Behind the Closed Door: Buenos Aires’ Secret Restaurants

First let’s get one thing straight: The food in Argentina is really delicious. I’ve been eating myself into fat pants all month. There’s only one issue: it’s really, really repetitive. Argentineans seem to never tire of the same old favorites, but for me there are only so many steaks, empanadas and milanesas I can eat before I really just want an interesting salad. Or some Thai food maybe. Things that are not so easy to come by, even in a city this enormous.

Fortunately, there’s another aspect of Buenos Aires cuisine, one that might easily be overlooked. The puertas cerradas, or closed door restaurants.

Closed doors seem to be an international phenomenon. I’ve heard whispers of them in DC, apparently they are a big thing in New York and there are at least a dozen or more stashed around Buenos Aires.

So what is a closed door restaurant? It’s basically a hidden restaurant, run out of somebody’s home. You convene in their living room and converse with strangers while the host cooks you a set meal in their own kitchen. The good is usually something creative or different, often with several courses and wine pairings. It’s part dinner party, part gourmet meal.

Intrigued, Mike and I plotted our first foray into the Closed Door scene along with some new friends, including the lovely Meg and Tony of Landing Standing. Cocina Sunae had been recommended to me by several people and I was intrigued by both the low (relatively speaking) price point and the promise of legitimate South East Asian food.

Here’s what we found:

First Course: Lumpia from the Philippines- essentially spring rolls.

Second Course: Spicy Thai Laab chicken wraps that were actually spicy! Oh spiciness how I’ve missed you…

Third Course: Mike had Pancit Guisado from the Phillipines. It was a noodle dish with shrimp, chicken and mushrooms.

Whereas I opted for Gaeng Hanglay Muu or Chiang Mai Curry from Thailand. It was a new dish I’d never tried before and I was definitely a fan.

Fourth Course: Dessert! The most important of all. We were served homemade green tea ice cream (which gave me Japan flashbacks) and individual key lime pies. I can’t even come up with a descriptor for the key lime pie, I was struck silent by deliciousness.

For only 130 pesos for a four course meal (roughly $30 USD) this place was a bargain. The meal was one of the best I’ve had in all of South America and I’m still dreaming about that key lime pie.

As opposed to putting all of the guests at one big table, Cocina Sunae was run more like a traditional restaurant, with separate tables, a wine list and a waiter. This worked well for us because we were in a biggish group already, but I’m hoping to try a closed door with a communal atmosphere soon. … You know, for journalism’s sake…


21 Responses to Behind the Closed Door: Buenos Aires’ Secret Restaurants

  1. Emily in Chile February 21, 2012 at 8:44 AM #

    That all looks so good! I’ve heard so much about these restaurants in BsAs – definitely want to check one out on our next visit.

  2. Bethany ~ twoOregonians February 21, 2012 at 10:13 AM #

    Right up my alley! Maybe I can get a few other names and recommendations from you for our time in BsA? Our friends in Portland participated in a similar private dinner club. Their story of incredible cuisine and music and company has me hoping for an experience like that on the road…

  3. Terri February 21, 2012 at 11:59 AM #

    I’ll be in B.A. in April and going to a closed door restaurant is DEFINITELY on my list of things to do. The food looks absolutely fabulous!

  4. Alexandra February 21, 2012 at 3:38 PM #

    I consider myself a foodie and when I was in BA I was traveling with my boyfriend at the time who is a Michelin Star Chef from San Francisco. Our best meal was at La Vineria de Gualterio Bolivar in San Telmo. Amazing food at great prices! I think you would enjoy it.

    As for me I am feeling like a need to return to BA just to experience these closed door dinners and drink my weight in Malbec 😉

  5. Rease February 21, 2012 at 3:53 PM #

    So glad you guys enjoyed it. I really loved Cocina Sunae. My dessert included the green tea ice cream (which rules) and some delicious rice patty type thing that I dreamt about for weeks haha.

  6. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures February 21, 2012 at 5:16 PM #

    I agree the food is amaaaazing in Argentina! I have seen so many posts about how people dislike it and I can’t believe it. I would be 300 pounds if I lived there haha. I would also frequent closed door restaurants once a week!!!

  7. Nima Heydarian February 21, 2012 at 8:11 PM #

    Great pictures. I want some Argentinian food now.

  8. Waegook Tom February 22, 2012 at 8:54 AM #

    “For journalism’s sake” hahaha! It’s a hard life, eh Steph 😉

    $30 for four courses is an absolute bargain though! I’d never heard of closed-door restaurants until now. I totally get what you mean about missing the spiciness, too – I can’t wait to stuff my craw with Korean food next week!

  9. Dana de Brito February 22, 2012 at 10:29 AM #

    Sounds delicious! and $30 for a meal of that caliber does sound like a sweet deal… yum!

    • paola February 23, 2012 at 11:01 AM #

      The price is $130.- still a great deal for a four steps meal.

      • Steph February 23, 2012 at 11:47 AM #

        Its 130 pesos- about $30 USD.

  10. Dan February 22, 2012 at 1:04 PM #

    There’s a good chance you can find one or more near wherever you are on our website:

    • Steph March 4, 2012 at 3:59 PM #

      Thank you Dan! I’m hoping to visit your place before we leave town as well.

  11. Nicole ( February 22, 2012 at 11:09 PM #

    Have you been to Thai-Xing in DC? Sounds similar!

  12. Sabrina February 23, 2012 at 2:50 PM #

    I’ve never heard about these, That’s too cool! Something totally different. I guess it could be a neat way of meeting new people to have everybody at one table.

  13. ehalvey February 23, 2012 at 5:31 PM #

    Holy nom! For $30, I’d eat there every day. I’ll need to see if Boston has any.

  14. This Battered Suitcase February 24, 2012 at 3:01 AM #

    Wow! I’d never heard about them, either…I’ll definitely have to try and find one when I am in Buenos Aires!

  15. Stephanie - The Travel Chica March 6, 2012 at 2:28 PM #

    So glad you found Cocina Sunae! I went there 3 or 4 times when I lived in BA.

  16. Kate March 7, 2012 at 3:53 PM #

    Any recommendations for a communal table closed door restaurant in BA? I will be traveling alone and think it would be a fun way to share a meal.

    • Steph March 7, 2012 at 7:34 PM #

      Check out my most recent article on jueves a la Mesa

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