The gastronomic scene ranges from fast food to haute cuisine. With the appreciating Chilean peso, prices are increasing.
Quijote (Lautaro Navarro 1087, tel. 061/241225) serves inexpensive lunches. Upstairs in the Casa del Turista, at the entrance to Muelle Prat, Café Puerto del Estrecho (O’Higgins 1401, tel. 061/241022) has espresso-based specialty coffees, such as mocha and amaretto, plus snacks and desserts to accompany them.
The best fast-food alternative is Lomit’s (José Menéndez 722, tel. 061/243399), a dependable sandwich-and-beer chain that’s almost always packed. Sandwiches cost around US$5. La Carioca (José Menéndez 600, tel. 061/224809), by contrast, is a one-of-a-kind sandwich outlet that also serves passable pizza, pasta, and draft beer.
Despite a slight name change, Dónde Mariano (O’Higgins 504, tel. 061/245291) continues under the same management and delivers on its modest pretensions. Fine if simply prepared fish entrées, including a side order, fall in the US$7–10 range; the decor has improved, and the service is adept.
On the former site of the landmark restaurant La Luna (and under the same management), O Sole Mio (O’Higgins 974, tel. 061/242026) serves pastas with creative touches—spinach gnocchi, for instance—and excellent seafood sauces. Prices are moderate, around US$7 per entrée, and it’s kept most of La Luna’s informal atmosphere and decor, including classic (and newer) movie posters.
Half a block south of its old haunts, La Luna (O’Higgins 1017, tel. 061/228555) still buzzes with activity—pins stuck on wall maps indicate the origins of their clientele—but the transition has cost it some of its informality. Even the chupe de centolla (king crab casserole, US$11) isn’t what it was, but it’s too early to write the place off.
Stick with the meat at El Estribo (Ignacio Carrera Pinto 762, tel. 061/244714); the fish is only so-so, but the beef and lamb dishes (US$7–12 and up) are consistently strong, the service is attentive, and Patagonian game dishes have earned a menu spot.
Locals recommend the recently opened La Marmita Bistro (Plaza Sampaio 678, tel. 061/222056) for creative vegetarian plates and other specialties. For US$22, Sabores (Mejicana 702, 2nd floor, tel. 061/227369) serves a four-course “Magellanic menu” including king crab and salmon, as well as a pisco sour and half a bottle of wine; Wednesdays are all-you-can-eat pasta nights (US$7 pp).
In the opinion of many, Punta’s best is Damiana Elena (O’Higgins 694, tel. 061/222818), where reservations are essential on weekends and advisable even on weeknights. Decorated with antiques, this restored period house serves beef and seafood specialties in the US$8–13 range—modest prices for their quality—with unobtrusive service. There is limited tobacco-free seating, for which reservations are particularly advisable.
Another good choice is nautically themed Puerto Viejo (O’Higgins 1205, tel. 061/225103), doing bang-up business with an almost exclusively seafood menu. Open for lunch and dinner, with knowledgeable waiters, it serves specialties such as centolla (king crab) and merluza (hake). On the down side, the pisco calafate sours are mixed in advance, though they’re still pretty fresh.
Under the same management, a couple kilometers north of the plaza, Los Ganaderos (Av. Bulnes 0977, tel. 061/214597, www.parrillalosganaderos.cl) is a classy parrilla grilling succulent Patagonian lamb on a vertical spit—for US$15 tenedor libre (all-you-can-eat) per person. There is also a more diverse parrillada for two (US$25), and pasta dishes in the US$8 range. Regional desserts include mousse de calafate and mousse de ruibarbo (rhubarb).
Four blocks south of the plaza, the innovative La Leyenda del Remezón (21 de Mayo 1469, tel. 061/241029) serves game dishes (beaver and guanaco are now being farmed nearby) in the US$20 range—not cheap, obviously, but unique. Seafood specialties include krill, king crab, and spider crab.
Under a new concessionaire, upstairs in the old Centro Español, La Tasca (Plaza Muñoz Gamero 771, tel. 061/242807) has been reborn as an cheerful midrange to upmarket Spanish restaurant with creative variants on traditional dishes, such as merluza (hake) stuffed with king crab and avocado (US$11). The pisco sours are excellent, the wine list greatly improved.
Promising Brocolino (O’Higgins 1049, tel. 061/710479) serves a fine risotto with centolla and scallops, along with beef, lamb, and pastas in the US$10–12 range. Traditionally, Sotito’s Bar (O’Higgins 1138, tel. 061/245365) has set the seafood standard here, and it still deserves consideration.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Chile, 2nd edition