For years, visitors from around the world have flocked to Buenos Aires for its beautiful architecture, vibrant culture, and classic cuisine. The Argentinian capital is famed as a carnivore’s paradise—a place where the local carnicería is like “another church,” in the words of a local. With steak seemingly everywhere, those of us who do not eat meat may find the city somewhat alienating. Even dishes that are typically vegetarian-friendly can be a minefield—take for example the spring rolls I ordered in Barrio Chino that were filled with only ground beef.
But worry not, fellow vegetarians: there’s no need to erase Buenos Aires from your travel wish lists. Porteño cuisine has plenty to offer beyond meat…if you know where to look. This guide is organized into two categories: meat-free options within classic Argentinian cuisine for those who want a local taste, and specific veg-friendly restaurant choices in Buenos Aires.
Most Argentinian food can be summed up with three main ingredients: meat, cheese, and bread (and dulce de leche, if we’re talking dessert). Take meat out of this culinary trinity, and you’re left with a lot of cheese and bread, which form the basis of vegetarian-friendly Argentinian food.
Pizza is a staple of Argentinian cuisine. There are pizzerias all over Buenos Aires serving up pies loaded with prodigiously thick layers of cheese. My first time ordering Argentinian pizza, it was loaded with so much cheese that a glob fell off of the dish and onto my friend’s jeans as the waiter set the pizza on the table. Most pizzerias will have their own specialties, but just about all of them will have a classic mozzarella (usually topped with a handful of whole green olives), a Napolitana (with added tomato and garlic), and the local Fugazetta, a sauce-less pizza loaded with extra cheese and a mountain of caramelized onions. You can order by the slice or share several whole pizzas with others—just note that Argentinians eat pizza with a knife and fork (with all of that cheese, there isn’t much choice). El Cuartito and Guerrín in Recoleta are purportedly the best in the city, depending on who you ask. Both are located near many big theaters like Teatro Colón, which makes them perfect to visit for a bite after an evening show—a very porteño way to spend a Friday night.
Empanadas are another staple of Argentinian food. In Buenos Aires, most empanadas are baked and come with all kinds of fillings. Many are meat, but vegetarian options are very common. My favorites are queso y cebolla (onion) and caprese (also called albahaca). Filled with tomato, cheese, and the namesake basil, they are essentially soft and juicy little calzones. Other popular vegetarian fillings include choclo (sweet corn), humita (corn mixed with other ingredients), and queso. You can find empanadas on nearly every other block in Buenos Aires—whether from a dedicated empanadería or from a regular restaurant, cafe, or one of the convenience stores dotting the streets (here called kioscos)—but my host mom specifically recommends El Noble Repulgue and Los Maestros.
Now, unless you’re traveling solo or exclusively with other vegetarians, you will likely find yourself in one of the famous Argentinian parillas, or steakhouses. Consider ordering provoleta, a dish that consists of pure provolone cheese either grilled or melted in a skillet, topped with some herbs and served with bread for dipping. If reading that gave you indigestion, then stick to pasta; most parillas will at least have spaghetti and gnocchi on their menus, due to the strong Italian influence in the area.
For the Vegans
Vegan or not, you probably won’t want to eat at a pizzeria, empanadería, or parilla for every meal. Honestly, I would recommend against it, both in the interest of health and avoiding fatigue. Eating nothing but classically Argentinian food can make college kids cry out for vegetables—I’ve seen it.
Although vegan cuisine is a bit harder to come by in Buenos Aires, there are a handful of “health-food” restaurants with more plant-based menus, though they may not always be strictly vegan.
One of my favorite vegetarian spots in the city is Hierbabuena in San Telmo. Though not exclusively meat-free, the menu is flush with vegetarian and vegan-friendly options, and the restaurant itself has a cozy, earthy ambience with green-tiled walls and big windows. Hierbabuena offers up a variety of salads and sandwiches and a few pasta dishes, not to mention an expansive juice bar, which includes no less than ten types of lemonade—from plain to classic mint and ginger to activated charcoal. I would recommend stopping in the afternoon—perhaps after a visit to the nearby Museum of Modern Art—because the portions at lunchtime are a bit larger, served with complimentary bread and a delicious eggplant spread.
Another good spot is Bio Solo Orgánico in Palermo Hollywood, where reclaimed wood and warm accent lighting make for comfortable ambience. They offer pretty typical vegetarian restaurant fare: risottos, veggie burgers, grains served with roast vegetables, and a selection of vegan desserts. The vegan options are clearly marked by symbols on the menu. I personally opted for the brusqueta with mushrooms, dried tomatoes, arugula, and parmesan (made from chestnuts).
Also located in Palermo Hollywood is Buenos Aires Verde, a small spot with a more modern, experimental kind of vibe. Their menu has more vegan substitutes, from “tuna” club sandwiches to spaghetti “bolognese,” though I personally ordered their taco, a dish packed with flavor and served with a spectrum of condiments like guacamole, mole, and smoked cashew cheese. The meal also came with their “smoked nachos,” an unusual but tasty chip—thick, more crumbly than crisp, and loaded with smoky flavor. If you’re not in Palermo, you can also find Buenos Aires Verde at their Belgrano location.
You can find Artemisia Cocina Natural a short walk away from Buenos Aires Verde’s Palermo Hollywood location. Artemisia has a very aesthetically-pleasing vibe—airy and bright with big windows, hanging plants, and prominently displayed baked goods. What more could you ask for? It’s also the largest space on this list, with a lofted second floor and patio space. The menu here is pretty diverse; there are plant-based Italian, Mexican, Paraguayan, and Lebanese dishes, not to mention a variety of photogenic vegan burgers with fuchsia and black buns.
Even in a food culture as carnivorous as Argentina’s, there are plenty of options for plant-based diets as long as you know where to look. Besides only eating Argentinian food or visiting veggie-based restaurants, there’s a whole middle ground to explore in Buenos Aires, as well. The city has plenty of international restaurants to try out—Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American—give them a try if you have the chance. Just be sure to read the menu carefully so you don’t run into my beef spring roll conundrum.
Do you have any favorite cities for vegetarian or vegan food?