Where and What to Eat in El Chalten, Patagonia
A few years back, many may tell you that dining in El Chalten is the epitome of Patagonian tourism - high prices for mediocre food. In recent years, it saw a significant tourist boom due to the proximity to Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres, and the dining scene has burgeoned since. E & I arrived at the Alpine-inspired town after visiting the infamously pricey Puerto Natales. With no (or low) expectations whatsoever, here are a few food places we were pleasantly surprised by.
For a Casual Meal/Drink
La Cervecería & Chaltén Cerveza Artesanal
San Martín 320, 9301 El Chalten, Santa Cruz, Argentina
This brewery bar makes great beer in their tiny facility in the back of a restaurant. We stopped by for a light lunch of empanada and sandwich. The house hefeweizen tasted a lot like blue moon (it even came with a slice of orange). E was not impressed by their bock, but on a hot day after a hike, any cold beer is great. Their empanadas were also great, and came with a small cup of minestrone. This is probably the best place in town to kick back under the sun with an apres-hike drink.
B&B Burger Joint
351, San Martín, El Chalten, Santa Cruz, Argentina
I can't tell you this is a life-changing burger, but even for someone who has access to quality burger in New York all the time, the burger here is pretty bomb. Once you've had a bite of their burgers, you'll agree with me this hip casual eatery is proof that Argentinians know how to work their grill. We got the double patty with bacon and the Criolla, both involve juicy patties sandwiched between golden-faced hamburger buns. Wash it down with a cold beer and indulge in a sun-bathed food coma.
For the Best Hiking Lunch
Avenida San Martin 535, El Chalten Z9301ABA, Argentina
This little shack characterized by Che Guevera, the legendary Marxist revolutionary, really packs a punch. Pick your flavor and the owner will heat up par-baked envelopes of goodness to order. I was so tempted to eat the piping hot pockets, but was glad I waited, because cold pulled pork and carne picante empanadas after a treacherous hike is infinitely better than a limp ham and cheese sandwich. Mind you these aren't fried empanadas, but baked pastry pockets which I prefer. I recommend 2-3, depending on how hungry you are. Don't worry you can always come back for fresh ones after the hike.
San Martín 219, El Chalten, Santa Cruz, Argentina
El Muro was highly recommended by our hotel reception as one of the best local parillas. Located at the end of the main road, it is a stalwart of El Chalten's food scene. The intimate restaurant is housed inside an eccentric two-story structure with a rock climbing wall on the side, and space is so tight you need to squeeze between the bar counter and the first table to get inside. The chef, who left the kitchen briefly, was still in his biking shorts. E loved the cordero fueguino, which came with the shoulder, rack and loin. I was happy to find a half portion of bife de chorizo, one of my favourite parilla picks similar to New York Strip.
99, José Antonio Rojo 75, El Chalten, Santa Cruz, Argentina
La Tapera is known to be "the best restaurant in town" but I have to say it's really not my cup of tea. It is recommended that you go early to get a table so we headed over the rustic wood cabin at around 6pm. We were fortunate to snatch one the of the last two tables on the mezzanine level, overlooking the fire place. After 5 days of hiking, we were extremely excited for a decent sit-down meal and started off with what we thought would be a refreshing salad, only to find that it came with melted cheese on top (who does that?!). The rest of the dishes are equally rich, including the steak with multiple sauces and cream-laden trout. All comes with over the top garnishes like gigantic bunches of grated carrot and giant potato chips. I certainly don't understand the appeal, but many seem to enjoy its cozy environment and generous portions.
For Something Sweet
Av. Del Libertador Gral. 249, El Chalten., San Martin, El Chalten, Santa Cruz, Argentina
Chalteño is an adorable cafe/store that sells one of the best alfajore I've had in South America (apart from my favourite alfajore de maicena, which is a different type of alfajore). The light wood-paneled space is filled with artisanal products and designer home goods, plus a plethora of chocolate-covered treats. In fact, you can smell the sweetness of freshly tempered chocolate the moment you walk in. All alfajores are made fresh on site, and my favourite is the original - smooth dulce de leche sandwiched between two tender and flaky biscuits, then coated with rich dark chocolate. Other flavours like the raspberry and fruits of the forest are also great for fruit lovers.
Heledaria Domo Blanco
Avenida San Martin 164, El Chalten Z9301ABA, Argentina
Located near the trailhead of Cerro Torre, this gelato store is a popular stop after a long day's hike. Although I find the gelato base slightly icy, their flavours are great. Famed for their calafate berry flavour, we also loved the tiramisu and super domo. Like any heledaria in Argentina, sharing a quarter-kilo between two people is probably a better deal than getting your own (I know it sounds like a lot but trust me you'll finish it).
What we missed
We passed by Fuegia Bistro and Parilla La Oveja Negra on our way to El Muro, debating whether we should change our dinner plans. Both look like great options for a meat-focused meal, and after trying a range of eateries in the town, I'd happily swap our dinner at La Tapera for either of these restaurants.