Soccer, tango, beef. It’s the golden triangle of Argentina’s culture: Tango halls cover the massive capital Buenos Aires, soccer legends are known simply by their last names, and beef is the meat of choice. Beef for lunch. Beef for dinner. It’s the pride of the country’s gauchos and its citizens; you need the fuel for those long nights of tango or soccer sprints somehow.
I recently spent spring break on a food and wine binge in Argentina, drinking my fair share of Malbecs in Mendoza and barely finishing half portions of the gigantic slabs of meat served at the country’s parilla steakhouses. The beef down there is fantastic, the wine even more so. All of this outstanding dining got me excited to finally sample some Argentina cuisine at home.
Around here, the place for Argentina is in Upland, right next to a Baskin Robins and a Round Table Pizza. Buenos Aires, this is not. The tiny sliver of a restaurant that is Tango Baires boasts a menu larger than its compact digs, and delivers charm as large as the slabs of bife de chorizo.
Yes, it may at first look like a take-out café—dominant decorations being a refrigerator stocked with some South American beers, a glass case with deli meats and prepared desserts in front of the kitchen which you can see through a tiny window, and a television that seems to always be programmed to some soccer program—but the food more than compensates.
The prices are low—the main course portions could easily feed two—but a visit here requires some combination of empanadas and beef. Start with a few empanadas, pastries with myriad stuffings. There’s shredded chicken, ground beef (if you want to continue that theme), spinach, or my favorite, the gooey ham-and-cheese which fittingly begins the night's cholesterol binge.
I dare you to find a superior beef within 30 miles than Tango's entrana, or Angus skirt steak. Served medium rare about two feet long across a plate, there’s a perfect salty touch to the crust leading on to the juicy interior. The parilla—meant for two but really feeds four—is essentially a who’s who of grilled meats that varies in quality. It comes sizzling to the table like fajita meat. The morcilla (blood sausage) was impeccably smoky and smooth, that skirt steak again sublime, and the chicken exellent. The ribs, however, were grisly and tough, and the vegetables proved to be just raw peppers and onions that could have used five more minutes on the grill.
Every dinner comes with various sides—salads are my recommendation, since any more calories are not necessary and the fries are no better than at Frary. The mashed potatoes are actually worth noting, more earthy and creamy than your status quo version. Bife de Chorizo is in fact not beef and Spanish, but New York Steak, the most commonly eaten steak at Argentina parillas. The steaks come with the ubiquitous Argentine sauce chimichurri, an intoxicating blend of olive oil, parsley, and a cupboard of spices.
The Italian presence is everywhere. The restaurant serves several pastas including a decent but forgetful cannelloni, and “Argentine-style pizzas,” although these lacked any blistered character from the oven. Sadly, the pizza tasted no different than ones I’ve had from Round Table next door.
The wine list hardly scratches the surface of the amazing vineyards in the country, but it’s hard to beat the hearty Trapiche Malbec with some beef. For dessert, get something with dulce de leche: crepes, flan, cake, it doesn’t matter; it’s caramel, but oh so much more. And if you don’t have room after all that beef, don’t worry—you can go dance it off afterwards at the tango hall.