After five months in Santiago, I have come up with my list of favorite restaurants. None serve traditional Chilean food. Why? Because Chilean food is mostly bland and unappetizing. Traditional Chilean dishes don’t use garlic, ginger, black pepper, spicy red or green peppers, in other words, anything that has a strong flavour is eschewed in the local cuisine. In fact, the Chilean airline, LAN, does not provide any pepper packets in its meal trays, only a packet of salt (perhaps it’s because they don’t want to frighten the passengers).
What’s fantastic in Chile is the seafood. The octupus in Chile is the best I’ve tasted and they have an outstanding variety of seafood and shellfish, notably, sea urchin which is relatively inexpensive. When you are in Chile, indulge in the seafood and shellfish.
Here is my list of favorite places to eat in Santiago.
(1) La Mar Cebicheria: Part of the culinary empire of Gaston Acurio (chef from Peru who is best known for the amazing Astrid y Gaston restaurant in Lima), La Mar is, like the La Mar in Lima, Peru, an excellent place to eat ceviche, anticuchos de pulpo (tender barbecued pieces of octopus on a skewer), and other Peruvian favorites. The seafood is fresh and delicious, and if you want to sample Chile’s amazing fish and shellfish, do it here at La Mar. My favorite drinks are the pisco sour and the leche de tigre (the liquid from the ceviche with pisco or other liquor added in — sour, salty and spicy at the same time, tastes like a Thai concoction). The seafood stews are perfect for cooler days and cold nights. Service is outstanding. The restaurant is a large, airy, and modern place in Vitacura, a posh, leafy neighborhood of Santiago, easy to get to by taxi from the center or from Providencia and El Golf. Reservations necessary. La Mar is open on Sunday but only for brunch and it’s very crowded with families.
La Mar Cebicheria
Avenida Nueva Costanera 3922
+56 2 206 7839
(2) Osaka at the W Hotel: Peruvian-Japanese restaurant that features traditional Peruvian dishes and sushi, and intriguing and delicious “fusion” food. Pricey, but worth it. The restaurant decor is cosmopolitan/Asian/chic. Reservations are a must because the restaurant is small and you may still end up eating at the bar even with a reservation, but that’s okay because the bar is a great place to perch yourself and watch the clientele (unfortunately, they’re not an interesting bunch, as they consist mostly of corporate drones in suits, although occasionally someone interesting drops by).
Isidora Goyenechea 3000
+56 2 770 0000
(3) Opera: a gem in Santiago’s downtown (which is filled with mostly cheap dives serving greasy food), this French restaurant serves modern French food (meaning, not heavy, not laden with fat). I love the velouté d’asperges, ravioli filled with crab meat, and any of the fish and meat dishes. The crepes suzettes are excellent, too. Every time I have visited Opera, the experience has been very satisfying. Service is outstanding. It is located across the Santa Lucia hill.
+56 2 664 3048
(4) La Boqueria: Craving Catalan tapas? Dying for anchovies? I love anchovies and this is the only place in Santiago where I’ve seen anchovies on the menu. Chileans are terrified of strong flavours so I’m surprised La Boqueria has anchovies. But it just opened and who knows, maybe in a few months they will discover that the presence of anchovies is toxic to their business. But for now you can order them. Other favorites of mine: paella, which is served with a side of aioli (very garlicky), again a surprise, given the hostility of the locals to garlic; pulpo en su tinta; fideua; and for dessert, crema catalana. The restaurant is located on a small, leafy square in Vitacura and it’s wonderful to sit out on the square during the day or at night, as there are several other restaurants and cafes there.
El Coihue 3886, Paseo El Mañío
+56 2 228 8068
(5) Vietnam Discovery: There’s hardly any good Asian food in Santiago because there are hardly any Asians. So it’s always comforting to have a Vietnamese restaurant to go to when you’re fed up with the usual Peruvian-Catalan-French routine. The soups and curries are good, and if you tell them to make it spicy, they do turn up the “heat” on the dishes. The dining room is decorated with orchids and buddha statues, and you feel as if you are somewhere in Asia, at least for a couple of hours. They also have a take-away service. Note: for those who are used to amazing Vietnamese food (in Houston, Orange County (California) and Vietnam), don’t have high expectations about Vietnam Discovery.
(6) Sukyne: Korean restaurant in the Patronato neighborhood that serves spicy Korean dishes. I recommend the yuk-gae-jang, the spiciest soup they have. It’s inexpensive, although a bit of a dive. Don’t expect the usual array of Korean side dishes. They give you about 3 or 4, one of which is kim chi. The other side dishes aren’t Korean at all.
Antonia López de Bello 244
Santiago de Chile
(8) Quinoa: trendy restaurant in Vitacura serving healthy, vegetarian food. Not as flavourful as vegetarian Indian food, but still delicious. I like the quinoa salads and the vegetable soups. Lovely outdoor patio.
Luis Pasteur 5393
+56 2 954 0283
(9) La Chakra: one of the first vegetarian restaurants (with a small organic grocery) to open in Santiago (in the neighborhood of Providencia), La Chakra serves hearty salads, soups, sandwiches and main courses in an informal atmosphere. This is mostly a lunch place and gets very crowded. Arrive shortly before the Chilean lunch hour of 2:00 pm.
Av Mariano Sanchez Fontecilla 534
+56 2 234 2138
(10) Le Fournil: this is the place to get French baguettes and other kinds of bread (pan de ajo, pan con nueces). It also functions as a restaurant and cafe with tables outside on a small square. I like it because you can get salads, soups, sandwiches, hearty dishes, ice cream, pastries, and other French food at reasonable prices. It is very popular among the residents of Vitacura, especially on weekends when families meet for brunch. It’s relaxed and unpretentious, which is great if all you want to do is to hang out over coffee with friends.
Avenida Vitacura 3841
(11) Miraolas: this is THE place for great seafood and shellfish in Santiago. A small restaurant in Vitacura, you must reserve in order to get a table in the evening. The fish dishes are outstanding and you must absolutely order the sea urchin and octopus dishes. They have an extensive wine list. Prices are reasonable.
Avenida Vitacura 4171
+56 2 371 6312
(12) De La Ostia: Catalan tapas bar on a lively street in Providencia. They also serve pintxos (Basque term for slices of baguette with toppings such as mushrooms or jamon serrano). Prices are reasonable and they are always crowded. This is where I get my jamon serrano fix (note: jamon serrano, like prosciutto di parma and other cured hams, is difficult to find in Santiago and it is very expensive).
De La Ostia
Orrego Luco 065
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Where to get your empanada fix: The empanada is the national dish of Chile and it is actually one of the few Chilean dishes that is very flavourful. I happen to like empanadas and my favorite places to buy them are La Punta and El Ingenio, both of which are primarily bakeries where people order prepared foods like lasagna and cakes for birthdays and other occasions. La Punta gets very crowded on Saturday mornings with people arriving to take delivery of the food they have ordered for the weekend. The reason: their maids are off duty on weekends and they can’t cook. Although both places offer different kinds of empanada, just stick to the one that Chileans do best: empanada pino (filling is ground beef, olives, a sliver of hard-boiled egg).
La Punta: If you getting no more than 4 empanadas, no need to call in advance. Otherwise, you should call and order your food for pickup. La Punta has won the “Best Empanada” award in Santiago many years in a row. Address: Los Abedules 3016, Vitacura, Santiago; +56 2 244 5685.
El Ingenio: a small pastry shop in Vitacura, less fancy than La Punta but this year, they were in the top 10 best empanadas of Santiago. Address: Avenida Vitacura 5346, Santiago; +56 2 211 3050. They do deliver to the home.
Where to get fresh oysters (inexpensive): La Pesca, which is a couple of doors down from La Punta; Address: Los Abedules 3079, Santiago; +56 2 953 6770.
Where to get fresh pasta: La Fortunata has wonderful fresh gnocchi, tagliatelle, ravioli, and fettucine but stay away from the prepared (filled) lasagne and cannelloni as they come with massive amounts of cream sauce. La Punta’s cannellonis and lasagnes suffer from the same “too creamy” syndrome. Just stick to the fresh pasta. Address: Avenida Vitacura 3325, Vitacura, Santiago; +56 2 366 0123.