No longer dirt cheap, but is Desnivel still one of the best?
Rushing in from the rain with water puddling in our sandals, lightning streaking the wet sky, we find Desnivel is already packed at 9pm. Clearly this San Telmo institution is still pulling the crowds. We’re here with visiting family, who’ve already eaten more than their fair share of red meat on their Argentina tour, and we’re promising cheap, quality eats. Will Desnivel restaurant live up to our hype?
The entrance with its delivery bikes and loiterers waiting for tables coughs “pizza takeaway” more than “quality Buenos Aires restaurant” but a glance to the left reveals Desnivel’s true colours. The battered grill spits out chorizo, ribs, morcilla blood sausage and chunks of beef. The chef hacks at the meat to produce lean lomo cuts and chunky, fat-drilled steaks.
In a city where you’re never more than a metre from a steak, it’s hard to single out parrilla restaurants for tourists that merit special mention, but Desnivel manages to be memorable. Homemade chimichurri sauce and hunks of bread are basic but tasty. The colita cuadril with mustard sauce and fried potatoes ($45) is big, brash and chunky but tenderly cooked and peppery. The waiter explains the peceto cut (I only hear something about an animal’s leg and the words tasty, dry and pressed over the noise so I’m really none the wiser.) I’m on a budget so I reluctantly pass over the chance to order lomo pimiento ($83), which I know from more affluent times to be satisfyingly spicy and rich. My aunt skips out of the cow-fest and orders homemade pasta and pesto. She’s not overly impressed, but the meat is always going to be the draw here.
Desnivel is always a bit hot and sweaty, always brightly lit and boisterous, always boasting a big group of assorted backpackers as well as couples and locals. The tiny two-floored place is always filled with waiters rushed off their feet, climbing the stairs dripping meat juices from laden platters. Some are friendlier than others – one visit we got stuck with the most miserable bastard in Buenos Aires, who kicked our chairs and dropped crumbs over my lap.
Desnivel doesn’t offer the classiest cuts or the fanciest flavours, and sometimes the forks bend when you spear your provolone cheese, but this is value. The meat is succulent and there’s so much of it you’re drinking two bottles of Malbec before you’re finished. The days when you’d make friends madly jealous telling them about the Desnivel steak-for-US$2 are gone. Blame the burgeoning economy. But the experience is addictive. You know it’s worth the trip when you feel entirely satisfied; with the place, the price and the fullness in your belly.