Uruguay has earned a well-deserved place on the list of global foodie destinations. After all, steak lovers have been heading to the tiny Latin American country for years to indulge in grass-fed beef. Even Anthony Bourdain, who filmed an episode of No Reservations in the Uruguayan countryside, couldn’t stay away.
The fine delicacies of Uruguayan food aren’t foreign to me as I grew up traveling to the nation that is my father’s homeland almost annually in my childhood. Back then, most people in the United States could hardly identify Uruguay on a map. Now, as Uruguay’s metropolitan cities grow in both tourism and expat population, an array of innovative new dining establishments have opened up around the country.
However, no authentic Uruguayan foodie list would be complete without including some of the nation’s traditional dishes. I’ve gathered a mix of both trendy and classic bistros to enjoy the local gastronomy while visiting the Uruguayan capital city. Here are five of the best places to eat in Montevideo (and what to order).
1. La Taberna del Diablo
My all-time favorite Uruguayan comida are empanadas. They are one of the most satisfying Uruguayan staples made up of flaky butter pastry stuffed with savory or sweet filling. Empanadas are simply delicious with endless flavor options from carne y pasas (beef and raisins) to francesa (cheese, basil, and nuts). Any real empanaderia will have at least 30 flavors. Be sure not to miss out on a dulce empanada, like one filled with fresh, homemade dulce de leche (caramel) or membrillo y queso (quince jam and cheese). Generally around $2.50 USD each, empanadas are a cost-effective meal in Uruguay.
La Taberna del Diablo is a fantastic empanada joint with several locations in Montevideo. Don’t let the devious name fool you; they truly live p to their slogan, las más ricas empanadas, which translates to, “the most delicious empanadas.” Here, they have an extensive menu with over 50 options so everyone is sure to find an empanada that suits their taste buds.
2. Bar Tinkal
The national dish of Uruguay is the chivito sandwich. Labelling it a sandwich barely begins to cover the insanity that is the chivito. There are many variations of this dish, but every chivito, at the very least, must include: steak, ham, a fried egg, mozzarella, mayo, bacon, tomato, lettuce, and olives, all on a bun and served over a bed of papas fritas (french fries). Chivito literally means “baby goat,” but there’s actually no goat involved in the dish.
Bar Tinkal is widely recognized as the best spot for a chivito sandwich, and one of the best places to eat in Montevideo by both locals and tourists alike. With a picture-perfect location overlooking the Rambla and the sea, this no-fuss bar serves chivitos as they were intended to be eaten — without any special variations. If you still have room for dessert after, grab an alfajore cookie made of shortbread and dulce de leche, and wash it down with a cortado while you watch the sunset.
3. Pizzería Rodelú
With major Italian influence, Uruguayan cuisine boasts some delicious wood-fired oven pizza. The local way to eat the dish is pizza a caballo. Translating to “horseback pizza” you can rest assured that no horses are injured during the process of making this delicious pizza pie. Pizza a caballo is made up of a thick square pizza dough with light tomato sauce and fresh cheese. Served directly on top and melting into the oozing cheese below is a thick slice of fainá, which is essentially fried chickpeas.
One of the more historic places to eat in Montevideo, Pizzería Rodelú has been operating for over 100 years and creates an awesome authentic rendition of this dish. Toss some white pepper on top before you take a bite if you really want to get crazy.
If you are searching for a trendy place to dine out, Jacinto in one of the hippest places to eat in Montevideo. With retro decor and farm fresh ingredients, there is sure to be a number of dishes on the menu that will delight your taste buds. This is due to the restaurant’s famed chef, Lucía Soria, who is often whipping up dishes for local food festivals and supper clubs.
Meals here have a strong Italian and Spanish influence. The best way to get a taste of several dishes is to order the menú del día, which will include a soup, main course, and dessert. Uruguay isn’t exactly known for wine, but Jacinto does have some excellent options on the menu, including many Uruguayan vinos.
Another gift from the Italian influence in Uruguay is the delicious potato pasta, gnocchi. It is a tradition in Uruguay to eat gnocchi on the 29th of the month for Día de Noquis. The meal is an homage to the days when the money ran out near the end of the month and all that was left in the cupboards were potatoes, flour, and eggs. The custom is to leave some change under your plate for good luck and prosperity in the following month.
Francis has the best gnocchi renditions in Montevideo with the mini potato dumplings stuffed to the brim with cheese, tomato sauce, and small pieces of cured ham.
Author’s Favorite Travel Gear
Merriam-Webster’s Spanish-English Dictionary: Ordering in Uruguay can be tricky if you aren’t a Spanish language speaker. Many restaurants don’t have WiFi so you may not be able to rely on Google Translate. Instead, toss a Spanish-English dictionary into your day bag to help you translate menus and make ordering meals easier.
Authentic Mate Gourd And Bombilla: Bring your own traditional mate gourd to meals and you’ll certainly impress your new Uruguayan amigos! Mate is the traditional tea that’s consumed in Uruguay and neighboring Argentina. The tea is consumed at all times of the day, with or without sugar, in warm weather, or cold weather. It seems to be that every Uruguayan is addicted to the herbal tea.
FujiFilm InstaX Mini 8: Pack an Instax camera so you can take snapshots of the amazing food you’ve tried while hitting all 5 of these best places to eat in Montevideo. But remember, good food isn’t always pretty food and the taste is what matters most. Now if only they’d make scratch and sniff picture paper!