Though long famous for their quality of meat and ubiquitous parrillas (steakhouses), Uruguay has experienced a culinary boom in recent years. This is especially the case in the capital city of Montevideo, where fusion foods, tapas, third wave coffee shops, and menus made up of high quality, locally sourced ingredients often change daily to reflect what's in season. Old favorites like the towering chivito sandwich or gnocchi are still staples, but with prime ingredients subbed or added like filet mignon or caviar respectively. Come for the steak, but stay for the food revolution.
Mercado del Puerto (Port Market)
Feast on steaks, sweet breads, and morcilla (blood sausage) at the Mercado del Puerto, home to some of the city's most famous parrillas. El Planque has arguably the best steaks and grilled seafood in the market, while Cabaña Veronica offers a thick tenderloin with peppercorn sauce, plump morcilla, and gooey provolone cheese. To follow in Anthony Bourdain’s footsteps, pull up a bar stool at Estancia del Puerto—featured in "No Reservations"—and watch the asador (grill master) deftly cook the meat with the dexterity of an orchestra conductor. Expect high prices due to the market’s popularity.
Es Mercat grills fresh catches of fish seasoned with salts from around the world. Octopus, Patagonian toothfish, and salt cod are always on the menu, but other than these mainstays, the menu fluctuates widely. Expect flavorful combos of seafood and pasta, like the squid and spaghetti in tomato sauce or gnocchi with porcini mushrooms. Cooked salmon and bream get plated with dashes of colorful sauces, grilled veggies, and chopped green onion thrown on top. Portions are huge, so order half or split with a friend. Find it in Ciudad Vieja near the Port Market.
If you catch the red eye into Montevideo, pull up to Bar Arocena in the early morning hours and sink your teeth into a chivito for the best introduction to Uruguay. Welcoming hungry patrons 24 hours a day on Arocena Street in Carrasco, the bar originally opened in 1923, serving simple drinks and dishes to blue collar clientele. Over the years, it's developed a reputation as having one of the best chivitos in the city. The layered sandwich of steak, ham, bacon, cheese, tomato, lettuce, and fried egg comes stacked between two slices of warm, mayo-slathered bread. The bar itself is as much a draw as its food, having seen the likes of rock stars swinging by to try the famed sandwich.
This is the place to get a salad in Montevideo. Chef and owner Lucía Soria curates an innovative menu of Spanish, Italian, African, and gaucho-inspired dishes that will delight vegetarians, vegans, and carnivores alike. Try the shrimp empanadas with cilantro and ginger, or the spicy kale and chickpea salad with beets and orange confit. Set in Ciudad Vieja and adorned with pictures of produce, the space and food are stylish but without pretension. Check out the attached café for espresso-based beverages and treats like carrot cake.
In Cordon, a library café with high ceilings and stained glass windows offers patrons coffee and tartas (savory pies) filled with spinach, ricotta, or beetroot. Shop the well-stocked bookstore with several limited-edition Spanish-language titles, sign up for a writing workshop; or focus solely on the food, all made with seasonal ingredients. Expect sweets like cheese and fennel shortbread, meringue with almond praline, peanut alfajores, and chocolate sheet cakes. Buy a loaf of their country-style bread or cut into an ojo de bife (rib-eye steak) as you bask in the sun on the patio, shaded by the leafy canopy.
The only restaurant in Montevideo to lead foraging expeditions, Arazá Cocina Nativa educates patrons about indigenous edible plants. A farm-to-table restaurant (or rather park-to-table, as customers gather plants from Prado Park), it highlights Uruguayan ingredients like the arazá (a bitter fruit originally used by the Charrúa people), blue crab, polenta, palm hearts, and lamb. After visiting the park, a five-course meal is served with wine and juices. Book in advance: These dinners only happen a few times a month.
A small, hip lunch joint in Ciudad Vieja, Estrecho has a menu that changes daily. Patrons sit at the bar diner-style, making it easy for conversations to flow naturally between strangers and the business crowd. Everyone chows down on truffle polenta, filet mignon with mashed white sweet potatoes, and smoked salmon baguette sandwiches, all of which are cooked right in front of the bar. Save room for a perfectly crafted macchiato, lemon flan, or pear tart. Get there early (around 12 p.m.) as Estrecho is only open for lunch and has limited seating.
Located in an old townhouse in Ciudad Vieja, this cozy restaurant creates an atmosphere that feels as if you’ve stumbled into a chef’s personal kitchen, rather than a popular eatery. The menu changes daily, with no more than five or six entrées on offer (one of which is vegan). Fruits and veggies are sourced from a local organic producer, while the pasta’s made onsite. Simple yet flavorful dishes include bruschetta with pulled pork, grilled fish, and chicken masala. Fresh juices and Uruguayan wines pair perfectly with the menu, while friendly staff and jazz music add to the homey ambience.
Just a block away from Plaza Independencia, Rigor slings Neapolitan-style pizza and artisanal ice cream to discerning pizza palates looking for thin crust and quality ingredients. Order a Margherita or pepperoni for classics done right, or go crazy and try a slice of the pistachio pesto with mortadella or the onion confit with hot chili.
Pair your pie with Rigor’s own blonde beer, Birra Rigor, or their refreshingly cold, fizzy white wine, an Albariño made in nearby Bodega Bouza. For dessert, order the Grøt ice cream in dark chocolate or dulce de leche.
Multi-flavored grilled provolone cheeses, brochettes of chicken and pineapple, and juicy tenderloin steak with rustic fries and cheddar sauce are just a few of the offerings at Uruguay Gourmet Natural Parrilla. In addition to having gluten-free options, they also claim their meat has four times as many omega-3 fatty acids as other cuts and high levels of vitamin E, appealing to the health-conscious crowd. While attentive staff fill your glass with malbec or Tannat, delight in unexpected flavorings like the melt-in-your-mouth blood sausage infused with orange rinds and cinnamon.
One of the pioneers of third wave coffee in Montevideo, The Lab Coffee Roasters source their Fair Trade-certified beans from all over the world. Try their Colombia-Brazil blend or the Jamaica Blue Mountain in a V-60 drip, Chemix, or siphon preparation. Alternatively, stick with espresso-based options like a long black, flat white, or latte. If you don’t know what those are but want to, they offer barista courses to expand public knowledge about café. Go to one of their several locations to have an açai bowl, avocado toast, or Heisenberg sandwich (brie, ham, and caramelized onion) for brunch.
Montevideo Wine Experience
Montevideo’s first wine bar serves exclusively Uruguayan wines by the bottle, glass, or in an original cocktail. One of the owners, Líber Pisciottano, was formerly named one of the best sommeliers in all of Uruguay, while the other, Nicolás Capellini, comes from a family long tied to winemaking. Learn your Tannat from your Albariño here, as questions are encouraged and the atmosphere fun and laid-back. To accompany your tasting, order tapas or a tabla (charcuterie board). Some nights, DJs spin vinyl or musicians come to jam. Located just across from the Port Market, its also likely you’ll catch a Candombe practice taking place on the weekends.
Located in Carrasco, Manzanar’s creative cocktails, international flavors, and bright patio space make it a perfect family brunch spot. Come evening, mood lighting, prompt service, and sushi transform it into a romantic dinner venue. Familiar yet unique dishes make up the menu: yellow gazpacho with mangos and heirloom tomatoes, Basque cheesecake with figs and pistachios, and vegan sushi shiitake mushrooms and grilled zucchini. Order the watermelon, gin, and ginger ale cocktail for a light, refreshing beverage, or try a heady classic with a twist: a Negroni with bottled smoke.
Club del Pan
Spinach tartas, loafs of onion focaccia, and panes au chocolate are several of the superb baked goods on offer at this corner bakery. Sit on the wooden folding chairs inside the minimalist, white-tiled shop to savor the aroma of the kitchen, or take your food to go and picnic at nearby Parque Rodó. The menu also includes gigantic sandwiches (Zukulentos), almond croissants, and coffee with plant-based milks. Baked by bread master Gonzalo Zubirí, everything is fresh, made just below in the basement oven. Go early, as they tend to sell out before closing.
Those craving spicy food in Montevideo journey to Tandory in Pocitos. Fusing European, Latin American, and Asian dishes, chef Gabriel Coquel uses locally sourced organic produce to create braised beef goulash, Basque fish plates, and Indian curries. The menu changes daily, based on what produce is available, and spice levels can be adjusted to suit your preference. Pair your food with a bottle from the wine cellar and take in the décor; the paintings and wood panels represent the dishes' countries of origin. Fun fact: Mick Jagger ate the koskera fish for dinner here once.