Dining in Chile

Santiago’s best food barrios

Choose between avant-garde cuisine in Vitacura and big bowls of lentils among the crowds at the Chilean capital’s central market.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011  
Santiago has great gourmet offerings in districts like Vitacura. (Photo: Juan Nosé/Flickr) Santiago has great gourmet offerings in districts like Vitacura. (Photo: Juan Nosé/Flickr)

It’s not just meat and rice anymore. The hearty, humble dishes that make up the traditional Chilean diet are certainly satisfying on a cold winter night, but for travelers looking to sample a broader range of flavors, Santiago’s dining scene has finally learned a thing or two about diversifying its offerings.

Restaurants of all ranges and styles are scattered throughout the city, representing the Chilean capital’s diverse population of immigrants, and the changing tastes of an increasingly international population.

Ten years after the beginning of Santiago’s restaurant renaissance, a handful of neighborhoods have emerged as the best in the city for enjoying different styles of food. From avant-garde gustatory creations to exquisitely prepared fish, from spicy Korean kimchi to hand-made Italian pastas, Santiago’s restaurant culture expands everyday. And in the depths of winter, it’s still a great place for meat and rice.

Here is This is Chile’s list of Santiago’s best food neighborhoods:

Vitacura: The tranquil, tree-lined Avda. Nueva Costanera has become the indisputable heart of Santiago’s gourmet revolution, its elegant houses filled with some of the city’s top dining spots. Our personal favorite here is Boragó, where Chef Rodolfo Guzmán uses entirely local ingredients to create surprising evocations of Chile’s varied landscapes in the daily-changing Endémica tasting menu. Two of the city’s top seafood restaurants are just down the street: mod-ish La Mar for Peruvian ceviches and Puerto Fuy, where exquisitely prepared fish is served in one of Santiago’s most elegant dining rooms.

Barrio Italia: In the southwestern corner of Providencia, Barrio Italia has evolved from a small antiques district to a buzzing design quarter, where mid-century houses have been converted into galleries, bookstores, furniture shops, and, of course, restaurants. Dining here is decidedly more casual, with cafés, pastry shops, and intimate bistros tucked into the interior courtyards of old houses among swish stores. For fresh pastas and Italian fare in old-fashioned, coffeehouse surroundings, nab one of the handful of tables at L’Aperitivo. La Tranquera is a great place to people-watch over a delicious pastry and coffee as locals pass through to pick up empanadas and desserts for home.

Lastarria and Bellas Artes: Santiago’s most picturesque barrio is the downtown headquarters for the city’s gay community and creative types. And where there are creative types, there are cafés. Dozens of them. Along cobbled Calle José Victorino Lastarria, historic houses have been converted to pretty sidewalk cafes, with spots like Gatopardo and Casa Lastarria popular for their casual atmosphere and well-prepared food. Around the corner on Merced, Opera is the area’s only gourmet establishment, while at the other end of the street, beloved Emporio La Rosa serves up the best ice cream in town. To satisfy your writerly impulses, set up with a laptop at one of the many wi-fi equipped cafes on streets surrounding the Museo Bellas Artes. Our favorites include Café de la Barra (José Miguel de la Barra 455) for brunches, or Café Mosqueto (Mosqueto 440) for its leafy patio and library-like atmosphere.

Patronato: The heart of Santiago’s immigrant populations is also one of its best food districts, especially for diners who prefer their food plentiful, inexpensive and with no frills. The main artery of the district is Avenida Patronato, where cheap clothing shops spill onto the street, leaving little room to walk between them and the vendors selling fresh fruit, pastries and anticuchos (meat skewers) along the sidewalk. Korean grocers line Antonia Lopez de Bello, with the local favorite for cuisine from the area’s large Korean population, Sukine, hidden among them. The neighborhood’s concentration of Palestinian immigrants – the largest population outside the Middle East – means a clutch of great places for schawarma, falafel, and mixto arabe (an assortment of meat stuffed vegetables) on Avda. Peru, Antonia Lopez de Bello, Rio de Janeiro and Eusebio Lillo.

Mercados: Not strictly its own barrio, Santiago’s central markets straddle the Mapocho River, technically placing them in two different districts. On the southern side of the river, in Santiago Centro, the Mercado Central is Santiago’s primary seafood market, and undoubtedly the best place in town to try traditional Chilean seafood preparations. Choose one of the small restaurants along the sides to taste dishes like machas a la parmesana, caldillo de congrio or chupe de locos. North across the river is the gritty, crowded, 100-year-old La Vega Central, where thousands of Santiaguinos come each day from all around the city to purchase the best produce that Chile has to offer. Directly in front of the market’s main entrance, La Vega Chica is a dense cluster of restaurants filling an old warehouse. Ignore the touts, sit down, and tuck into some real Chilean comfort food. For a calmer dining experience, try the open-air restaurants on the second floor of the brand-new Tirsa de Molino. The food is similar and equally cheap, while the atmosphere is decidedly less frenetic with pleasant views of the river and Mercado Central.

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