Most of this post was written in August as I left Buenos Aires, but I’ve edited it today. Thus the perspective is a mix of my perspective as I was leaving and my perspective as time has passed.

I arrived in Buenos Aires on February 19 with three 50-pound checked bags and two carry ons having flown from Los Angeles in American Airlines First Class. I’m typing this up on August 9 from the Star Alliance lounge at Ezeiza International Airport about to board South African business class to Johannesburg with one backpack and one overflow shoulder bag. (I’m cheating a little, but I am a one-bag evangelist.)

Trip Report: South African Business Class from Buenos Aires to Johannesburg

Other than 10 days in Paraguay and Uruguay, I’ve spent the last six months in Argentina. I took short trips to Bariloche and Iguazu, but I mainly spent the time in the Palermo Hollywood neighborhood of Buenos Aires.

Here are my six takeaways from six months in a distant land.

1. Cuisine

Argentina is known for huge hunks of grilled meet and renowned Malbecs. I don’t drink wine, so I only have an opinion on the food here. It’s cheap and delicious.

At the supermarket and restaurants, you’ll pay between a third and a half of what something similar in the US would cost.

Argentine cuisine is simple and the steaks are no exception. They may be lightly seasoned and served with chimichurri or salsa criolla (similar to pico de gallo), but you basically just get a hunk of meat. Why mess with perfection?

My two parrilla (steakhouse) recommendations are

  1. Las Cabras: This steakhouse is constantly packed because the value and quality are unparalleled. A filet with salad is under $10. A gran parrilla, which is a heaping pile of cuts from a variety of animals is about $25 and feeds 3-4. The $2 chorizo is a perfect appetizer for two and is the tastiest sausage I have ever had. Even in the cold of winter (45 degrees), people wait outside for a table for up to an hour. Go for lunch or before 8:30 PM to avoid a wait. I also love the convenient location in the heart of Palermo Hollywood and half a block from where I lived. Start the night here, and you can walk for the rest of the night.
  2. El Obrero: Entering El Obrero is what I imagine going back 50 years in Buenos Aires might be like. The waiters have been around for decades, and the decorations have too. The same cuts of meat are available at any parrilla, and El Obrero does them well and cheaply enough to stay packed despite being in a very seedy part of town. (Take a taxi. The restaurant will call one to pick you up.) The papas españolas (fried slices of potato) pair well with lomo (filet mignon), and the wine list is impressive. Just don’t say out loud that you support River Plate in this pro-Boca Juniors joint.

I love the quality of Argentine food, but the variety is very weak. The staples are meat, potatoes, pizza, pasta, and empanadas without much in the way of vegetables, spice, or imagination.

I ate most of my meals at home with spices purchased from barrio chino (Chinatown) or at foreign restaurants to inject variety into my diet. My favorites:

  1. Genghis House: My favorite restaurant in Buenos Aires–and a hit with everyone I roped into trying it–was this small Mongolian Barbecue place. Eight dollars bought a heaping pile of meet, noodles, and vegetables bathed in spicy, garlic-y, and delicious sauces. Included in the price is a drink and at lunch time, a desert.
  2. Burger Joint: You probably didn’t leave America to get a burger, but this place does the burger and fries very well. There’s the Classic, the Mexican, and the Bleu all of which are delicous and paired with fresh-cut fries. I recommend the Jamaican for a bacon/pineapple combo.
  3. Magdalena’s Party: The most popular expat bar is the only American-style brunch I found in the city. It is served on weekends until 5 PM. Bottomless mimosas for only $6 more.
  4. Vayarama: My favorite Indian place. Mains from $7. Get the aloo gobi. The restaurant is on Humboldt between El Salvador and Honduras across from the Be Hollywood Hotel.

Go to Argentina for the food and wine–it is that good. But if you stay more than a week, you’ll see the limitations in the “Argentine” cuisine, at which point you can branch out into an ever-growing international scene. For current English language reviews from an expat food blogger, check out pickupthefork.com.

2. There is something to do every night.

Argentina has the best night life of any city I’ve ever been to, and it’s not even close. It will be tough to adjust to their hours as an American, especially if you’re an early bird.

Dinner gets going between 9 PM and midnight. Bars might be full midnight to 3 AM. Clubs start to see people by 2 AM and go until… I have no idea. I have never stayed at a club until closing, but I surmise that they stay open until at least 7 AM.

Here are my picks for fun every night of the week:

Monday: Bomba del Tiempo. A rhythmic drum performance that attracts all ages and has been performing weekly for seven years! Costs $8.

Tuesday: Magdalena’s Party to Kika. Start the night at Magdalena’s Party for $2.5 beers and a chance to practice your English. Proceed around the corner to Kika, the busiest club on Tuesday night.

Wednesday: After Offices. The only time Argentines seem to go out before 2 AM is on Wednesdays to various After Offices around the city. There’s one I like at Terrazas del Este on the river.

Thursday: Every Thursday from 6:30 – 8:30 PM, there is a free tango lesson advertised on CouchSurfing. The class was a lot of fun, and I learned the basic steps, so you can too.

Friday: Start at one of the many bars in Palermo Hollywood. At 2 AM, join the throngs heading to Rose Bar, one of the largest night clubs in Palermo.

Saturday: Jobs BarThis is one of the strangest bars in the world. You pay $5 to get in, which entitles you to a drink and chicken nuggets or nachos. Then you head upstairs past dozens of ping pong tables, pool tables, foosball tables, and people playing the bar’s board games. Upstairs, you can shoot five arrows–archery in a bar!–for $2.50. It’s the kind of thing you know that liability insurance would prevent in the US, and it’s a ton of fun.

Sunday: Asado time. Most of the city shuts down, so everyone can have a barbecue with their family. If you can’t swing an invitation, grill your own meats.

3. Buenos Aires is the place to live, but the rest of the country can’t be skipped.

Buenos Aires has the country’s best restaurants, night life, cultural activities, and selection of pretty much everything. I can’t imagine living anywhere else in the country, though I’ve heard friends make impassioned cases for Cordoba.

But the rest of the country should be part of any trip to Argentina that’s longer than a few days. I went to Bariloche and Iguazu. Rookie Alli went to Tigre. Next time I go to Argentina, I want to go to Tierra del Fuego, Mendoza, and the northwest.

The diversity–mountains to oceans, subtropical to subpolar, glaciers to waterfalls–is matched by few countries. The distances are daunting–Argentina is the world’s eighth largest country–so be sure to use your miles to fly around.

4. “All the Americans get along.” The beauty of the expat community.

I played in a weekly basketball game that was about half Americans and half Argentines. One week an Argentine marveled that in Buenos Aires, “All the Americans get along.”

He’s basically right, and I imagine expat communities are similar the world over. All permanent and temporary expats share certain qualities like adventurousness and openness to new ideas and cultures. The common ground of the expats creates an easy community that welcomes new folks with open arms.

It’s probably harder to move to a new American city and quickly make friends than it would be to move to a major foreign city and do the same.

5. We have it great as Americans.

We have it great in a lot of ways. One of them is the stability of the dollar. In the last 34 years, the dollar has lost about two-thirds of its value according to www.usinflationcalculator.com. That’s a good reason not to put your cash under a mattress for 34 years, but it’s easy enough to keep up with 3% inflation.

The Argentine peso has lost two-thirds of its value in the last five years. That makes it extremely hard to save money or invest in a new business if you earn pesos.

While I was in Argentina, the dollar went from 7.5 to 10.5 pesos then back down to 9. (It’s currently at 9.5 pesos to the dollar on the informal market.) Since I make dollars, I found the swings annoying, but not devastating.

Price and currency stability is just one example of the US’s superior institutions. Until Argentina and most of the world catches up to our institutions, most of the world will remain a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there (permanently).

6. If you’ve dreamed of moving abroad, you should do it.

An extended vacation, a mini-retirement, a sabbatical. If you’ve wanted to take one abroad, do it. Pick a time and place, book the ticket with miles, and start putting your affairs in order to move away.

It’s not very hard, it’s a lot of fun, it will fill your life with novelty and challenge, and you’re very unlikely to regret it.

Miles and points make it very easy to book the flights to your new home in style, get some free hotel nights while you apartment search on the ground, fly home for important events, or fly your friends to you for a visit.

Since this is a miles-and-points blog and not an expat blog or a general travel blog, I probably won’t post any more thoughts on the subjects of Argentina or living abroad. But please ask any questions you have in the comments.




Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.