Foodie’s Guide to Uruguay
It took nearly five years but this February I finally made it to Uruguay. My winter escape to the coolest little nation in South America was filled with the kindest people, sun-kissed skin, and heaping plates of meat, fish, wine and beer.
I had the pleasure of sharing my culinary travels through Uruguay with everyone back at home thanks to Parlour Magazine, an online community for women of color who love to travel, who invited me to take over their @ParlourMagazine Instagram feed for a week. From hitting the streets of Montevideo, to hiding away in the country side of Balneario (Punta del Este), I set out to eat and drink like “un Uruguayo.”
Below, my Instagram Diary Series #alishaeatsUruguay filled with tips on the best places to wine and dine in Uruguay.
A meat lover’s paradise that takes form as a rotating parilla (barbecue stand) in Montevideo’s Old City port. As a huge Anthony Bourdain fan who immediately became obsessed with Uruguay after watching the “No Reservations” episode, I couldn’t pass up the chance to grab a seat at the bar and order my own plate of grilled meats. This stand is by far the most popular parilla inside Mercado del Puerto (market of the port) which is filled edge to edge with your choice of restaurants and tourist shops alike. While this place may be the most “touristy” spot in Montevideo, it’s beloved by locals and the energy is insatiable. So, I took my seat at the bar and eagerly awaited for my order of “el plato mas chico” or the smallest dish as I knew by looking at my neighbors’ plates, I was in over my head. Thanks to my friendly bartender’s recommendation, I nabbed two servings of rump steak topped with garlic chimichurri sauce and a side of french fries. This lunch was my first introduction to Uruguayan meals: simple and delicious.
A quintessential Uruguayan bar full of old world charm. I spent many afternoons in Montevideo walking aimlessly to people watch and window shop. I loved Montevideo’s bar scene because the patrons are down to earth and the venues are unpretentious. Plus, I always follow my travel rule of hanging at old man bars because those are the most entertaining. Often times I’d step inside to take a quick break from walking in the sun to enjoy a beer (get the Patricia in a frozen mug whenever possible) and plan my next move with my guidebook.
Museo del Vino
I came to South America with a love for dark, earthy, strong red wine. Luckily Uruguay delivers in the form of Tannat wines which carry a punch but also make for good pairings to so many meat-heavy dishes. In the neighborhood of Barrio Sur which faces Rio de la Plata, you can enjoy Tannat wine at Museo del Vino (museum of wines) while locals gather for weekly tango performances and classes. By far the best choice for a night cap.
One of my favorite appetizers in the world hails from Spain as patatas bravas, delicious paprika spiced cubed potatoes fried to crispy goodness with aioli sauce drizzled on top. With a large European influence and once under Spanish regime, it’s easy to find popular dishes like these in Uruguay. To me, there’s no better way to enjoy an afternoon snack than sitting al fresco. On this particular day I marveled at the colonial architecture surrounding me as the sun shone high.
No trip to Uruguay is complete without stuffing a chivito in your face. Another Anthony Bourdain favorite, the chivito is a national treasure: a steak sandwich on a toasted baguette slathered in mayo and layered with ham, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and if you’re feeling up for the challenge, a fried egg on top. Best enjoyed beach side with a soda.
If you want the number one culinary reason to visit Uruguay, book your tickets now and head to the beaches of Jose Ignacio to eat at La Huella, easily one of the most beautiful and lively restaurant experiences I’ve ever had. After a week exploring Montevideo, I needed to dip my feet in sandy beaches and go off the grid to see the famed beaches that line past the Punta del Este coast. My only wish was to book a table at La Huella in the tiny town of Jose Ignacio. This beachside bungalow is where Latin America’s rich and famous line up for hours, drooling over the wait staff and owners who themselves have become celebrities. In 2012, Bon Appetit called La Huella the best beachside restaurant on the planet, and I honestly have to agree. I spent almost eight hours here in one day alone, wining and dining alongside Brazilian aristocrats and making friends with bartenders who were all too happy to answer the dozens of questions I threw at them. I walked around taking photos of friends huddled over wooden tables digging into the catch of the day. I lingered over the chefs manning the sushi counter and the waitresses dancing with each other to the DJ’s playlist as the sun went down. I fell in love with their mojitos but most of all with this dessert: molten dulce de leche cake with vanilla ice cream and oatmeal raisin cookies. As my fork broke the just-out-of-the oven cake, a flood of silky dulce de leche spilled on to my plate. Sweet, rich, decadent, and absolutely worth waiting for. If you don’t feel like waiting, may I suggest baking one yourself?
The perks of having a whole beach house to yourself is the ability to walk a few dirt paths down to fish shacks across from the ocean. I spent one week in the small village of Balneario Buenos Aires, thirty minutes from the Miami club scene of Punta del Este, giving me the luxury of being one block from the ocean and surrounded by nature. Spending all day beach bumming meant I was ready for fish and luckily I found Puerto Luna which serves flash fried chunks of white fish with fries and beer. Like I said, Uruguayan meals are all about simplicity and deliciousness. A perfect treat.
Punta del Este Terminal
I traveled a lot in Uruguay, taking day trips on jitney shuttle buses up and own the coast and hopping on and off buses to criss cross Montevideo. An easy way to get my mornings started was with a light breakfast: toasted ham and cheese sandwiches and a cafe latte. Cheap and quick!
My experience being in Uruguay was only made memorable because of the amazing people I met. Above, my last night in town dinner at a neighborhood parilla with my AirBnB hosts who made me feel like family even before I arrived. Without their hospitality, I couldn’t have made this trip a dream come true. And to me there’s no better way to say goodbye than by sharing a traditional meal right in your own backyard.
Thanks to Parlour Magazine for sharing in my belief that the best way to get to know a country is to taste it. I love traveling for food and hope the meals I had inspire others to give Uruguay a shot.