Forget steak. Forget empanadas. If you want to taste the real Argentina, order a milanesa. Once just the greasy favorite of kids and fast food junkies, today the milanesa has reclaimed its proud position on the Argentine culinary scene and is served in a mouthwatering array of varieties – and locations.
We stuck a fork into the humble yet decidedly delicious milanesa to find out why it has such a pull on the nation’s bellies. Find out where this creation comes from, how to cook the perfect milanesa en casa, and where in Buenos Aires you can find the best versions of this unofficial national dish.
Make Mine a Milanesa
As with much of Argentine cuisine and culture, the roots of the Argentine milanesa are traced back to Italy. The thin steak or veal chop, dipped in breadcrumbs and fried, is referred to as cotoletta alla milanese in Italian.
In its most basic form, the Argentine milanesa is a simply breaded, thin slice of prime beef from the peceto(round roast cut) or the nalga (eye of round). There’s not a lot of fat or sinew, which makes you feel better when you live off these fried meat sandwiches every lunch for a week, and which also makes the milanesa curl up when you cook it in copious amounts of hot vegetable oil.
In Argentina any butcher will cut the meat for your milanesas. Once you get them home, soak them in the fridge for an hour or so in a mixture of beaten egg, a drop of milk, a sprinkle of salt, and some finely chopped parsley and garlic. Add a touch of oregano or dried chilies if you crave a spicy taste. When you are ready to cook, dip them in the breadcrumbs you buy ready-prepared from any grocery store. If you’re on a health kick you don’t have to fry them; milanesas are much easier on the heart when baked in a hot oven.
Millions of Milanesas…
Don’t overdo it. If you want the pure milanesa experience, squeeze lemon over the crispy hot delicacies and serve with creamy mashed potatoes or fries. But if you want to go a bit fancy, eat a milanesa napolitana, a milanesa topped with tomato salsa, ham, and cheese. Or try it a caballo – on horseback – where a fried egg tops the delicious concoction.
These are the classic serving suggestions but really anything goes when it comes to milanesas. Top it with rocket, blue cheese, mozzarella, spinach, white sauce…. When red meat isn’t your thing, chicken milanesas, soy milanesas and veggie milanesas (usually sliced eggplant, zucchini and squash) take its place.
And while the fancy milanesa with all the trimmings is served in restaurants and cafes, you don’t have to go far to sample the original lunchtime classic – the sándwich de milanesa. Stick a fried milanesa in some crispy white bread and add tomato and lettuce, and you’re good to go. Milanesa completa is the slightly souped up version with lettuce, tomato, cheese and ham. Be warned, however – if you buy a milanesa sandwich from a greasy stall on the station you’re probably not going to experience the same taste sensation as you would if you visited one of the places below…
Milanesas in the City: Your Go-To Guide
It goes without saying that the best milanesa in the city is cooked at home, by someone’s mother or grandmother. But if you don’t have family connections, any of these recommended locations in Buenos Aires will serve you a fresh and tasty milanesa to satisfy the hungriest belly.
Best from the Bodegón: El Preferido de Palermo
A bodegón in Argentina is a kind of café cum grocery store cum wine bar. While Buenos Aires has a wide-ranging collection of these classic and cozy eateries the best for milanesas is surely El Preferido (Borges 2108)
Best for Authenticity: Don Ignacio
An unassuming-looking place where the walls pay tribute to Argentine rock nacional legends, Don Ignacio actually lays claim to being the “king of the milanesas”. Many happy-bellied patrons attest to the verity of this claim. Sample the Americana with crispy pancetta, the Sicilia with ham, black olives and a lot of cheese, or a crunchy concoction with creamy Roquefort (Rivadavia 3439, Almagro).
Best for Vegetarians: BIO
Bio, organic food pioneers in Palermo, remind us that milanesas are not solely reserved for the carnivores. Serving up soya or millet milanesas with cheese, stir fry vegetables or salad (only available at lunchtimes during the week), these are probably the lightest milanesas you’ll find in the city (Humboldt 2192, Palermo).
Best for Football Fans: Don Carlos
Combine a culinary classic with tribute to another Buenos Aires institution – Boca Juniors soccer club. Don Carlos is a classic porteño restaurant right in front of the Bombonera stadium. Not the cheapest place to sample the humble milanesa, but certainly at the top in terms of atmosphere (Brandsen 699, La Boca).
Best for Size: La Farola de Cabildo
Looking more like a pizza, the milanesa napolitana in La Farola de Cabildo is a full 40 centimeters across. Come here with a big appetite (Cabildo 2630, Belgrano).
Best for Pizza Lovers: Los Chanchitos
And if the idea of a milanesa that looks like a pizza has got you thinking, go the next step and order apizzanesa at Los Chanchitos. This delicacy was created at the restaurant in 1983 where instead of the pizza dough you find milanesa meat. Perfect (Angel Gallardo 601, Caballito).
Best for Variety: El Club de la Milanesa
Whatever you want on your milanesa you’ll probably find it here. This place is dedicated to the Argentine classic. Try the Patagonica, with mozzarella, smoked meats and cherry tomatoes, the Ensalada Caesar de Rucula with chicken, Caesar sauce and rocket, or a tasty variety with guacamole or creamed spinach. Just looking at their menu makes me want to stop writing right now and take a cab to their door. Find El Club de la Milanesa various locations across the city.
Also worth a mention: Albamonte (Corrientes 6735, Chacarita), which is more known for its pizzas but the milanesas are tasty too; Hermann Restaurante (Santa Fe 3902, Palermo), a traditional restaurant where the milanesa napolitana is served up on a silver platter by a bow-tied waiter; and, El Obrero (Caffarena 64, La Boca), a fabulously authentic local eatery in La Boca with some milanesa treats on the menu. ¡Buen provecho!