A gluten free, vegetarian guide to Buenos Aires

Ah, Buenos Aires. For a city that I didn’t know much about before visiting, you sure got me good. Combining South American charm with European-esque architecture and a love of food, Buenos Aires is like no other city you’ve experienced. It’s also not necessarily known for being overtly vegetarian or dietary niche friendly. So let’s dive in to my enormous guide to a gluten free, vegetarian Buenos Aires.

Argentina isn’t exactly known for being a vegetarian country, nor a gluten free one. The traditional dishes in Argentina are steak, empanadas, lochre (a bean and meat stew) and wine. Yes, I consider wine a dish. Don’t ask questions. Still, with a bit of research and a lot of cheese, Buenos Aires can be enjoyed by vegetarians and gluten intolerants alike.

WHERE TO STAY IN BUENOS AIRES

This guide is heavily slanted towards San Telmo, which is where we stayed. San Telmo is the oldest barrio (suburb) of Buenos Aires, and it’s old world charm will inevitably win you over. There are trendier places to stay (Palermo, Recoleta) but I would choose San Telmo again, if I had the chance.

According to someone on my trip who did much more research than I, San Telmo is considered a ‘touristy’ area to stay. Personally, I didn’t find it touristy at all. There were plenty of Argentinean style bars and restaurants within walking distance, no ‘I love BA’ shirt shops, and not a single Western brand shop in sight. In Palermo (the upmarket trendy area) there were far more recognisable name brand shops and the familiar streetscapes of home. San Telmo was a bit more gritty, which I personally really enjoyed.

Apparently there is a considerable amount of pickpocketing in Buenos Aires, and in San Telmo more so than the other areas. Although we didn’t experience this nor see it happen to others, we were quite vigilant about it. Hold onto your belongings, be aware in crowds, just the basics. Nothing worse than losing all your holiday snaps. Ok well there are a lot of things that are worse, but still.

Things to do in each suburb, so you can choose according to how much time you have and what you want to do:

  • San Telmo is walking distance to the city centre. It has the San Telmo Market (open on Sundays, but some shops are open all week) and a Sunday market which spans a charming 1-2km stretch of cobbled street. There are lots of antique shops, a dedicated antique section of the market, and lots of Argentinean bars. It is also ‘walking distance’ to Boca if you’re a real holiday walker.
  • Recoleta is kind of quasi- inner city. It has the cemetary (not to be missed!) the beautiful bookstore El Ateneo, and some nice restaurants and bars (Floreria Atlantico is one of them). It is a bit more of a cosmopolitan experience.
  • Palermo is the trendy part of the Buenos Aires. It is quite spread out (we never fully got our bearings) but contains lots of trendy places such as Gran Dabbang. It is about 40 minutes by taxi from San Telmo, and probably not walking distance to the city. Good for people and well groomed dog watching.

GLUTEN FREE, VEGETARIAN BUENOS AIRES TIPS

  • I will say outright that you will struggle a little if you don’t eat cheese. Picadas, the Argentinean version of antipasto, were a common solution to lunch on our trip. They generally serve a number of hard cheeses (which are low in lactose) and you can ask for cheese only picadas if you have no meat eaters on your trip.
  • Because of the Italian influence, there were also a number of antipasti things available. Think artichoke hearts and pickled eggplant. If you say to the server ‘soy vegetariano/a’, they will generally come back at you with a number of options, which you can blindly agree to like I did.
  • I won’t say that going to Buenos Aires as a gluten free vegan is impossible, but I will say that you will need to do a lot of research. I ate a lot of cheese and eggs to make up for my inability to eat pasta or empanadas.
  • Breakfast is a little tricky, because Argentineans love a pastry (mostly medialunas, their version of a croissant) for breakfast. I managed to get a lot of vegetarian omelettes, but I’d also recommend bringing some gluten free muesli with you, just in case. We bought some at a health food store in San Telmo market, but it took a couple of days to find.
  • I found that in general, places were pretty switched on to gluten free.

FODMAP TIPS

  • My main tip for sticking to a FODMAP diet in Buenos Aires: you’re on holiday, you’re in a foreign country, manage your expectations. Unless you can speak fluent Spanish and communicate your requirements, expect that you’ll find onion and garlic in your food. Personally, I find my flare ups to be considerably less severe on holidays, likely due to the absence of stress and the presence of exciting things to see and do.
  • While the Argentinians are familiar with the term ‘sin gluten’ or even ‘gluten free’, I didn’t even attempt to communicate FODMAP. You could try using a few phrases such as ‘sin cebolla per favor’ (without onion, please) but don’t expect miracles.

FOOD RECOMMENDATIONS

Please note that some of these overlap – some bars have good food, some dinner recommendations double as traditional Argentinean bars. I really just wanted to write extensively about it so I could relive my own holiday. Without further ado, my food recommendations for a gluten free, vegetarian Buenos Aires goer:

FOR COFFEE:

Coffee Town, San Telmo. We stayed about a 2 minute walk away from San Telmo market, and had coffee here every day, without exception. EXCELLENT espressos and other options too, like a house made almond milk flat white. Very Melbourne.

Cosecas, San Telmo. Great coffee, lots of nice brunch options (not many gluten free, however) and a great spot to sit in the sun and people watch with a coffee. Great lemonade, too. I had no idea Argentineans were so into lemonade.

Ninina Bakery, Palermo. This is a super trendy coffee shop with the scandi aesthetic you might be accustomed to back home. I had a cold brew with pepper and orange (delicious) and a ridiculous, out of control flourless chocolate cake topped with dulce de leche and THEN meringue. Highly recommend.

FOR DINNER:

Mercadito Latino, San Telmo. A super cute, funky little place across the street from San Telmo market. It has delicious, wholesome Central and South American food, and is very vegetarian friendly. 

Il Materello, Boca and Palermo. I was in BA with two gluten eaters, and they were absolutely blown away by the pasta at il Materello. We went to the La Boca venue, which is hidden on a very unassuming street. Google maps helps here. We all enjoyed it so much that we returned on our last night in BA for a second visit, something I generally try not to do (so much to eat, so little time!) Although I don’t think it’s handmade, they do offer gluten free pasta with a number of the sauces. I had it with the pesto (not FODMAP friendly but hey, holidays!) and it was incredibly good. 

Cumana, Downtown. Being the interior design sucker/snob that I am, I probably would have walked right past this place if we hadn’t researched it prior. Some of the most delicious and authentic food we had in Buenos Aires, with plenty of vegetarian and gluten free options. We had the most delicious tamales, as well as some sort of cheese stuffed baked potato that was heaven. 

Los Galgos, Downtown. One of the notable bars in Buenos Aires, this place had a trendy vibe and was more what you’d associate with a cocktail bar back home, from memory (I had 3-4 negronis and don’t recall much). From (hazy) memory, food was only served after a certain hour, one that was much later than early bird westerners are accustomed to. Still, it was a really cool place (we sat upstairs) and although I don’t remember the food, I remember I enjoyed it. 

El Sanjuanino, Downtown. This was another highlight in terms of authentic Argentinean food and a jovial atmosphere. The waiters were lovely and the tamales were delightful. The icing on the cake, however, was the flan with dulce de leche. A great place for a long boozy lunch. 

The San Telmo Market (particularly on a Sunday night). This one is a given! Wander around and you’ll find plenty of options for vegetarian and gluten free dining. The atmosphere is really fun and jovial, particularly on Sunday if there’s no religious events (or elections, as there were when we were there). 

AUTHENTIC ARGENTINIAN PICADAS AND APERITIVOS

El Federal, San Telmo. This was probably my favourite of the Notable Argentinean bars. It rained a bit while we were in Buenos Aires and this bar was the perfect spot to sit by the window with an aperitivo and watch the world go by. They also had very generous picadas with lots of vegetarian antipasti bits and bobs. 

Los Galgos, Downtown. This is in both the dinner and aperitivos sections because it really does a bit of both. Again, (from memory) I think they only serve full meals inside of certain hours, so at other times you’ll be eating picadas or just sipping on a drink. We sat upstairs which was very pared back and trendy, and had a nice view of the street. Downstairs would probably be more of a local vibe (it was full when we got there). 

Vino y Orsogna, San Telmo. A cute little wine bar on a balcony overlooking a gorgeous little plaza near San Telmo. Very tucked away but very cute. You can get picadas without meat, too. 

Bar Plaza Dorrego , San Telmo. A little bar on plaza dorrego with old world charm, from chequered floors to vintage wooden tables. If I were a better interior photographer, this would be where I’d come to shoot. Very vibey little spot with drinks and picadas. Sometimes you can dine outdoors on plaza dorrego and watch the tango dancers. 

El Sanjuanino, Downtown. Adding this again because it was a thoroughly enjoyable, authentic spot and it works for both picadas or a full meal. 

La Poesia, San Telmo

Cafe Tortoni, Downtown. Personally, I’d categorise this as more of a sight to see than an authentic experience. It’s one of Argentina’s best known bars, so you kind of have to tick it off your list. I found it a little touristy, but I’m still happy we went. According to the link, there’s sometimes live tango there which would be a great way to wile away an afternoon. 

 

FOR WINE AND COCKTAILS:

Floreria Atlantico, Downtown. One of the best bars in the world, hidden underneath a trendy florist shop. Need I say more? There were a couple of trendy looking eateries in the area that we didn’t get time to visit, but might be worth a look if you’re hungry as well as thirsty. 

Pro Vin Cia, Downtown

Vino y Orsogna, San Telmo

FOR GLUTEN FREE AND VEGETARIAN ESPECIALLY:

Gout Gluten Free Cafe, various locations

Abuela Pan, San Telmo

Hierbabuena, San Telmo/Boca

The health food shop up the stairs at the back of San Telmo market (I bought gluten free granola, alfajores and coconut yoghurt)

 

FOR THE EMPANADA EATER IN YOUR LIFE:

La Cocina, Downtown

Mercado De San Telmo – there are various empanada shops inside and around the edges of the market

 

ACTIVITIES:

San Telmo Market. This was such a huge highlight for me, particularly because I first went on a Sunday evening. Sunday is traditionally the day the market itself (not the outdoor market in San telmo) is alive and packed. It may sound silly, but jumping off a plane and heading straight into a jovial market set up how I felt about the place. My sister first saw it on an empty weekday, and I think that lessened the charm somewhat. Either way, plenty of places to eat, drink and explore, both in and around the market. A fun Sunday night drink. 

San Telmo Sunday Market. Different to the San Telmo market itself, the sunday market is a vintage/general market that floods the streets surrounding San Telmo market on a Sunday. The best vintage bits can be found at Plaza Dorrego, and the quality sort of dwindles the further up you go. A fun, artsy atmosphere and a great way to spend a Sunday. 

People/tango watching at Plaza Dorrego. Sunday is a jam packed day in San Telmo! After the vintage markets are packed up, tango dancers take to the square. The weather was pleasant when we were there, so all the bars had tables out. A really nice spot to have an aperitivo and get some culture in. 

Vintage shops around San Telmo. There are plenty of nice vintage shops in around San Telmo Market, separate to the Sunday markets. If vintage is your thing, you’ll almost definitely find something here. I came home with a gorgeous copper saucepan. 

La Boca. A fun, vibey and colourful neighbourhood, known for outdoor tango and bright coloured streets. If you’re travelling with a soccer fan, you’ll also know that it’s home to one of the most famous soccer teams (and stadiums) in South America. This is a particularly enjoyable day out and I would highly recommend it, especially if you’re staying somewhere more modern like Palermo (as opposed to San Telmo). Is it a tourist trap? Yes. But is it an enjoyable, unique one? Also yes. We walked from Caminito (the colourful street where the markets happen) to Il Materello for lunch. Apparently it’s a little seedy after dark, so watch your bags and go during the day (or get a taxi). I would have liked to go to Patagonia Sur, a well known restaurant in La Boca, but we didn’t have time. 

Recoleta Cemetary

El Ateneo Bookshop. One look at the photos and you’ll see why you need to go. 

A day trip to Tigre. I have to say, I didn’t have high expectations for Tigre. I kind of assumed it would be a touristy little canal town. While I do think the markets were touristy (I was expecting exotic fruits and I found branded trinkets) the boat tour was well worth the trip. The canals and houses perched on the banks were like nothing I’ve seen before. People live on the ‘islands’ in varying forms of luxury, and it will make you want to move there immediately. Worth a day trip if you have a lot of time in Buenos Aires. 

A day trip to Colonia, Uruguay. The ferry takes two-ish hours, but Colonia was well worth the visit. It’s a gorgeous little beachside town with quaint cobbled streets as well as a modern city centre. Best part? You can rent a golf buggy and hoon it around town. A great way to see the cobbled streets and make the most of the day. One thing I regret is not checking that the the cute little wine and produce bar (El Buen Suspiro) was open on the day we planned to go. I was really looking forward to it because it sells local condiments and liquers, so check the opening hours before you book your ferry tickets if that’s your thing. 

 

 

VEGETARIAN/GLUTEN FREE OPTIONS AT SAN TELMO MARKET

Vegetarian racelette at Se Juis Raclette (roast veg with melty cheese on top)

Tofu noodles at Saigon – these were delicious although there was a fair bit of onion – if you sit at the bar you could ask for it without onion potentially

 

HANDY PHRASES OF EXTREMELY ENTRY LEVEL SPANISH: 

Qi siera or me gustaria – I would like

Soy vegetariano – I am vegetarian

Soy vegano – I am vegan

La cuenta – the bill/cheque

Sin TACC – gluten free (you can also say sin gluten or gluten free and everybody understands)

Sin cebolla – without onion (I didn’t have too much luck with this but a girl can try)

HANDY HINTS:

  • If you’re worried about breakfasts (they have been the hardest meal) I would recommend buying some granola and yoghurt and/or fruit. Someone once told me that they bring their Nutribullet on holiday, so that is something to consider. Meals have tended to be a little more meat and cheese heavy.
  • I have ended up relying a little bit on picadas, which are essentially cheese plates. Most of the cheeses are hard and thus low lactose, but something to consider.
  • If you can, get a phone plan that allows you to use your phone in Argentina (In Australia, Vodafone does!) I’ve found maps and Google Translate to be absolutely indispensable.

 

PLACES WE DIDN’T HAVE TIME FOR BUT WANTED TO GO:

Full City Coffee House

Gran Dabbang

Rapa Nui

Almacen Y Bar

HANDY LINKS FROM MY RESEARCHING:

  • A guide to the best ice cream shops in BA. Argentineans take ice cream, or helada, very seriously.
  • Another guide to the best ice cream shops, because I regret not taking ice cream seriously enough while I was there.
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