restaurant is kosher.

El Paisano Kosher House
O’Higgins 2358
+54 11 4781-3848
Neighborhood: Belgrano
*This restaurant is kosher.

Parrilla Kosher Lo de Victor
Paso 610
+54 11 4961-6073
Neighborhood: Once
*This restaurant is kosher.

La Empanadería Kosher
Tucumán 2792
+54 11 4963-1183
Neighborhood: Once
*This restaurant is kosher.

Glitter
Aimé Painé 1130
+54 11 4114-0900
Neighborhood: Puerto Madero
*This restaurant is kosher.


The rotisería are a uniquely Argentine institution. Not to be confused with a bakery (though baked goods are often present), a rotisería sells prepared foods ideal for lunch or dinner takeout. In the world of rotisería, the Helueni family – which moved from Aleppo, Syria to Argentina over fifty years ago – looms large. Even though several establishments share the name, they do not share ownership (it’s rumored that the extended family estranged over the years and went their separate ways). Helueni on Córdoba Avenue might be the most famous rotisería, especially for its addictive lachmagine (lahmayin or lajmayin in Spanish), the flattened baked dough with ground beef and a tangy tomato sauce on top, and the fatay, similar to the former except closed in a triangular formation. Devoted fans changed the refrain in the song “Let it Be” to “Helueni” in tribute to their favorite rotisería. Liliana Helueni also has many years of street cred, opening her first restaurant with her children in 2001. The menu looks similar to many of the comida judia y arabe spots, but surprises with a home-cooked feel of seasonal Middle Eastern comfort foods like bame (bamya, or okra stew). And over in the Once neighborhood, Rotisería Olam claims to be the “el rey del pastrón caliente” (the king of the hot pastrami).

Helueni
Av. Córdoba 2495
+54 11 4961-4824
Neighborhood: Once

Liliana Helueni
Santiago del Estero 244
+54 11 4383-2440
Neighborhood: Congreso

Rotisería Olam
Junín 384
+54 11 4953-9722
Neighborhood: Once

Many cafes across the city dare to serve rolls with holes in the middle and call them bagels, but almost none are boiled and baked the way New York bagels are except one: Sheikob’s Bagels. In 2014, New York native Jacob Eichenbaum-Pikser started selling bagels off of his bicycle outside specialty coffee shops, and last December he went brick-and-mortar, teaming up with local musician and DJ Simja Dujov to open Buenos Aires’ first true bagel shop. Sheikob’s specialties include bagel sandwiches, such as the Clásico with homemade cream cheese, lox, pickled onions, and capers, as well as the Mexican, featuring cilantro-roasted tomatoes and jalapeño cream cheese.

Sheikob’s Bagels
Uriarte 1386
Buenos Aires, Argentina C1414
+ 54 11 4776-4358
Neighborhood: Palermo

Photo credit Allie Lazar

Experience the pre-Shabbat rush on Fridays by hunting for jalá (challah) in the bakeries of Once. There will most likely be a long line at Kokush, a popular kosher bakery, so it’s best to get there early to snag a fresh loaf right out of the oven. Kokush also specializes in kosher alfajores, Argentina’s favorite dulce de leche stuffed cookie. La Bakery Kosher also bakes beautiful braided challahs and alfajores, as well as kosher breads, cakes, cookies, pastries, and empanadas. Even though it opened only four years ago, it has already grown to three locations and provides catering and delivery services across the country.

Kokush
Tucumán 2663
1052 Buenos Aires
+54 11 4966-2227
Neighborhood: Once
*This bakery is kosher.

La Bakery Kosher
Guardia Vieja 3540
+54 11 4864-2408
Neighborhood: Abasto
*This bakery is kosher.

La Bakery Kosher
Tucuman 2892, Once
+54 11 5601 3735
Neighborhood: Once
*This bakery is kosher.

La Bakery Kosher
Blanco Encalada 2883, Belgrano
+54 11 4544-7741
Neighborhood: Belgrano
*This bakery is kosher.

Photo credit Fayer

Your bubbe definitely doesn’t cook like Tomás Kalika, chef and owner of Mishiguene, the upscale Palermo restaurant which totally reinvented the way Argentina does Jewish comfort foods. Kalika’s recreations of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Jewish diaspora cuisine has made it onto Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Some of the star dishes: sous-vide gefilte fish wrapped in carrot ribbons with fish roe and beet chrain puré, a beautiful charred eggplant smothered in homemade yogurt sauce and topped with tahini and toasted almonds, beetroot hummus, as well as whole roasted cauliflower. Be sure to make a reservation cause you will need one. Fayer, which means fire in Yiddish, pays tribute to the cooking method that keeps Argentina’s grills aflame. Order an Israeli mezze spread, plus grilled beef kebabs, skirt steak, and merguez lamb sausage. The star of the show is the grass-fed Flintstone-sized bone-in pastrami, which undergoes a 10-day curing process in over 13 spices before it is cold-smoked for another eight hours and finally slow cooked for 24.

12.
Mishiguene
Lafinur 3368
+54 11 3969-0764
Neighborhood: Palermo

13.
Fayer
Av. Cerviño 4417
+54 11 4774-3313
Neighborhood: Palermo

Forget what you know about Jewish delis, because Argentine Jewish delis are their own breed. Enter into a world featuring a mingling of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Jewish American favorites, like knishes, boios, bourekas, kibbeh, pastrami, smoked fish, hummus, babaganoush, and lachmagine. The great Buenos Aires pastrami craze can mostly be attributed to La Crespo Deli, which helped put hot pastrami sandwiches on the local culinary map thanks to its massive version topped with caramelized onions, pickles, and mustard. The family-owned deli began as a tiny shop in 2011, but has grown exponentially and now makes all sorts of dishes for catering and in-house dining, including gefilte fish, cholent, creplaj (kreplach), and latkes topped with hummus and gravlax called “latkes La Crespo.” Schwartz & Berg’s has you covered for New York style pastrami, Reuben, and roast beef sandwiches. Rut’s Catering, a kitschy takeaway counter, specializes in pastrami on pletzelaj (pletzlach). Even though Don Elías Deli doesn’t strictly cater to the Jewish community, the homemade pastrami has become famous in the barrio.

Pro tip: Most of these delis (as well the above-mentioned rotiserías) cater for events and Jewish holidays, so call ahead and place an order for any special occasion.

La Crespo Deli
Thames 612
+54 11 4856-9770
Neighborhood: Villa Crespo

Schwartz & Berg
Fitz Roy 1617
+54 11 4778-9000
Neighborhood: Palermo

Rut’s Catering
Loyola 211
+54 11 4856-2620
Neighborhood: Villa Crespo

Don Elías
Av. Warnes 570
+54 11 4854-5777
Neighborhood: Villa Crespo

Photo credit Florentin

A new generation of Middle Eastern street food concepts drawing inspiration from Israeli and Jewish traditions are springing up. Florentin, named after the trendy Tel Aviv neighborhood, has set up their falafel kiosk window across from the Recoleta cemetery. Pillowy pitas are stuffed with falafel, and diners have the choice to add the salad and pickled vegetables of their choosing, just like in Israel. The menu at vegetarian Roll’in Luí Alimentos centers around wraps and mega salads, stuffed and topped with crispy bite-sized falafel balls. Downtown office workers rush to Veggie Medio Oriente for their simple menu of lunch options: falafel, sabich, hummus, and the “Falafel Biggie,” a massive falafel ball set atop a pile of french fries. It’s easy to walk by Teamim in Almagro and not give it a second look, but this unassuming hole-in-the-wall makes outstanding shawarma, falafel, babaganoush, hummus, and tabbouleh. Order to go and hop across the street for a picnic in Parque Centenario, one of the biggest parks in the city. Of course, if you are sticking around the Once neighborhood, walk over to Yafo Kosher to get a fix for your shawarma cravings.

Florentin
Junín 1795
+54 11 4804-7225
Neighborhood: Recoleta

Roll’in Luí Alimentos
Av. Jorge Newbery 3674
Neighborhood: Chacarita

Veggie Medio Oriente
Suipacha 532
+54 11 4326-5289
Neighborhood: Centro

Veggie Medio Oriente
San Martin 545
+54 11 4326-0554
Neighborhood: Centro

Teamim
Díaz Vélez 4431
+54 11 4981-7555
Neighborhood: Almagro

Yafo Kosher
Paso 747
+54 11 4966-0551
Neighborhood: Once
*This restaurant is kosher.

 

Pita Madre roams around town popping up at specialty coffee shops and restaurants serving delicious combinations inside a pita. Traveling to Buenos Aires during the high holidays? Check out New Year’s celebrations like Rosh Hashaná Urbano, a festival in the park featuring music, activities, and tons of Jewish and kosher food stands. Anafe isn’t considered a Jewish restaurant, but this puerta cerrada (reservation-only restaurant) is led by Jewish chef and co-owner Mica Najmanovich, who finds inspiration in the flavors of her upbringing — dishes like shakshuka, paté with pear chutney, and cured anchovies with beet emulsion, horseradish, and dill are some of her signatures.

Pita Madre: Various locations. Follow them on Instagram to see where they’re popping up.

Rosh Hashaná Urbano: Annual festival around Rosh Hashanah time. See website for details.

Anafe: Open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday, lunch on Saturday, and an all-you-can-eat brunch on Sundays. Reservation required. Address given upon reservation, Border of Chacarita, Colegiales and Palermo. Reservations: hola@anafe.com.ar

 

We normally wouldn’t recommend the Golden Arches as a restaurant destination, but the McDonalds in the Abasto Shopping Mall, located in the Once neighborhood, is the only kosher McDonalds in the world outside of Israel. Head to the food court, order a cheeseless Big Mac, and watch families wearing yarmulkes and other patrons happily scarf down some Mickey D’s. It’s also worth noting that pizza culture is strong in Buenos Aires, thanks to waves of Italian immigration. And while Jewish pizza may not be a thing, exactly, it’s worth grabbing a slice while visiting. Among the local favorite shops are El Cuartito and Guerrin.

With input from local experts: Ian Robinson (Latin American Business Consultant), Simja Dujov (musician and DJ).

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