For longer than I care to admit, I had a debilitating fear of ordering for myself at restaurants in Buenos Aires. My self-consciousness about my Spanish was overwhelming, prompting me to overthink every potential interaction and required response to the point that by the time the server arrived at the table I was completely tongue-tied.
Thankfully, those days are behind me, but the memory of my self-consciousness prompted me to put together this list of helpful words and phrases for beginners, so you can dine out in Buenos Aires with confidence.
First, some background to prepare you for the experience.
- Many restaurants close down in the late afternoon. They may be open for lunch from noon until 4pm, then re-open at 8pm for dinner. Yes, that’s right my North American friends, be prepared to eat later than you’re used to.
- Tipping 10% is customary. Many restaurants will charge a “cubierto” service charge – this is not the tip! It’s basically the cost of getting a table at their restaurant, or maybe the basket of bread? I’ve never really been clear on that.
- Service is generally slow, if not otherwise atrocious. Don’t take it personally, it’s not you. Just sit back, relax, and try to enjoy the wait for your menu, your drinks, your food, and the bill. Make sure you’ve got plenty of time.
- Many restaurants and cafés do not accept credit cards.
If all you can remember is “Vino, por favor!” you’re good to go. But just in case, here are some other words and phrases that may come in handy. This is by no means exhaustive, but covers the basics to get food in your belly. And keep in mind that some of the terms may be specific to Argentina or Rioplatense Spanish.
USEFUL PHRASES FOR DINING OUT IN BUENOS AIRES
“Excuse me…” = “Perdón…”
“A table for two, please.” = “Una mesa para dos personas, por favor.”
“What do you recommend?” = “Qué aconsejás?”
“I’d like to order ____.” = “Te pido ___ por favor.” Literal translation is “I ask you for ____ please”, which I know sounds super awkward to us Yanks, but it is what it is.
“Can I order food to go?” = “Puedo pedir para llevar?”
“Can I take the leftovers?” = “Puedo llevar las sobras?” But don’t be surprised if they look at you like you’re crazy or don’t have anything to package it in. This is not a common practice.
“The bill, please.” = “La cuenta, por favor.”
“Are credit cards accepted?” = “Se aceptan tarjetas de crédito?”
USEFUL VOCABULARY WORDS FOR DINING OUT IN BUENOS AIRES
beer: una cerveza, un chopp (draft beer), un porrón (bottled beer), un litro (large liter bottle of beer to share…or not, no judgement)
the bill: la cuenta
chicken: pollo, suprema (chicken breast)
coffee: café, café con leche (coffee with milk)
entrée: plato principal
fish: pescado; the most common are merluza (hake), lenguado (sole), and salmón rosado or blanco (pink or white salmon)
ham: jamón, jamón cocido (cooked, sliced ham), jamón crudo (dry-cured ham)
menu: la carta
ground pepper: pimienta negra molida
pork: cerdo, bondiola (pork shoulder), chorizo (pork sausage)
potatoes: papas, papas fritas (fries) puré de papas (mashed potatoes)
steak / meat: carne (check out this post from Wander Argentina for a list of all the various cuts); to request meat cooked rare: vuelta y vuelta, medium rare: jugoso, medium: al punto, well done: bien cocido. Rest assured, it will arrive at the table more well done than you’d wanted.
water: agua con gas (sparkling water), agua sin gas (still bottled water)
wine: vino, vino tinto (red wine), vino blanco (white wine), una copa de vino (a glass of wine), una botella de vino (a bottle of wine)