Unfortunately, unlike Ushuaia, it has not yet banished tobacco from the food scene; some individual restaurants have done so, and others have tobacco-free areas, though some of those are merely symbolic.
The best breakfast spot is Cafetería Don Luis (9 de Julio 265, tel. 02902/49-1550), with the best coffee, the most succulent croissants, and many other treats to try throughout the day.
Several decent confiterías offer short orders, sandwiches, coffee, and the like. Among them are Café La Esquina (Avenida Libertador 1000, tel. 02902/49-2334) and the tobacco-heavy Wi-Fi–equipped Casablanca Pizza Café (Avenida Libertador 1202, tel. 02902/49-1402).
Pizzería La Lechuza (Avenida Libertador and 1° de Mayo, tel. 02902/49-1610, lunch and dinner daily, US$10) deserves special mention for its super cebolla y jamón crudo (onion and prosciutto), and its empanadas. The pastas-only La Cocina (Avenida Libertador 1245, tel. 02902/49-1758, lunch and dinner daily) has slipped a notch but still has its public. New on the scene, Mirábile (Avenida del Libertador 1329, tel. 02902/49-2230, closed Mon.) has plenty of tough competition in the pastas category, but has moderate prices (most entrées under US$10) and excellent service.
Viva la Pepa (Emilio Amado 833, Local 1, tel. 02902/49-1880, lunch and dinner daily) offers a variety of outstanding sweet and savory crepes (US$7–12) that are an ideal antidote for anyone who’s overdosed on beef, lamb, or other Patagonian staples. The small wine list stresses Patagonian vintages.
In one of Calafate’s oldest buildings (1957), El Puesto (Gobernador Moyano and 9 de Julio, tel. 02902/49-1620, lunch and dinner daily) has three snug little dining rooms, one glassed in to enjoy garden views, with decor that reflects the theme of a outside house on a sheep estancia. The Patagonian lamb dishes are the most sophisticated, but there are also fine pizzas and pasta as well as a variety of baked empanadas. The posted sentiment “Enjoy our aromas and flavors—don’t smoke” is a welcome one, but they don’t enforce it strictly.
La Vaca Atada (Avenida Libertador 1176, tel. 02902/49-1227, lunch and dinner daily) is a popular parrilla that also has fine soups and pasta at moderate prices. Remodeled Rick’s Café (Avenida Libertador 1105, tel. 02902/49-2148, lunch and dinner daily) and La Tablita (Coronel Rosales 28, tel. 02902/49-1065, lunch and dinner daily) are both well-regarded parrillas. The best of the bunch, though, is Mi Viejo (Avenida Libertador 1111, tel. 02902/49-1691, lunch and dinner daily, US$10–20), which is worth the difference in price.
Casimiro (Avenida Libertador 963, tel. 02902/49-2590, www.casimirobigua.com, lunch and dinner daily) would be a good choice almost anywhere in the world; the plate of smoked Patagonian appetizers is exquisite. Other entrées, in the US$9–15 range, are close behind but less interesting, though portions are large in pastas, trout, and lamb. It’s also a by-the-glass wine bar, with an imposing list reaching upwards of US$600 per bottle (though there are other more affordable, and more than palatable, choices).
A few doors west, under the same ownership, Casimiro Biguá (Avenida del Libertador 993, tel. 02902/49-3993, www.casimirobigua.com, lunch and dinner daily) has an overlapping menu, but it’s best to stick with its parrilla specialties of grilled beef and lamb.
In the same vein as Casimiro, Pascasio (25 de Mayo 52, tel. 2902/49-2055, lunch and dinner daily) is a gourmet restaurant with starters such as lamb carpaccio (US$8), pastas with a regional touch, a lamb risotto (US$16), and occasional game dishes such as Patagonian hare.
A spinoff from its near namesakes, new in late 2007, Casimiro Biguá Trattoria (Avenida Libertador 1359, tel. 02962/49-2993, lunch and dinner daily) specializes in Patagonian-inspired pastas such as lamb ravioli (US$15). The flavors are rich, the portions generous, and the wine list diverse, but the service can border on indifferent or inattentive.
Often accommodating tour groups, Las Barricas (Avenida Libertador 1610, tel. 02902/49-3414, www.barricasdeenopio.com.ar, lunch and dinner daily) prepares a variety of meat, fish, and game dishes, plus smoked meats. Desserts are only so-so, but there’s a big list of premium wines in the US$20–50 range; decent by-the-glass house wines are moderately priced.
Two blocks west of Barricas, Pura Vida (Avenida Libertador 1876, tel. 02902/49-3356, lunch and dinner daily) gets few foreigners for quality versions of traditional Argentine and Patagonian dishes such as gnocchi (US$8) with a saffron sauce, carbonada (a motley stew large enough for two hungry diners, US$13), and cazuela de cordero (a lamb casserole, US$16). Self-consciously casual—no two chairs nor menu cards are alike—it has mezzanine seating with views over Laguna Nimes and, in the distance, Lago Argentino; the main floor, though, is cozier. The menu rarely changes, and the wine list is modest (with nothing by the glass).
El Calafate went nearly a decade without a quality ice creamery, but now it has three outstanding ones. Acuarela (Avenida Libertador 1177, tel. 02902/49-1315) can aspire toward Buenos Aires’s best, but Sabores (Avenida Libertador 1222, tel. 02902/49-2422) and Tito (Espora 65) are also fine. For a local treat, try Sabores’s fresh calafate flavor, slightly better than Acuarela’s.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition