There are a lot of all you can eat restaurants in Buenos Aires, Argentina. And I’m not talking about the same all you can eat restaurants that you find in America, with extra-sized bottles of ketchup on the table and a soda cup big enough to drown a cat in with your name, Bill, scrawled in Sharpie on the side. No, In Buenos Aires, there are all you can eat restaurants with low-lighting, delicate local music playing somewhere in the background and which serve really great food. All for about £5 or $8 or do your own calculations for your own currency you lazy bum. These restaurants are known as El Tenedor (“The Fork”).
I visited a fair few of these all you can eat places during my four-week stay in the Argentina capital, most of them with a broad-shouldered middle-aged New Yorker called Tom. Tom was loud and obnoxious and would happily wave a waiter over from across the room with a raising of his glass and a, “Hey! Can I get a refill?” If I wasn’t sitting across the table from him, I would’ve hated him, as I’m sure most other diners did. But it’s amazing how much your opinion can change if you’re on the inside of something, rather than outside looking in; Tom was fascinating. Sure, he carried the worst traits of America on his broad-shoulders and big stomach, but he was also a teacher of disabled children back in New York and had a lot of interesting thoughts on any topic you’d care to ask about. I couldn’t have asked for better dining company. I remember one all you can eat El Tenedor place we found on a main road in the centre of the city. It was a sprawling place, with what must have been 100 tables based around a central “heaven” of food – a 10-metre dessert buffet, the same again for salads and sauces, the same again for hot foods, and a “meat chef” standing behind a selection of fresh meat joints. Sorry veggies, Argentina ain’t the place for you. This “meat chef” isn’t like the wrinkling 50-year-old that you remember from when you were a kid, serving school dinners wearing a beige apron with “All Sorrows Are Less With Bread” across the front. No, this meat chef is a specialist. At the risk of turning this into a Carry On film, their whole lives are dedicated to meat. They stroke it, they caress it, they treat it with respect. They are at one with the meat. The Dalai Lama has been known to contact these chefs when he’s feeling a little uninspired. You can see the sadness in their eyes when people like me and Tom take a slice or three and then shovel them down without taking time to enjoy all the subtle nuances of flavour and texture. But then their eyes would light up again when somebody else would come along and enquire about the preparation and origin of the joint and they’d launch into a passionate soliloquy extolling the virtue of “locally-sourced” produce.
Tom and I enjoyed at least a dozen of these places, varying in quality, including a surprisingly good one that was, in effect, a supermarket café.
These all you can eat restaurants in Buenos Aires are definitely worth checking out if you’re ever in the city. But beware of people like Tom, and if you do find any, remember that they’re probably actually really interesting and wonderful people.