There are no reindeer to be found, the weather is too warm for snow, even in the dead of winter, and the conifers are plastic. No bother. In the immortal words of Paul McCartney, Buenos Aires is simply having a wonderful Christmas time, and so can you.
For those visiting Argentina in the coming weeks, the capital offers numerous activities that will appeal to tourists and natives alike. While the vast majority of restaurants will be closed on Christmas and New Year’s Eve — this is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, after all — several will be welcoming patrons with special menus for the occasion. And if you’re planning on celebrating with family and friends at home, there are a range of dishes you might consider preparing to enjoy an authentically Argentine experience.
Here are a few of the Herald’s favorite things to do, restaurants to try, and foods to taste this holiday season.
Sights to see
Christmas mass in Plaza de Mayo — You don’t have to be observant to relish the experience of attending mass at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Plaza de Mayo. The building, which was constructed on the site of the city’s original colonial church and dates back to 1827, features neoclassical columns that stand in stark contrast to its rococo altar. At 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve, Auxiliary Bishop and Vicar General of Buenos Aires Gustavo Carrara will preside over a first Christmas Eve mass, followed by a second that begins at 8 p.m. All services are free and open to the public, although seating is limited.
Feria Festiva Navidad — Still need to get in some last-minute Christmas shopping? At Feria Festiva Navidad, you can find a variety of handcrafted goods, from jewelry and ceramics to stationary and light fixtures. Located in Chacarita on Fraga 648, the feria is free and open to the public, human and canine alike, from 4 to 9 p.m. on Friday and 2 to 9 p.m. on Saturday.
Parque Navideño — Whether you’re on vacation with your family or you’re just looking for something to do with the kids now that school is out, Parque Navideño is the perfect solution this weekend. Here, you can visit a cabaña de Papá Noel with a Santa Claus in full Christmas regalia and participate in different workshops where you can design and assemble your own toys. Other offerings include face-painting and animal balloons, to name just two. Parque Navideño, which is free and open to the public, is located in Recoleta’s Parque Thays and will be open Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Teatro Colón — What’s a holiday season without taking in a performance of El Casanueces (The Nutcracker)? The ballet, which the Russian composer Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote in 1892, is a Christmas classic, and the Teatro Colon’s productions are as majestic and wonder-inducing as any you will see in the world. El Casanueces is directed by Mario Galizzi and will be running through Thursday, December 29, with daily performances at 8 p.m. For more information about the production, visit the theater’s website here.
Places to eat
Sheikob’s Bagels — Eating Chinese food on Christmas is an unspoken Jewish tradition, and it’s one that Jake Eichenbaum-Pikser, the owner and culinary mind behind Sheikob’s Bagels in Palermo, takes very seriously. Rather than its usual array of bagels, which are easily the best in the city, Sheikob’s will be serving an assortment of Chinese dishes, including char siu bao, a kind of dim sum stuffed with pork, and Reuben spring rolls. An official menu will be posted to the restaurant’s Instagram page on Sunday. Eichenbaum-Pikser will also be screening a series of Christmas-themed movies on a projector in front of the restaurant all afternoon. Past showings include It’s a Wonderful Life, Batman Returns, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Sheikob’s is located on Uriarte 1386 and will be open on Christmas Day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Mudrá — Mudrá, which has locations in Palermo and Tigre, boasts some of the finest vegan cuisine in Buenos Aires. While it’s perhaps best known for its plant-based sushi nikkei, its offerings range from Japanese to burritos and burgers. Inventive new dishes from chef Astrid Acuña include portobello ceviche and a marinated beat salad with crunchy artichokes. The restaurant also has a diverse cocktail menu if you’re looking to make a holiday toast. Mudrá is located on Córdoba 3942 in Buenos Aires City and will open its doors on Christmas Day at 6 p.m.
Ribs al Rio — With locales across the city and on the Costanera, this down-and-dirty barbecue joint is sure to satisfy your craving for American cuisine. Among its specialties are baby back ribs and pulled pork, both of which are smoked to perfection. Ribs al Rio, whose Palermo eatery is located on Armenia 1744, will be opening its doors on Christmas and New Year’s Day at 7 p.m. You can learn more about its menu and its holiday offerings by visiting the restaurant’s Instagram page here.
Alvear Grill — For those looking to dine out on Christmas Eve, the Alvear Grill will be serving a “Red Christmas” dinner. The menu of meat, fish, and shellfish-based dishes is fixed, and the presentation of each plate will be holiday-themed. Diners can also enjoy coffee, petits fours, and Christmas sweets after the meal is served. Reservations are required, so be sure to call in advance. The Alvear Grill operates inside the Alvear Palace Hotel, which is located on Ayacucho 2023 in Recoleta.
Dishes to try
Vitel toné — With its gloppy, mayonnaise-based sauce, vitel toné may not look the most appetizing, but it’s an Argentine delicacy and a mainstay of the country’s Christmas dinner. This Piedmontese dish consists of a slow-cooked beef — usually a thinly cut peceto — and is served with some combination of tuna, anchovies, and capers. Vitel toné is eaten cold and can offer a refreshing alternative to asado on a hot December night.
Matambre — Anyone who has spent a Christmas Eve in an Argentine household has likely encountered a matambre arrollado — a meat cut named matambre that is rolled up with just about any food you might find in your refrigerator. The dish is served hot or cold, and typical ingredients include hard-boiled eggs, sliced carrots, and red peppers, all of which are seasoned with different herbs and either boiled or oven-roasted. You can also try your hand at a matambre a la pizza, which is just the meat but topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese.
Lengua a la vinagreta — It’s not for the faint of heart, but few Christmas dishes are more authentically Argentine than lengua a la vinagreta, which is literally boiled cow’s tongue in a vinegar-based sauce. The tongue is boiled, and it’s served cold with diced garlic, onions, olive oil, and hard-boiled eggs, among other ingredients. But unless you’re cooking the dish yourself, you might not want to watch the preparation — especially the peeling of the tongue.