Last week, I ate lunch with Paola, daughter of Reina Morris, the chef/owner of Buenos Aires Cafe. During an hour-and-a-half of eating and chatting, there were three separate times that Paola politely backed up her chair, stood up, and went to give hugs to customers who had just walked through the door.
The love in this place run deep.
Buenos Aires Cafe started in 2005 as a small cafe in south Austin. Paola and her mom had just moved from Argentina, and Reina’s empanadas and other baked goods were starting to get really popular among friends and family. She got a culinary degree from Texas Culinary Academy and decided to open her own cafe.
But being a latina woman with little credit history, most renters wouldn’t give her a chance.
“She never gives up.” Paola said emphatically. She never. Gives. Up.”
The restaurant was, and still is, a roaring success. Turns out it’s not too hard to sell little pockets of baked dough filled delicious, steaming meat, platters of grilled asado, and homemade chimichurri. Argentine food is comforting, filling, and welcoming.
The original location on South First Street, sadly, had to go due to a crumbling building and an inattentive landlord. But in its place are two new locations: East 6th St, and The Hill Country Galleria. Chef/owner Reina is typically west, and her daughter Paola manages the restaurant on the east side. She also designs, decorates, cooks, does web and recipe development, and even manages to squeeze in time to meet with food bloggers. 😉
Be sure to start with provoleta for the table (pictured below). The oregano on top is imported from Argentina, and the cheese is served warm and gooey, perfect for topping on the rustic sliced bread served alongside. A few grilled tomatoes are strewn on top, so this dish tastes essentially like cheese pizza!
Try this: PROVOLETA, traditional Argentine charred provolone with fresh herbs
Argentine food is all about grilled meat, so be sure to try this one:
Try this: PARRILLADA, Argentine-style mixed grill featuring beef short ribs, chicken breast, & chef Reina’s house-made chorizo bratwurst
The chimichurri, which is served on the side, is a colorful sauce made from vinegar, garlic, olive oil, and oregano. It’s made in house and so popular among customers that Paola is working on bottling a dry version that you’ll be able to buy to mix it up at home.
After I ate and ate and ate, and ate some more, Paola suggested dessert. I’m never one to turn down dessert, so she left the table and returned with two plates in hand: a chocolate cayenne creme brûlée, and a tall, fluffy lemon pie.
“Once, when I was going through a bad breakup,” Paola tells me, “I would go to my mom’s restaurant, get a chocolate creme brûlée, and eat the entire thing on the back patio with a glass of wine. It was my therepy.”
The creme brûlée is made with papilla and cayenne peppers, so it has a nice kick. I typically order creme brûlée when I see it on a menu, so I’ve tasted it lots of times in my life! I’ve never tasted one quite like this…I adore the spice!
Please try this: DARK & SPICY CRÈME BRÛLÉE, dark chocolate, spicy pasilla & cayenne peppers topped with a fresh strawberry
The final bite of my lunch, before I headed outside to find my car that had been baking in the Texas heat, was this personal lemon pie. It’s not an “authentic” Argentine food, but it’s something that chef Reina has been making for her family for decades. The graham cracker crust is soft and buttery, and the interior has a bright zing of lemon zest that’s hiding beneath of the cloud of meringue topping.
I was too full already, but that didn’t stop me from polishing off this pie.