Culture and cheap eats

Seven traditional cheap eats - or 'picadas' - in Santiago

The streets of the capital offers a wide variety of unique and colorful restaurants that offer a taste of everyday Chilean culinary culture.

Monday, July 18, 2011  
A barman at the infamous La Piojera. (Photo: Eduardo Llanquileo/Flickr) A barman at the infamous La Piojera. (Photo: Eduardo Llanquileo/Flickr)

It’s easy to eat well in Santiago. Strolling the city streets, you’ll see everything from carts selling delicious fried treats to gourmet restaurants with international chefs. And, of course, there are the essential Chilean picadas, restaurants with a warm ambiance, hearty fixed menus, and affordable prices.

Below, This Is Chile has the scoop on the capital’s seven best picadas.

El Rincón de los Canallas (The Riffraffs’ Corner)

One of the more well-known establishments by both Chileans and foreigners alike, El Rincón de los Canallas is famous for the role it played in history. In the 1980’s, former owner Victor Painemal sheltered anyone who got caught on the street during the Military Regime’s curfew, providing they knew the password to get inside the restaurant. 

Today, more than 20 years later, the restaurant continues to be a favorite among students and workers looking for traditional Chilean dishes with singular names, like “el Terrorista” (the Terrorist), “Punta Peuco” (the jail that houses human rights violators from 1973), or “el Cesante” (the unemployed). The establishment can be found at 810 Tarapacá.

El Hoyo (The Hole)

Chicha, chancho y pipeño,” declares the sign outside El Hoyo, which translates roughly to “cider, pig and wine.” Chicha is the sweet grape cider popular after the grape harvest in April, a chancho is a pig, and pipeño is a home-brewed white wine, whose ingredients are similar if not identical to chicha, as is the ultimate effect on one’s coordination.

El Hoyo looms large in local lore for creating the now-famous drink “el terremoto,” a heady combination of fernet, pipeño, and pineapple icecream. The story goes that the drink was the creation of a foreigner, who complained about the temperature of the wine he was served and asked for a scoop of ice cream to cool it down.

But that’s not all. El Hoyo’s fame includes an endorsement from famous chef Anthony Bourdain. Try one of their signature dishes, like the blood sausages (prietas) or tongue (lengua). Located at 375 San Vicente, on the corner of Gorbea.

La Piojera (The Fleapit)

Definitely the epicenter of “guachaca” culture, La Piojera is a landmark in Chile’s traditional urban scene. If you dare to find out more about this side of Chilean culture, don’t neglect a visit to this bar. Opened in 1916, it earned its name in 1922, when President Arturo Alessandri Palma entered and said, “And what’s this fleapit you’ve taken me to?”

Now, you can find tourists, university students and the lower-middle class rubbing elbows here over a big plate of traditional specialities like ham legs (pernil), hardboiled eggs and grilled meat, and washing it down with a terremoto or chicha. La Piojera is near the Estación Mapocho, at 1030 Aillavilú.

El Huaso Enrique (Cowboy Enrique)

If you want bohemian, you can’t miss El Huaso Enrique, frequented by Chilean artists and politicians for the last 50 years. The establishment offers a wide range of Chilean specialties, many of which can be found on one plate in their signature dish, the “Plato Huaso”: pork chops, sausage, prieta, ribs, and a Chilean speciality called arrollado, or rolled pork.

El Huaso Enrique’s other attraction is as a venue for cueca, Chile’s national dance, which is living something of a trendy comeback in Santiago and Valparaíso. You can find couples of all ages dancing urban cueca here on Thursday nights, at 462 Maipú.  

El Quitapena (The Chase-Your-Blues-Away)

Located right across from the capital’s historic General Cemetery, El Quitapena owes its name to the mourners who stop in to drown their sorrows before burying a loved one. Despite its morbid name - or perhaps due to it - the atmosphere is lively and friendly, with the décor of an old-fashioned Soda Fountain and a Wurlitzer jukebox to match.

The walls of the restaurant bear witness to the creation of one of Chile’s most famous football clubs: Colo-Colo. According to legend, football legends David Arellano and Clemente Acuña met at El Quitapena in 1925 to drown their sorrows after being expelled from the Magallanes football club, and vowed to start their own club. The restaurant is near the metro station Los Cementerios, at 1480 Recoleta. 

Bar Nacional

With more than 50 years of Santiago history under its belt, this establishment has served sandwiches, fried empanadas, and cazuela to many of the workers in downtown Santiago. Located at 1151 Huérfanos.


This Bellavista restaurant is known for being one of the favorite hole-in-the-walls of Pablo Neruda, Chile’s most famous poet and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. The food inside is homemade and hearty, with specialities like fried fish and charquicán (meat and vegetable stew). Located at 200 Pio Nono.