Behind the remaking of El Preferido, one of Argentina’s most storied restaurants.
In years gone by, every neighborhood in Buenos Aires had a well-loved place where the locals could stop by for a drink, dine on something homey, and stick around for a few hands of penny-ante poker. Writer Jorge Luis Borges immortalized one such street-corner hangout in “The Mythical Founding of Buenos Aires,” a poem that evokes his childhood in the leafy, low-rise, working-class district of Palermo:
a general store pink
as the back of a playing card shone bright;
in the back the talk was of winning poker hands.
The corner bar flowered into life …
The carnation-colored building of Borges’ youth was El Preferido de Palermo, a general store that also housed a type of tavern known as a bodegón. Catering to a clientele with immigrant roots in Spain and Italy, bodegones served as the standbys of Buenos Aires home cooking, or cocina porteña. Ask any old-timer about bodegón food, and they will universally describe it as “abundante, bueno, y barato” — abundant, good, and cheap.
In recent years, the winds of culinary fashion led to the decline, and often the demise, of many bodegones. El Preferido held on until 2018 before its owners closed the business. Rather than being replaced by a sushi bar or a burger joint — the fate of many bodegones — the building was purchased by Pablo Rivero, a youthful restaurateur who owns a phenomenally successful steakhouse, Don Julio, just a block away.
Rivero had always seen El Preferido as part of the blood and bones of Palermo. El Prefe, as it is affectionately known, was the archetypal symbol of the district. When the