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Discover good food in Buenos Aires

Want to discover the heart of Buenos Aires? Eat like a local. There's good food everywhere.

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Chefs take pride in their creations: "Fresh sole" on the menu means that the fish was dropped off that morning, and "home-made ravioli" was hand-cut and stuffed on the premises.

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Many chefs like to chat tableside with patrons about new sauces or unusual ingredients.

Even those on a budget should consider preset lunches (menú del dia), a great way to indulge at an otherwise pricey restaurant. At La Parolaccia (on Calle Riobamba), for instance, a three-course lunch is about $10 and includes a variety of freshly baked breads.

Most restaurants post menus outside for viewing; some have websites. All invite diners to linger long after plates have been cleared. You "own" your table, even when there's a line waiting.

Buenos Aires is known for its sweet tooth. Heladerías (ice cream vendors) tempt passersby with flavors rarely found elsewhere, such as chunky caramel with figs and walnuts. It's an Italian, gelato-style ice cream, which contains more milk and less cream than its American cousin. And since there's less air, scoops are denser, each bite more intense.

Another high-calorie obsession is dulce de leche, sweetened milk boiled until it is the consistency of caramel. The thick paste is whipped into ice cream and pastries and spread on pancakes and toast.

Fortunately for visitors' waistlines, Buenos Aires is a walking city. Laid out on a grid, a logical numbering system makes navigation relatively simple. Avenidas are wide thoroughfares, while calles are generally narrower.

Porteños love to walk. Garages are at a premium and parking is nearly impossible. Both are good reasons for picking up groceries in small quantities at the neighborhood mercado, the kind Americans used to call mom and pop stores.

In a space the size of a school bus, you can find everything from laundry detergent and soda water to wheels of cheese and handmade empanadas. Fruit and vegetables are trucked in daily from nearby farms. Soil still clings to onions. There's an earthy smell to mercados – and not a shopping cart in sight.

On weekends, people pack picnics and head to plazas and parks along Avenida del Libertador. Elders sip hot yerba maté through metal straws stuck into hollowed-out gourds. Live bands play, jugglers perform, acrobats entertain young and old. Everyone has a good time.

Hundreds of vendors crowd nearby Plaza Francia for Recoleta Fair, the largest outdoor handicrafts fair in the city. All manner of arts and crafts fill the stalls: silver jewelry, wooden toys, leather goods. Children sell sandwiches. "Whole wheat bread!" they shout. "Vegetarian!"

In Buenos Aires, people dine late, dance late, and rise late to do it all over again. The best way to experience the city's personality is to sample a variety of foods every day.

You'll learn more than you expected by eating as the locals do.

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