Steaks by Luis
Steak restaurants (known as parrillas) in Buenos Aires are about as common as Starbucks in Seattle. They are everywhere. Steak is Argentina and any trip to this country would be incomplete without copious amounts of cow washed down with bottle upon bottle of Argentinian red wine. Knowing that multiple meals will be centered around steak, picking out where to dine becomes somewhat of a research project.
Parrilla La Cabrera is the most well known and top rated joints in Buenos Aires. It would be hard to recommend against checking this place out, especially if you are on top of planning and can get a reservation (the window opens on a rolling 30 days, reservations only for 8pm). However, this La Cabrera is undoubtedly a restaurant.
On the other hand, there is Steaks by Luis – a closed door asado experience. There are two things to explain in that description:
Closed Door: this is essentially the Argentine version of a pop-up restaurant. You make a reservation, often paying half or full in advance and get the address of the place shortly thereafter. The “restaurant” is is more like a loft, renovated for groups of diners.
Asado: this is a term that refers to a traditional Argentine family grilling experience. The food begins with a salad, is followed by some “achuras” (a starter of various grilled meats), before hitting the main steak course. Wine flows freely and there is an emphasis on group interaction.
So with that background….
From the street, you’d never know what is behind the ominous black, metal door on a quiet corner just off one of the main drags in the Palmero neighborhood. There is no “Steaks by Luis” neon sign. The door is locked, access is granted via the buzzer. After confirming the reservation name, the hostess for the evening meets you out front and escorts you inside.
Once inside, you are led to a massive open room. The night we went, there was a single table set for about 15 to 20 diners. We were one of the first to arrive but quickly noticed a common theme: this isn’t a place locals eat.
Thanks to a high rating on TripAdvisor, Steaks by Luis draws most of their guests from tourists using that site for restaurant research. That includes us. Our group included some New Yorkers, Swedes, Germans, and more – but basically everyone spoke English (one couple across from us also, very openly, spoke the language of love).
Anyhow, that is a lot of words. Time to start to talk about the meal.
At Steaks by Luis, the menu is a five course offering coming in at a cost of $75/person. As people gather, a plate of cheese and cured meats (picada) is set out and sparkling wine is poured. The previously mentioned string of salad, achuras, and steak follows and the meal is capped off with a sweet dessert. A different Argentine wine is generously served with each course.
The communal table is a huge. Once seated, you are kind of stuck talking to your neighbors so not being on a corner is a disadvantage if you are the social type.
A light offering to snack on as you meet the other diners. During this time, the uncooked meat is presented on the counter for ohhh-ing and awe-ing.
The Meat: Pre-Cooking
After taunting you with the main event, the salad course comes.
The Meat: Achuras
Included in the achuras platter is a chorizo, blood sausage, grilled cheese, sweetbreads, and more. These plates were shared between four or five people.
The Meat: STEAK
The cut of meat on any given day can change based on what is available that day. Sadly, being about a month removed from this meal I do not recall what we were served; just that it was not the ribeye.
This steak was perfect for me. Huge. Grilled hot on the top with a cool, bloody red center. The wine paired with the course was made by a Mendoza winery “especially for this meal” and was served in a label-less bottle.
Best steak of my life? Quite possibly. Meat sweats? Most definitely.
Dessert was a dulce du leche cheesecake and, despite being one and a half steps into the meat dimension, I managed to eat this as well.
The meal at Steaks by Luis was memorable. It manages to present a traditional Argentine experience, one that isn’t found in your standard parrilla, in a warm way, without being fake or touristy. After cooking, Luis walks around and chats with all the guests. Rarely does a wine glass go empty. People arrive as strangers but after a night of wine, steak, and countless travel adventures shared, leave as friends.