One thing South American restaurants have in common is generosity. Across New York City, the continent is represented by talented immigrants from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, Peru and Paraguay. They show pride in their roots and a desire to abundantly share their traditional specialties in the dishes they create. Read on and decide where to plan your next culinary adventure.
A head of roasted garlic flanks the brawny grass-fed strip loin at Balvanera, named for a barrio in Buenos Aires. Chef-owner Fernando Navas, from Argentina, offers more than traditional Angus steaks at this handsome corner parrilla. Reflecting Italian and Spanish influences, there is also chicken Milanese, burrata with peaches and almonds, and excellent grilled octopus. Inky Argentine wines are available, but those who like to BYO should come on Monday nights when there’s no corkage fee.
The declarative name I Love Paraguay paves the way for patrons to discover the proud, hearty cuisine of the South American country. Stick with the classics at this inviting restaurant-bakery: the chipa guazú, a soufflé-like cornbread, is gluten-free, as is mbejú, a cheesy flatbread. Sandwich de lomito (filet mignon, cheese and fried egg) is an elaborate take on a burger. Silky flan and passion fruit mousse are also musts.
Two South American heritages (Venezuelan and Paraguayan) blend into one delicious cuisine at Karu, which translates to “eat” in Guaraní, the language of Paraguay. Zuny Llano, an architect who designed the spare, modern interior, is from there, while her husband, Augusto Acevedo, comes from Caracas, Venezuela. They meld their heritages through the menu and have several family members on staff to cook and serve both sides. Standouts include crisp Paraguayan empanadas and luscious Venezuelan arepas filled with shredded chicken, vegetables or black beans and cheese, among multiple other choices.
This casual Chilean café in Corona is tucked around the corner from Northern Boulevard, on 108th Street. Plenty of locals manage to find it just fine, filling the dining room decorated in bold red and blue, the colors of the Chilean flag. Hot dog fans should get the completo, the bun overstuffed with sauerkraut, tomato, smashed avocado and mayo. There are several huge, meaty sandwiches as well as seafood chowder and sweet leche asada. It’s also a bakery, with a range of pastries and breads in baskets displayed on the bar.
Everyone who loves Llama Inn will be glad to know about its West Village spin-off, Llamita. Original Peruvian food is still the theme but Chef Erik Ramirez is focused on sandwiches this time out, such as soft pork shoulder bolstered with sweet potato or snappy duck sausage with Peruvian corn and chimichurri. Food is served in a casual, austere setting with high tables; orders are taken at the counter. For breakfast get the wrap with scrambled eggs, bacon, cheddar and roasted poblano.
Of all the ceviche served in the world, Peru might do it best. That claim is hard to dispute after sampling Mission Ceviche’s classic bowl; a vibrant blend of citrus-infused fish (the daily catch might be flounder or sea bass), toasted corn, fresh choclo (big white corn kernels), red onion slivers, spicy rocoto chili pepper, sweet potato mousse and micro cilantro. Other versions include tuna, shrimp or mixed seafood. The food stall is clean and busy and the food is priced well for the quality.
Come hungry since the fried plantain sandwiches (patacón) and arepas are huge. Then there’s la gorda cachapa, sweet corn cakes enclosing double-smoked bacon and a thick slab of melting mozzarella. Liliana Velazquez, from Maracaibo, Venezuela, started the business as a food truck in 2005, since expanding—with the help of her son Jonathan Hernandez—to brick-and-mortar shops in Elmhurst, Queens, and on the Lower East Side. Everything is made fresh to order and worth waiting for.
A fiercely shaken pisco sour, super-fresh ceviche and tender, juicy Peruvian-style rotisserie chicken served with salad makes for a perfect experience at Pollo D’Oro. Their secret green sauce, tasting like a blend of jalapeños, garlic, cilantro, aji amarillo paste and lime juice, is more than a creamy condiment—it’s practically drinkable. The modern, low-key restaurant is open all day, also serving chicken or chopped steak sandwiches and luscious lamb shank stew in bountiful portions.
There’s not a chance of leaving here hungry. Every cheeseburger, hot dog, arepa and tostone is piled high at Prontito, a Colombian fast-food eatery in Elmhurst. Even if you just stop in for dessert—an elaborate banana split, say, or a cholado packed with pulverized ice, fruit and condensed milk is hard to finish without help. The all-day space has a charming design, with long wooden counters, an old bicycle on the wall and a cartoonish mural depicting a hamburger monster.
The Brazilian food is so good, generously portioned and reasonably priced at Via Brasil that it’s lasted since 1978. It’s an attractive, old-fashioned space, sporting vibrant colors and a white piano for the occasional live Brazilian music. Start with a tangy caipirinha (Brazil’s national cocktail) and fabulous pão de queijo (cheese bread). There’s seafood but it’s mostly a meat place, one specialty being sliced beef in creamy mushroom-cognac sauce. Feijoada, a beef, pork and black bean extravaganza, is a celebratory signature dish.