A lil’ za, brah?

Finally, the reviews are in!

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We’re a long way from Buenos Aires, taking care of business and putting God in Submission in the Patagonian hinterlands. A long way indeed.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t hark back to times that once were. So let’s drift back to our Argentinian salad days, back to old Buenos Aires town when once the hunt was on for the capital’s best pizza.

Look, we won’t even discuss how much we miss Mexican street food or pine for a cheesy ass slice of quality New York pizza these days. And truth be told, even the humble almuerzo set lunch so ubiquitous throughout the rest of Latin America is thoroughly missed. Argentina is in some sort of financial crisis and, coming from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, food prices are surprisingly expensive here. Unless you want a shitty hotdog or terrible hamburger, there is a total and complete dearth of street foods here, or any cheap eats for that matter. This is tiresome because street eats are the staple food of the independent and lonesome traveler. You can’t have a parilla everyday and a body grows tired of sandwiches.

P1050978So imagine our surprise when we get to Buenos Aires and find out that pizza is, more often than not, sold by the slice here and for about the same price as back in NYC. A real steal. In most of Latin America, pizza is a sit-down restaurant style affair with waiters and menus and cloth knapkins. A foreign concept and one that is off putting to any pizza aficionado.  It’s all just too pretentious and weird,  like the pizza is taking itself too seriously. Then there’s the fast-food weird shit like pizza-conos, which are like pizza tacos; dough rolled up into a cone with cheese and sauce and pepperoni stuffed inside. All straight out of the freezer…it should be outlawed.

But at least the porteños give it a shot and dish out something akin to real pizza, sold by the slice, fresh out the oven, and fast to your plate. Although, they still can’t shake the idea of pizza being a restaurant thing, with bowtied waiters strutting about; and those that wish to dine without service are made to stand in a separate section like animals. Whatever, I’ll take it and truth be told, we actually started developing a fondness for the typical Argentine slice.

Look, pizza is pizza but it’s good to know some important terms, so thus a brief primer on Argentine ‘za:

Fugazzeta: An Argentinian original, the Fugazzeta slice is a doughy variant of a regular  slice but absolutely smothered in onions. Some come with ham and other things on them also but the main theme is onion, lots of onion. Taste’s better than one might think. Oniony.

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Faina: Faina is just sort of like thin greasy bread, made with chickpea flour. It’s weird at first, but grows on a body. You put it on top of your regular slice and sort of eat it like that. Builds character they say.

Anchoa: The anchoa slice is just pizza bread and sauce with anchovies on top. If you want cheese on it you have to ask for it. With cheese please. It’s nice to see the anchovy get some face time down here as few in the states dare to do it.

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The Mozza: A regular slice of mozzarella cheese pizza. The typical Argie slice is thick, billowy even, and totally smothered in cheese. Sort of like what you get when you order a sicilian slice in New York.

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Napolitana: This slice is basically the same as the mozza except it has tomatoes on top. It’s alright I guess. Not much else goin’ on here though.

And so, with time to kill and a belly to fill the search was on for Buenos Aires’ best. Mexican American pal Aaron joined us for a whirlwind tour of the capitals biggest and baddest pizza joints.

Kentucky: Bearing the namesake of America’s most troubled state, Kentucky is one of the older pizza joints in Buenos Aires and its intial, and continuing, success has led it on the path to franchisedom. As such, methinks that said move has led its quality to suffer somewhat. The mystical, magical fugazzetta rellena so often recommended was a moist, soggy affair and a tepid one at that as it could have benefitted greatly from a bit more oven time. Hostel mate and Chicano Aaron’s Napolitana slice played the same cool tune, like many a porteña strumpet. Although, a free ice cream did enhance the mood somewhat and the Kentucky out on avenida Corrientes in the Microcentro is a clean joint, classy even says Aaron, “with a good vibe.”

Guerrin: Pack it up, pack it in, let me begin by telling you that pizza by Guerrin, just a quick stroll down Avenida Corrientes from Kentucky, is always a packed, bustling affair. Busy as balls it is and for good reason. Rub elbows with the Gods at old Guerrin and do yourself a solid by ordering up a porcion de mozza at this BsAs mainstay. How I stopped worrying and learned to love Argentinian pizza. Lots of grease, not enough sauce, swimming in cheeese, pillowy crust, blah blah blah. New York pizza it’s not but we’re not in old New York anyway and anyways Pizza by Guerrin serves up good stuff, a fine example of what Argentinian pizza is, or has become at this juncture in time, and so close to the end of days and the upcoming baktun. Cheese is top-notch as well as the crust, both cooked to crispy perfection. Consistent stuff and a favorite of all Buenes Aires manchildren and children of man.

El Cuartito: If TGI Fridays or Applebees solely sold pizza in Argentina they would aspire to be El Cuartito. Best atmosphere of the lot: waiters with bow-ties and kitschy framed pictures of celebrities and sports personalities that line the walls define this place. For one hallucinatory instant I swear that I caught the covetous eye of Chris Mullin mind-raping my anchoa slice from high up on the wall along with the rest of the original G’s from the 92 Dream Team lined up on their 20 year old poster shielded from the elements and pizza grease behind thick glass. Extra points are awarded for having not one but several Mike Tyson posters, all placed prominently, and a nice portrait of Diego from his anchovy days with Boca. Pizza was not much to blog home about, although it wasn’t terrible. A little soggy. Before departure, it was pointed out that Aaron had left a small piece of his anchoa slice behind and when confronted stated that he “didn’t really enjoy it that much.” Although it should be noted that when pressed further he backpedalled and said, “It was OK.” Take that for what it’s worth.

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Las Cuartetas: Another Buenos Aires institution Las Cuartetas, across the street from cross-street rivals Guerrin, comes in close second to cross-street rivals Guerrin. Cheesiest, greasiest slice yet but delicious at that as all ingredients are of the highest caliber. It has been told that if one were to bite into a slice of Las Cuartetas greasy, cheesy ass mozzarrella with eyes wide shut then they will be, if only for the briefest flash or glimmer in time, be transported back to the gritty streets of old New York to a favorite pizza haunt existing only in memory, so reminiscient of the New York sicilian slice is the Las Cuartetas mozza.

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Banchero: Avenida Corrientes, for a short stretch, seems only to be flanked by pizza joints and theaters. Las Cuartetas, Guerrin, Kentucky, Banchero, and countless others are pretty much right next to each other. Banchero sort of gets lost in the crowd here, although with good reason as it doesn’t really offer up anything too special or amazing to take notice of. Standard, run of the mill Argentinian pizza is all that’s on the menu at Banchero. Not bad, better than most, but decidedly not the best. Entonces: eh. Slice was good, containing the appropriate amount of sauce, but not great. Cheese quality did not seem to be up to par with Cuartetas or Guerrin.

Uggis: Uggi’s pizza is the Argentine equivalent of NYC dollar pizza, I guess. Uggi’s is the cheapest pizza you can get in old Buenos Aires town and is about as good as you’d expect, although maybe a little better. Derided by most foodies, Uggi’s pizza comes in only two variants: plain or with onions. It’s really not that horrible and it’s salvation lies in it’s consistency and availability. There are over 40 locations in BsAs proper and they’re all pretty much the same. The pizza chefs are all recovering drug addicts and alcoholics and each pizza box warns its recipient to stay away from drugs and bad things. There’s a strange, desperate air to the Uggi’s on avenida Entre Rios, as it features one man, behind a steel cage with a little hole in it to collect money and slide pizzas through, doing everything by himself. On his own terms.

So, where can a body find the best pizza in old Buenos Aires town?

The prize goes to ol’ Guerrin followed by Las Cuartetas, both doin’ it right and well after all these years. The others are the others, and just seem to be slinging some odd variant of the same, although one gets the feeling that when Buenos Aires finally goes up in flames the man behind the cage at Uggi’s will still be feverishly working away, going down with his ship.

And the band played on.

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