The Food That Draws Me Back to Santiago

Piping-hot empanadas! Loaded sandwiches! Pepino dulce ice cream!

August  1, 2019
Photo by James Ransom

When I first visited Chile a few years ago, I couldn’t get enough of the local food, from the empanadas to pastel de choclo to Merkén chile pepper. I was smitten. The country boasts a variety of topographies, but it’s most famous for its temperate climates, where, like in the Mediterranean and California, fruits and vegetables grow abundantly—and taste delicious.

Like those other areas, Chile is well-known for its good food and wine, and Santiago, the nation’s capital, is no exception. When I visited some friends there recently, I was struck by the number of restaurants and specialty stores focusing on native Chilean ingredients and the wonderful farm-to-table food they were making with all those ingredients.

From Michelin-starred dining to local food markets and craft chocolate shops—not forgetting world-class Cabernet Sauvignon—here are eight tasty reasons to visit Santiago. Every one of them belongs on your itinerary.

A Santiago Food Crawl

1. Boragó

It’s not hard to see why Boragó is currently number 42 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Celebrity chef and creative mastermind Rodolfo Guzmán works tirelessly to source wild edible plants from across the country, focusing on lesser-known ones. Think Chilean nalca (a kind of local rhubarb), lamb prepared in the Patagonian style called al asador, and rica rica, an Andean herb foraged by Patricia Perez, an artist and yerbatero in the Atacama Desert. Expect the presentation of each dish to wow as much as the flavors.

2. Obolo Chocolate

This welcoming chocolate shop in the Barrio Italia neighborhood makes all of its goodies from scratch, starting with whole cocoa beans. Owner Mark Gerrits works closely with farmers in Peru to source ethical, high-quality beans, then roasts, grinds, and smoothens them into outstanding chocolate bars that will surprise and delight you. Be sure to try the new line of bars that includes native ingredients like the same high-quality rica rica that you'll see on Boragó’s menu.

3. La Mesa

You might know chef and owner Alvaro Romero Evans from his stints at Auberge du Cheval Blanc in France and Restaurant Europeo in Santiago, or from a slate of achievements, like being included on the '100 Young Leaders of Chile' list in El Sábado magazine. At his brand-new restaurant La Mesa, he serves elevated comfort food with a Chilean twist, using ingredients like house-made banana-vinegar dressing and local maker Obolo’s chocolate. Evans has transformed an old house in the Vitacura neighborhood into a comfortable hipster enclave that elevates each meal into an experience.

4. Vinolia

At this wine shop’s events in the Vitacura neighborhood, prepare to delve into a multi-sensory experience. The tastings take place in a theater with a giant screen, so you can actually see where each wine’s grapes were grown, as well as delve into the nitty-gritty of terroir and tasting. A recent event focused on Chilean white wines, and compared two Sauvignon Blancs and two Chardonnays made from the same grapes but in different years. Individual platters of cheese, crackers, and fruit round out the evening.

5. Gelato Firenze

Among all the gelaterias in Santiago, Firenze stands out for its quality ingredients. Take the pistachio gelato, which they make with traditional Sicilian pistachios for a super rich flavor and creamy consistency. You'll also find unusual flavors like activated charcoal and local options like pepino dulce, made from sweet melon.

6. La Vega Central

Get lost among row upon row of vendors selling everything edible, from piping hot empanadas to dried spices and fresh produce. Chile’s climate is reminiscent of the Mediterranean or California, which means everything grows here, and the fruits and vegetables are gorgeous and plentiful. In particular, check out all the local types of avocados, chiles from Peru, and superfood powders like camu camu, spirulina, and lucuma.

7. Carmenere Wine Hotel

This homey little hotel boasts comfortable beds, knowledgeable (and English-speaking) staff, and a wine cellar with a solid selection. Be sure to taste wines made from one of Chile’s signature grapes, the Carmenere, which the hotel is also named for. In the morning, sit outside on the lush patio while you enjoy a breakfast of fresh farm eggs with local Merkén chile, as well as house-made granola and crepes filled with manjar (the Chilean word for dulce de leche).

8. Silvestre

This Barrio Italia bistro gets its charm from a hodgepodge of decorative accents like bright-red chairs, birdcage lights, and plenty of plants for added greenery. The farm-to-table menu is written on a chalkboard and includes high-quality local ingredients like grilled tuna over a bed of quinoa spiked with beets and cheese, and served with fresh herbs. The massive patio isn’t too shabby either.

What did we miss? Give us your best food recommendations in Santiago!

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Megan Giller

Written by: Megan Giller

1 Comment

FoodieTina November 7, 2019
I understand that stories are developed ahead of time, and Chile has in fact been on my to visit list for quite some time so I'm happy to see this list. However, I think your story might benefit from a header acknowledging the widespread protests and state of emergency issued by the government for the Santiago area? The headline strikes me as a bit tone deaf to world events.