Bright neon lights in every conceivable color of the rainbow beckon tourists, vying for every ounce of their limited attention span on the strip. This is Las Vegas, loud, brash and distinctly unapologetic, a surreal fantasy world in the middle of the Nevada desert. The ubiquitous cheap buffets aimed at enticing tourists from the hinterland have now given way to haute cuisine, with every chef worth their mettle clamoring to open an outpost of restaurants on the strip. From Joel Robuchon to Iron Chef Bobby Flay, you haven’t really made it anymore until you’ve opened a restaurant on the Las Vegas strip.
Step away from the strip and the frenetic pace dies down and Las Vegas reveals it’s human side. The real Las Vegas, if you will. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Spring Mountain Road, where Las Vegas’ own Chinatown is situated. In this neighborhood, where the strip gives way to strip-malls, one finds dozens of Asian restaurants parked cheek and jowl, vying for attention. Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese are all represented here without the over-the-top faux-glitz that has now become emblematic of the Las Vegas culture.
In the midst of this Asian enclave is where you will find Rincon de Buenos Aires, a testament to the melting pot American cities have become. At first glance, it would be easy to dismiss it as a mishmash of foreign cultures, since the restaurant bills itself as an Argentinian restaurant and an Italian deli. However it is important to note that roughly 70% of Argentinians have some Italian heritage and Italian food in Argentina is intrinsically woven into the traditional meat-centric cuisine.
Rincon de Buenos Aires is exactly what it says it is: a little corner of Las Vegas that will transport you, from the second you walk through the door, to one of the grandest cities in South America. A city with stunning architecture and a distinctly European vibe that has also endured one of the most brutal dictatorships the world has known. While the Dirty War has been over for decades, you are reminded of it every Thursday by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, an association of mothers whose children ‘disappeared’ as a consequence of their activism against the then government. In the early 2000s, Political corruption was so severe that it torpedoed the entire country into such economic turmoil that they’re still recovering to this day. But Buenos Aires is a survivor and still endures as one of the most charming cities in South America.
Any self-respecting resident of Buenos Aires will tell you, it is all about the food. Similarly, here the pictures of tango dancers, scenes of Buenos Aires and highlights of Argentine soccer on TV screens do little to distract from the food. The meal starts off with warm baked bread served with chimichurri, a vegetal blend of green herbs, garlic and olive oil. Argentinian empanadas, the ubiquitous pockets of pastry with fillings ranging from beef and chicken to corn are an ideal starter. Both baked and fried versions are available, along with uncooked versions meant to be finished off at home. Also apparent is the Argentinian love for mayonnaise, in the form of Salade Russe or Russian salad. Pasta, in various forms, and Milanesa- a breaded chicken cutlet, are a nod to the Italian influence in Argentina. That said, the star of the show is the Argentinian grill or Parillada. 3-5 different cuts of meat are brought to the table on a charcoal grill with a side of chimichurri on the side. One lets their meat cook to their desired doneness, and then just dig in. Different versions of the parillada are available, ones with sweetbreads and blood sausage for the more adventurous, and others with less exotic meats. And to wash it down, Renee, the owner stocks a number of wines from the famous Mendoza Valley. A Malbec will usually suffice quite well. If you’re in a more casual mood, there are lighter options; even sandwiches that the owner, Renee, claims I would’ve fallen in love with, had I not had such a craving for steak. She serves traditional Argentinian sandwiches like choripan filled with Argentinian sausage and the gut-busting Argentinine staple- the lomito- bursting with steak, ham, cheese and a fried egg. For dessert, Dulce de Leche,or milk caramel reigns supreme, flavoring everything from flan and alfajores to milhojas, a ‘thousand’ layered cake. In a hurry? No problem. There’s a roughly twenty-foot meat and cheese display case, as well as additional aisles and shelves in the back with everything an Argentine or South American heart desires. Whether it’s yerba for Mate or Dulce de Leche, this little rincon has you covered. And, as Renee will tell you, just like in Argentina, the closing time listed on the door is only a guideline, not a rule.
You would be excused for thinking that Renee was a Porteno from Buenos Aires, but she hails from Barahona in the Dominican Republic, a beach town roughly three hours east of the capital of Santo Domingo, Renee and her family moved to the United States to escape a sky-high unemployment rate brought on by years of political corruption and economic chaos. After a first stop in Miami, she arrived in Las Vegas twenty-one years ago. It all changed when eleven years ago the previous owners, friends from Argentina who were struggling to keep the doors open finally agreed to sell the restaurant to them. Since then, Renee and her son-in-law Johnny have created a business that has survived the worst recession this country’s seen since 1929.
The success of Rincon de Buenos Aires lies in the tight-knit family that runs the show. For most, it would seem improbable that a mother-in-law and son-in-law could work so closely together with such success. However, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, it’s that very relationship that has fortified this establishment over such a lengthy period and enabled everything to function almost seamlessly. Here in our country, and especially in this city, it’s easy to get blinded by bright lights and massive billboards while losing sight of what matters. It’s through the hard work and family values that Renee, Johnny and their family have been able to steer their restaurant in the right direction, making it all it can be. It’s not just a rincon representing of one of the most beautiful cultures in South America and the world. It’s the seven-lane 9 De Julio street at eleven o’clock at night; a random tango class taking place with their doors open in Palermo; it’s the entire city banging pots and pans in unison to protest another audacious proposition by their government. It’s all Buenos Aires… and, that would make any Porteno feel right at home.
Rincon de Buenos Aires
5300 Spring Mountain Rd # 115,
Las Vegas, NV 89146
While he now calls Las Vegas home, Darren J. Alvino, II is an avid traveler who has lived, worked and studied on almost every continent. Four years as an Army Ranger, a B.A. in International Studies from The University of Colorado and an boyhood fascination of National Geographic have ingrained in him a deep love & respect for all aspects of our worlds’ cultures, especially their cuisine.