Welcome to Argentina

Argentina, Cafes — By on June 17, 2010 10:13 pm

My next restaurant destination took me to the Southern tip of South America, the Argentina Caf.

The only Argentinean food I had in the past were baked empanadas and steak.

But as I walked through the door I had in the back of my mind some of the goodies Anthony Bourdain and Andrew Zimmern tried in their shows, I could not wait to try something new.

Andres, one of the owners of Argentina Caf, greeted me as I entered the small family owned eatery located behind the Galleria on Hidalgo. Andres and his brother manage the place and, after talking for a bit he reveals the person who is really doing all the cooking is his mom, Nelly.

It’s always nice when you find out someone’s mom is the person cooking for the patrons at a restaurant. It made me feel like I was visiting a friend’s home.

Let’s start with ambiance. Many of our small Latin cafes display native ornaments and bright colors throughout the establishment, along with very loud music from the homeland. All this proud display of our native lands can be uncomfortable to some patrons.

Argentina Caf doesn’t resort to the folkloric color explosion approach. Rather, it offers comfortable, with modern Tango playing softly in the background, which makes it easy for anyone to simultaneously enjoy good music and conversation.

How was this place born? Andres thought a family business would be the perfect way to keep the family together in one city. His brother and parents shared the sentiment, moved to Houston from Miami and Argentina Caf was born.

Although Andres and his family are originally from Argentina, Nelly’s family migrated to Argentina from Russia. It’s interesting to me that they move from the melting pot of Argentina, to the melting pot of the US.

Nelly described the soup offering at the caf, and how her mother used to cook some of those recipes. Soups are a must for lunch and dinner for a lot of people in Latin America, because they are an easy way to fill you up on a tight budget. The most popular soup of Nelly’s menu is the lentil soup.

We talked about family soup recipes, migrating to the US and even the famous match between Colombia and Argentina a 5-0 victory for Colombia 20 years ago.

That would be like the USA team beating Brazil 5-0. Unbelievable!!

That match is a must conversation topic between Colombians and Argentineans, and though it could turn a bit tense with some people, we are all civilized fans here.

My eating experience started out with cheese empanadas, meat empanadas and choripan. I highly recommend the Meat Empanadas, not just for their flavor but also for their size.

It’s a pretty big one and is packed a lot of meat. Throughout South America the empanada changes a bit from country to country. Argentinean empanadas are made with regular flour stuffed with ground meat stew and then baked. Two or three of these and a drink make a good lunch!

The cheese empanada looked more like a round pastry not the half-moon shape of a regular empanada. This empanada was filled with provolone, swiss and mozzarella cheese-very good. When the choripan (chorizo and bread) was served and I could not wait to try it. The chorizo was dryer than I expected, but still had the flavor I like. This chorizo was not as greasy as others I tried in the past, I’m not sure if it was the brand or just a different recipe.

The Choripan alone would be a great lunch, it was served as a big sandwich with lettuce and tomato.

If chorizo is not your thing, there are other sandwiches on the menu you can try for a great price. The ‘miga’ sandwiches for example, are sandwiches on white bread without crust that look like tea sandwiches but each one is about the size of my hand and you get two for $3.25.

I was thrown off by that price and had to double check. There are other unexpected selections like the $12.00 filet mignon with egg and french fries, Matambre (stuffed beef roll), bread pudding and blood sausage. I just did not have room for the blood sausage-I must go back to try.

To accompany my meal I had an Argentinean beer, Quilmes, a good light beer.

The caf also has a good selection of cider, some port and wine. You could have a relaxing afternoon here trying some if not all of them.

At the end of big meal there was a dessert I looked forward to having-alfajores.

These are like little corn starch cookies stuck together with dulce de leche (arequipe), and shaved coconut and sugar on top. Ahh heavenly, they sell like crazy here!

I had a great time at Argentina caf, you can’t help but feel relaxed here. All walks of life come through the place ready to make friends. It’s a great meeting point in a busy area of town yet somewhat hidden from the high traffic street. You can enjoy a table outside and without having your conversation drowned by traffic noise.

Next time you go shopping to the Galleria, drive behind Nordstrom and have a break at Argentina Caf. Oh, and yes, this is a great place to watch the World Cup.

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