By: Alexander Marino

In my three month stay, I had the opportunity to eat at a variety of different restaurants throughout the diverse “barrios” of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Those familiar with the Argentinean cuisine are aware that one can enjoy an array of high class dishes combining Italian and Spanish recipes, as well as some of the best prepared steak you will ever eat. However, some places we visit on our travels stick with us more than others. Places that unexpectedly enter the conscience as a reflection of our experience as a whole. Not necessarily because these places hold some historical or world renowned prestige, or because they delight our senses with fanciful imagery and high-class cuisine, but rather that they provide an atmosphere which comfortably stimulates human interaction, resulting in life-long memories and relationships.

One such place I maintain a strong connection to is simply referred to as “La Cocina”, or “The Kitchen”. La Cocina is a small Argentinean restaurant specializing in the indulgent South American empanadas. Empanadas are succulent breaded pastries stuffed with a variety of meat, vegetables, spices and cheese, and then baked to form a crispy outer layer concealing a mouth-watering center of hot cheesy deliciousness. Now the most important adjective to take from that description is HOT! The cooler breaded exterior gives a false sense of temperature to the rookie empanada consumer, but I’m warning you now to proceed with caution, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a cold bottle of Imperial or Quilmes cerveza ready to put out the fire. Now, I don’t have a bias to one empanada or the other, but my friend John would completely dismiss this article as having any valid relevance if I failed to specifically mention the Pikachu empanada. No it’s not shaped like an odd Japanese fantasy creature, but the “picante” flavor will send lightening down your throat, and being a native New Orleanean qualifies me to speak on matters of spice and flavor. The Pikachu is a specialty empanada unique to La Cocina. It is prepared the same, but filled with a pumpkin spice that creates an explosion of flavor. In addition to empanadas, they prepare a soul-enriching Argentinean favorite known as “locro”, a creamy stew swimming with fatty meat, beans, and corn.

So after two years back in the states, why does my mind and taste buds always remind me of the hole-in-wall La Cocina restaurant hidden away on Avenida Pueyrredon?  As a group of international travelers we were all referred to the same place when asked where to get the best empanadas. Now in my traveler’s opinion, it’s the atmosphere that makes places like La Cocina stick out in our minds when reflecting on our excursions and experiences. This small family owned delicacy enforces a somber, relaxing, and peaceful atmosphere with a mix of reggae music, community seating, a warm demeanor and homely service. It’s an atmosphere with feeling more than imagery, a feeling established over a lengthy thirty years in business. As a result of this reputation, it has become a small port for intercultural communication, and in our busy technological world it’s refreshing to know that there still exist small portals to escape the chaos, and be human again on a very real level. So if you’re in the Recoleta neighborhood, stop in and indulge, or just have a beer and practice your Spanish with the friendly Argentineans.

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