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The Argentines may be known for their meat, but when the first waves of reverse culture shock hit after I returned to Denver from Buenos Aires, I didn't track down an asado — which is what the natives call a big barbecue gathering. Instead, I went looking for other dishes I'd come to love: empanadas, sweets, pastas — the gnocchi, in particular — and pizza.
Yes, pizza. A huge Italian migration near the turn of the twentieth century heavily influenced Argentine cooking. As a result, spaghetti Bolognese is on just about every neighborhood restaurant's menu. Argentine ice cream is like a sweeter, richer gelato, and it's nearly impossible to walk a block without passing a shop. Pizza joints are everywhere, too, usually serving up dozens of varieties of empanadas in addition to pies.
So I was delighted when I found Buenos Aires Pizzeria, which opened in the Ballpark neighborhood in 2003. The owners are two generations of the Carrera family, natives of San Isidro, a rich, charming town with cobblestone streets in the northern part of Buenos Aires province (though far removed from the city center). And they've re-created a little piece of their home country here in the Mile High City, in a storefront space filled with colorful Argentine flags and soccer posters. The first time I looked at the menu, I wanted to weep with joy. It listed a slew of pizzas, topped with everything from hard-boiled egg to salsa golf, a disgusting combination of tomato and mayonnaise that my Buenos Aires roommates had put on everything. There were also empanadas, every kind I'd eaten in Argentina, as well as tostados — ham and cheese on thin slices of white bread pressed flat and grilled crispy — and housemade, dulce de leche-focused ice creams. And on the 29th of every month, gnocchi.
1319 22nd St.
Denver, CO 80205
Region: Downtown Denver
Six years later, I haven't tired of that menu. And so I recently returned with my boyfriend, ready to regale him with tales of my travels while turning him on to the food at the same time. But once the dishes started hitting the table — which took a while, since, like every other Argentine restaurant in existence, Buenos Aires Pizzeria runs on its own time — I was too busy eating to talk. We started with a round of empanadas, stuffed with sweet corn and spicy beef and gooey mozzarella, tomato and basil. I'd insisted on a tostado, too (which should have been pressed a little longer to thoroughly melt the cheese), as well as the medialuna, a popular snack that consists of a cold, sweet croissant with a couple of cold slices of ham and cheese shoved in the middle. The combination is completely mediocre, but I still sighed happily as I shoved chunks of the medialuna into my mouth.
Over considerable debate, we'd also ordered a pizza. The Buenos Aires Pizzeria menu actually has two sections for its pies; half feature a classic tomato sauce, the other half start with a crust swiped with olive oil. I'd waxed rhapsodic about the fugazza, which is just that crust topped with sautéed onion and oregano. But since Rob wasn't really into eating just bread for dinner, we'd turned to the tomato-sauce section, eventually agreeing on the rucula — a combination of arugula, red onion and mozzarella — with bacon added. When the pie finally hit our table, the dense, chewy crust was topped with plenty of tangy sauce and cheese, both of which played well with the peppery, piquant and smoky flavors of our toppings.
We finished up with a scoop of sweet dulce de leche banana ice cream and a cortadito, or shot of espresso. (We skipped the submarino, an Argentine delicacy that calls for you melting your own chocolate bar in hot milk. It sounds wonderful, but it's actually always terrible, mostly because the chocolate turns into weird little particles in the milk.) And then, just as I would have had to in Argentina, I waved our server over for the check.
Buenos Aires Pizzeria doesn't make the best Argentine food I've ever had, but from the slow service to the massive menu, it gives you an authentic taste of everyday eating in Argentina.