By Paola Singer
Photography by Luis Garcia
Montevideo has always charmed travelers who appreciate off-the-beaten-track destinations. But in recent years, due in part to a healthy economy and progressive social reforms, Uruguay’s capital has danced into the spotlight, finding a happy medium between serenity and vibrancy. Witness: luxury hotel openings, high-profile galleries such as Galerie Xippas that showcase talented young artists, and the conservative restaurant scene’s embrace of food trends. Take advantage of Montevideo’s growing cultural offerings during the balmy austral spring.
Uruguayan chef Alejandro Morínigo and his French wife, Bénédicte, set up a small lunch counter appropriately named El Estrecho (the narrow) in historic Ciudad Vieja (Sarandí 460; 598/2915-6107). Daily offerings might include sole with wasabi sauce and caramelized pears or pork tenderloin with turnip puree and tonkatsu sauce. Two-decade-old Café Misterio (Avenida Gral. Rivera 1700; 598/2601-8765) updates its retro-inspired interior frequently—and the mostly organic menu too, with classics such as rib eye and potato gnocchi and contemporary dishes such as panko-crusted shrimp “lollipops.” Popular Mercado del Puerto (Piedras 237), a nineteenth-century indoor market filled with parrilladas, or steak houses, is worth a visit. But locals head to La Otra (Tomás Diago 758; 598/2711-3006), a simply decorated corner restaurant that grills some of the best grass-fed beef in the city.
Uruguay observes teatime (stemming possibly from two short-lived but historically significant British invasions). Lavender Tea Room (Mones Roses 6415; 598/2604-6575) is a little corner of rural England in the heart of residential Carrasco. One of the city’s top attractions: the newly restored 100-year-old Mercado Agrícola (José L. Terra 2220; 598/2200-9535). Among its dozens of grocers and food stalls, you’ll find Chopería Mastra, a wood-paneled bar with 12 local craft beers on tap. Hipsters converge at a nameless bar in a onetime general store on the corner of Paullier and Guaná streets (Juan Paullier 1252; 598/2409-8016) for late-night meals, classic cocktails, and live indie music.
The new St. Clemente (José Ellauri 885; 598/2710-7187), a fashion and design store, occupies a mansion in residential Pocitos and carries emerging local brands. Margara Shaw (Carlos F. Sáez 6524; 598/2601- 7460), one of Montevideo’s most dynamic fashion labels, has four boutiques filled with modern pieces that highlight Uruguayan textile traditions, such as cashmere ponchos with colorful hand-stitched details. Pick up a bottle of Uruguay’s signature tannat varietal at Cata y Vino de Esencia Uruguay (Sarandí 359; 598/2915-4472)—and look for age-worthy reds by Bodega Bouza and Bodega Garzón.
Originally appeared in Virtuoso Life magazine, September 2014.
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