Art Por Tres: Lunch Specials in Palermo Viejo



Everyone has stupid stereotypes that have nothing to do with reality. I’m no different and one of mine favors the old and dirty over the bright and shiny. Appearance often goes a long way in Buenos Aires and I feel if an ugly restaurant can fill up a crowd of locals then it’s worth checking out. It was for this reason that I always preferred the classic Palermo classic El Preferido over it’s brighter, shinier neighbor ArtX3. The first thing ArtX3 had going against it was attractive and colorful exterior and it’s hip name, smacking of coolness, didn’t help at all. But the kicker for me was that it portended to be a Mexican restaurant which has got to be a lie.

It’s an accepted lie. While the concept of Mexican food sells, I don’t think most Porteños would want to eat it. As a culture, Argentines have a love of new cuisine that is unmatched except possibly by Nebraskans and folks from the Midwest of the USA. Restaurants here probably weigh serving hot sauce with the real possibility of a lawsuit. No worries cause most people don’t know (and aren’t interested) in what it is. Instead Mexican restaurants seem to copy the pictures they’ve seen in travel brochures. White creamy stuff? Must be Mendicrim! I can’t complain – it’s not like real Mexicans eat cheddar like we eat in our Texmex.

But I digress about these silly stereotypes of mine. The point is that for all these completely superficial reasons I avoided ArtX3 until one day the prices went up at El Preferido. Desperate to find cheaper lunch options, I noticed ArtX3’s lunch specials along and discovered a very interesting part of Porteño culture.

Now I’ve said that this is a Mexican food restaurant. However, knowing that no one actually WANTS Mexican food for lunch, the place drops the facade and serves up cheap and delicious Argentine fare to a crowd of mostly school children. The restaurant’s philosophy must be that Mexican food is nice and all but real human beings have to eat real food. And Argentine sensibility dictates that real food is Milanesa (chicken fried steak) with cheese and french fries, spaghetti, empanadas, or anything else that every other restaurant serves. Luckily I love these “stick to your ribs” dishes; they remind me of my mom’s cooking before she became vegetarian.

I have never tried the Mexican food at ArtX3 but the real food is excellent, especially for the price. A solid estofada con pure (meat and potatoes) will set you back 7.50 pesos. Another really wonderful part about this restaurant is that the waiter/owner has zero problem bringing me tap water with every meal without the typical judgmental sideways glance. Now that I’ve been coming in for awhile I get it without asking.

It may be bright and shiny but I recommend this place it to anyone who likes regular Argentine food and eats lunch in Palermo Viejo. Just remember to order the lunch specials – everyone else does.

14 replies
  1. exnat
    exnat says:

    Some caveats:
    The photo was not taken by me but rather as part of a photo scavenger hunt I put on. The category was “medio cheto.”

    CBC is a phemenon and I’m not really taking it into account in the article.

  2. Marce
    Marce says:

    Ok, first of all, you need to explore the city a bit more if you think that all we eat is milanesas! Granted, some people are locked up in their own culinary safebox, but the whole culinary landscape isn´t nearly as bad as you seem to believe.
    Actually Mexican restaurants (or more like pseudo Mexican restaurants at times) are succeeding here from what I can see when I go to La Flor Azteca and other places, but I have to agree that we are definitely on the lower side of the spiciness scale.
    For other good lunch choices in Palermo Viejo, I´d recommend Roof (which has an excellent 3 course menu with a drink for 20), el Camarin de las Musas (which is in Almagro, but just a block from Palermo) and I hear Olsen has a good lunch menu as well.

  3. exnat
    exnat says:

    Hey Marce,

    I really appreciate the comment and providing a different point of view. I certainly hope what I wrote didn’t offend you or anyone else. I want to be clear about something. I’m not criticizing Porteños or comida tipica or anything.

    It’s an expensive city and I’m not complaining but I do think there’s a difference between what people eat here and the culinary landscape. There is great local and international cuisine. However, because for international cuisine you pay international prices, most folks can’t really afford it. I’ll tell you something, I’ve been to that restaurant maybe 20 times and I’ve never seen anyone (except people reading tourist guides) eat anything but a lunch special.

    Thanks for the suggestions! My budget is closer to about 10 pesos including coffee and it’s tough to find more than what they called platos tipicos for this much. I think there’s great and wonderful food available in Buenos Aire but it’s priced in dollars. A set course meal for $6.50 US is a great deal but I couldn’t pay 20 dollars for it back in the States. I’m just talking about taking a quick lunch with me and my notebook, not a nice date with my notebook.

    I have to admit I haven’t made much of a search for Mexican food here. I tried a few things, found it to be bad and since then the bad news has mostly been word of mouth. Want to get some for lunch sometime? 🙂

  4. Alan Patrick
    Alan Patrick says:

    What’s Mendicrim?

    Interesting post, although I think you are being extreme to try and provoke a reaction. I love comida portena, but I also get bored of it occasionally, and agree that you really do have to pay a premium to get something a little different. I don’t really care if it is authentic or whatever (back to that sushi argument again), I just care if it tastes good or not – especially if I am paying a premium for it!

    By the way, if you ever organize another photo scavenger hunt, I’d love to join in 🙂

  5. exnat
    exnat says:

    The tone of what I wrote is bad. I said the exact same thing to both you and Marce at the Sugar and Spice event and everyone laughed and agreed. It just came across differently when I wrote it. That’s probably something to keep in mind when writing (and reading) in the overly sensitized expat/porteño environment. I don’t want confrontations at all.

  6. Alan Patrick
    Alan Patrick says:

    Oh no, I agree with what you said then, and I agree with you now too, overall. I just think you are a little too extreme about Argentines not wanting to try new foods – I think they do, but that price is the main issue here – perhaps the real reason that no one wants ‘Mexican’ food for lunch.

  7. Frank Almeida
    Frank Almeida says:

    They may not want it for lunch but man are those Mexican restaurants packed at dinner time. I for one have a hard time going to a Mexican restaurant because I am just way too picky about that food.

    There is truth in what you say. But there are locals with adventurous palates. Marce is one and Diva is another for example. My own wife is another example of this. Maybe in my line of work I get to meet more locals that love foreign food because my products are, in a way, foreign and people that look for that are going to find me. I say this because I run into clients and customers that start talking about food and what they loved when they traveled to either the USA or to Europe etc.

    This I guess is more of a nitch. Comfort food fair here is more like mila or choripan, ñoquis on the 29th, medialuna and coffee for breakfast, mate and medialunas in the afternoon, grilled steak on the weekends, etc.

  8. exnat
    exnat says:

    Right, for me this is strange because actually “ethnic” food in the States (from Asia, Africa, Latin America, etc.) is very cheap for obvious reasons. Maybe here it’s expensive for exactly the same reasons… Interesting…

  9. exnat
    exnat says:

    Frank, thanks for the comment. I sense a really interesting ambivalence. On one hand the restaurant is packed and people have adventurous palates. On the other hand you have a hard time going because you’re way too picky about that type of food. I’m not sure what to make of it. Do you think Mexican food itself sells or just the concept?

  10. Alan Patrick
    Alan Patrick says:

    Nathan – I think you could ask the question in any country of whether ‘ethnic’ or ‘foreign’ food itself sells, or just it’s concept.

    And for me, the answer in most countries would be that first the concept sells, because very few people in the diners’ country actually know what the authentic ‘ethnic’ food tastes like back in it’s original country, but that secondly, the food itself sells, but in many, if not the majority of cases, people are fooling themselves if they think they are getting the real McCoy.

    For example, with Indian food in Great Britain – we have our own version of it, that is quite different to what is eaten in India, which has been modified to suit our tastes. But if people enjoy it, and it tastes good, who really cares at all if it is ‘authentic’ or not?

  11. Frank Almeida
    Frank Almeida says:

    Alan has a point. Which pretty much answers what I was getting at. It´s a local version of Mexican food. Who am I to complain about it? I just have a hard time eating the local version. However, my wife has learned to make the authentic stuff so I get the best of both worlds: authentic recipe using great local steak. My mouth is starting to water just thinking about it. My mom brought us seeds for different peppers to plant so we would have access to the authentic spicy stuff.

    Oh, by the way, in general the local palate may not be too adventurous but they are starting to go down that path. Yep, I meet people who won´t eat anything other than steak or pasta but then I also meet some who tell me that they spent time in the UK or the States and they miss Indian food, or Bagels or Cinnabuns, but they can´t put cookies on that list anymore 😉

  12. exnat
    exnat says:

    Let me just say I just ate a large CBC burrito. Delicious (and not authentic) Mexican food.

    Frank and Alan, I could not agree more but apparently I didn’t give that impression in what I wrote.

    Alan, I think you’re right in one sense. There’s lots of “concept” restaurants that look to sell food in niches, etc. Then there’s the restaurants that sell to expats. I bet you anything there’s amazing Bolivian and Peruvian food here for cheap because the Bolivians and Peruvians want to eat it and they know what it tastes like. They also don’t have a ton of money so it’s going to be cheap.

    This is what i wanted to be my interesting point:
    Let’s accept for a moment that ArteX3 has awesome Mexican food. Now how come they don’t serve that at lunch to differentiate themselves from everyone else who serves essentially the same thing? There’s no Mexican food in Palermo Viejo during lunch. I could be wrong but if they’re already a Mexican food restaurant, why not play it up. I can only assume that the concept doesn’t sell during lunch…

    And I want to be really clear here. I like Argentine food. And ArteX3 is my favorite lunch restaurant in Palermo Viejo right now. But you guys are right, I was being an ass in the post and these comments are what I deserve.

    But I did get ideas for a future post on authenticity 🙂

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