Off-The-Beaten-Path Buenos Aires: An Insider's Guide to Caballito
In down-to-earth Caballito, you can explore one of the city's most striking historic culinary markets, eat empanadas with the locals, and hear tango without the tourists. The common refrain among travelers who visit with Elisa? "I don't understand why Caballito isn't in any guidebooks." We asked the longtime barrio resident and flag-bearer for a primer on her guilelessly charming 'hood. With BA's busy summer season right around the corner, it's the perfect time to start plotting your day off from Palermo.
When did you first come to Caballito?
When I got married in 1985, my husband and I rented our first apartment in Caballito. We spent two and a half years here before moving to the States, where we lived for 16 years. When we returned to Buenos Aires in 2006, we knew Caballito was where we wanted to live—and spend the rest of our lives. That's when we bought our current apartment; we've been here now for more than 11 years.
What drew you to the neighborhood originally?
I was living in Congreso at the time, working downtown, and craving a neighborhood that actually felt like a neighborhood. But I wasn't willing to sacrifice the convenient commute. Caballito offered that balance. It's right in the middle of the city (literally dead center), and the public transportation is amazing. I can be downtown in 20 minutes, but now I live in a place that has a totally different feeling. You go to the market, and everyone greets you. You go for a walk, and the scene is all shady residential blocks and period buildings.
Who are the neighbors—currently and historically?
Caballito has historically been a middle-class neighborhood. Like many other areas of the city, the barrio received an influx of European—chiefly Italian—immigrants at the turn of the 20th century. The Italian influence is still visible throughout the neighborhood, not only in the architecture, but also in the abundance of pizzerias, homemade pasta purveyors, and gourmet grocers selling imported specialties.
What's Caballito's main drag? (For those of us still getting our bearings.)
Avenida Rivadavia, which is actually the main thoroughfare of many contiguous barrios. It's the longest avenue in the city, running west from the Plaza de Mayo through Balvanera, Almagro, Caballito, and Flores, all the way to Liniers.
And its most emblematic landmark?
The Mercado del Progreso. It was built in 1889 and is a local gastronomic icon—by far the best-preserved historic market in the city. Unlike the Mercado de San Telmo, for example, it doesn't cater to tourists, but rather chefs and neighbors, some of whom have been customers here for 40 or 50 years. If you want to see empanadas, chorizos, milanesas, and matambres ("hunger-killers") in their element, this is the closest you'll come to Argentine home-cooking without actually receiving a dinner invitation.
Where would you go if you were craving some architectural eye candy?
Pasaje Antonino Ferrari in the Barrio Inglés or "English District," a sort of barrio-within-a-barrio built between 1923 and 1935, when much of what is now Caballito was a cornfield, and the city's population was swelling. This particular street, named for the president of the local bank that financed the construction project, is home to some of my favorite Italianate and eclectic-style houses—not to mention Caballito's most coveted real estate.
To stretch your legs?
I spend a lot of time at Parque Rivadavia, which was built in 1928 under the supervision of renowned French-Argentine landscape architect, Carlos Thays. There are silk floss trees, araucarias, lavender jacarandas—they've just started blooming now—and an enormous ombú rumored to be over a hundred years old.
To feel the neighborhood's old soul?
We have an incredible old-fashioned barbería where liveried employees receive their clients in vintage barber chairs dating from the turn of the century. The place is a Caballito institution, and the owner, Miguel, a neighborhood celebrity. Even if you're not in need of a trim, the nostalgic interiors, along with his museum-worthy collection of antique barber's tools and salvaged curios, rescued from local flea markets or donated by neighbors over the years, merit a visit.
For an atmospheric drink?
The barbershop is actually adjacent to a present-day pulpería, or gaucho saloon, where Miguel hosts cultural salons for the neighborhood. Plan your visit strategically, and you might even catch some of the older neighbors performing tangos with a bandoneonist. Old people love to talk; if you're hoping to make friends with the locals, there's no better place in Caballito.
Elisa grew up making pasta from scratch every Sunday with her Calabrian grandmother. After barrio-hopping for most of her childhood, she has favorite pizzerias from Balvanera to Belgrano. An expert in BA's less trodden barrios, she loves helping travelers experience a more local side of her hometown. She commutes all over the city on her favorite colectivo, the #132. Her ice cream flavor of choice is Chocolate Persicco.