A guide to local eateries: the top ten ‘picadas’ in Chile

Chilean cuisine and the national tradition of cheap diners was celebrated last week when the Chilean Council of Culture ranked Chile’s best ‘picadas.

The Chilean picada is a national tradition that should be on every traveler’s to-do-list.

Serving up traditional meals of hearty proportions at budget friendly prices, every barrio in the country has its own picada, and if locals are to be believed, their picada is always the best.

Now an objective adjudicator has weighed into the discussion on Chile’s best cheap eateries, with the Chilean Council of Culture releasing the results of the “top ten picadas of Chile competition” last week.

It is a list that is sure to generate enormous controversy, with the Metropolitan Region – and Santiago – not even getting a mention.

But while Santiago’s picadas didn’t make the grade against its regional competitors, the capital still has plenty of historic watering holes. For a beginner’s guide to cheap eats and “buena onda” in the capital, click here.

Meanwhile, here’s the top 10 picadas of Chile, according to the Council of Culture:

1. Kiosco Roca, Punta Arenas.
Located on Presidente Julio Roca 875 in the southern city of Punta Arenas, the Kiosco Roca (“Rock Kiosk”) won top spot with its comfort food that wards off even Patagonian cold. It specializes in breakfasts, and among its most beloved of plates is a leche con plátano (“banana smoothie”) with a choripan – bread and chorizo – “bathed” in homemade mayonnaise.

2. Manhattan, Concepción.
Lurking in the fruit market of Concepción is a small food van that runs well into the night, serving a loyal crowd of market employees and students coming in from late night “study sessions.” It’s slogan is «¡Si no chorrea no es Manhattan!» which can be roughly translated to; “If it doesn’t drip, it ain’t Manhattan!

3. Onde el Pala, Chillán.
For 40 years, the Onde el Pala has been one of the favorites of a city that takes its picadas seriously. It’s famed for the semi-fermented sweet wine, both red – chicha – and white – pipeño – as well as its giant sopaipillas, fried pumpkin pastries, and empanadas, stuffed meat pastries. You’ll find it at Flores Millán 31 in Chillán.

4. La Picá del Muertito, Arica.
The morbidly named La Picá del Muertito (“The Little Dead Guy’s Diner”) can be found at Los Yaganes 165, Arica –  just next to the cemetery. Its speciality is the Chilean classic pastel de choclo – a sweet and savory dish of ground corn, chicken and ground beef – empanadas, and natural juices from the fruits of the tropical oases that surround this desert city on the shores of the Pacific.

5. Las Muñecas del Ñielol, Temuco.
Las Muñecas del Ñielol (“The Dolls of Ñielol”), on Avenida Caupolicán 1347, Temuco, is a meat eater’s paradise. For the brave traveler, the guatitas a la española is a must try plate – a popular stew of chopped tripe (cow’s stomach, or guatitas), bacon, chorizo and tomato cooked in wine. More squeamish eaters might prefer to stick to cazuelas, traditional stews of chunky vegetables and meat.

6. Juan y Medio, Rengo.
Juan y Medio’s is a highway pitstop at the 67 mile (109 km) mark of the Carretera Panamericana, or Ruta 5 Sur, close to the city of Rengo in the O’Higgins Region of central Chile.

For every self-respecting trucker on his or her way south, this is an obligatory stop, and like any self-respecting truckers’ stop, the meals here are famed for their overly-generous proportions. What sets this one apart is its comida caseratraditional “home-made” Chilean food – cooked on wood fires.

7. Las Viejas Cochinas, Talca.
You know the owners Las Viejas Cochinas (“The Dirty Old Ladies”) have a sense of humor by their restaurant name, and once you’ve tried the house specialty pollo mariscal – a steaming bowl of clams, mussels and chicken – you’ll know why their picada made the top 10.

You’ll find it on the banks of the beautiful Río Claro in Talca.

8. La Ovallina, Carretera Panamericana between Caldera and Chañaral.
Another truckers favourite, La Ovallina is located in the far north of the country, in the Atacama Region. It’s known for its mariscos (“seafood”) – including empanadas, paila marina (a seafood soup) and seafood casseroles, or chupes.

9. Ojitos Pichos, Concepción.
Ojitos Pichos (“Beautiful Eyes”), at Rengo 1301, gives Concepción the honor of being the only city with two picadas in the top 10 list. It’s the kind of place to hang out, munch on a surtido de mariscos (“mixed seafood”) and pichangas, or plates of chopped cheeses, meats and pickled vegetables, and admire the photos of famous clients on the wall.

10. Restaurant No Me Olvides, Olmué
You might never forget Restaurant No Me Olvides, but that’s only if you find it first – it’s an unnumbered building on the corner of Andrés Toledo and Quebrada Alvarado, near the town of Olmué, in the Valparaíso Region.

But with its big plates of carnes a la parrilla (barbequed meat) and lots of cazuelas varieties, the town definitely has another attraction to add to its cowboy antics at the annual Festival del Huaso.