Four days of dining in Montevideo
With improved air connections on the way, it should be easier than ever to travel to this diverse South American country in 2023. Improved access will catapult Montevideo’s laid-back beaches and under-the-radar food and wine scene will figure in the spotlight. at the top of travel wish lists.
Lola Méndez takes you on a four-day culinary adventure, through South America’s secret foodie destination.
I am a dual Uruguayan-American citizen and travel journalist who has been on the road full-time for over seven years, visiting nearly 80 countries. Still Uruguay will always be at home. I’ve written about Uruguay’s delights for USA Today, Refinery29, Wine Enthusiast, and other publications — in addition to maintaining my own responsible travel blog, MissFilatelista.com.
Why visit Montevideo
Montevideo is a metropolitan city – but in less than 30 minutes you can reach the leafy campo, where Uruguay’s countless cows and sheep graze on vast farmland. Nearby are vineyards where you can sample Uruguayan varieties of tannat and albariño or a pitcher of fruit-infused white wine sangria called clericó. Thanks to Uruguay’s 410 miles of coastline, you can enjoy freshly caught seafood in the once-walled city that juts out into the gigantic, ocean-like Río de la Plata. It’s disconcerting that Uruguay is still somehow a well-kept secret among foodies.
Cortado in a café-bookstore
Most hotels include a breakfast consisting of dulce medialunas (small sweet croissants), orange juice, toast, ham and cheese. Since Montevideo is flat and very walkable, take the 90-minute walk between the Ciudad Vieja and Buceo neighborhoods (you’ll likely be staying in one of these) for a good cup of coffee. To Escaramuza Books, stroll through the quaint bookstore and grab a table in the whimsical beer garden behind. Order a cortado – half milk and half coffee – and enjoy the slow pace of the Uruguayan way of life (yes, even in the “big” city) as you sip.
Chivito for the lunch
Whet your appetite before indulging in Uruguay’s national sandwich, the Chivito, for the lunch. Although the name translates to “little goat”, it does not include goat meat, but is instead piled high with beef, bacon, lettuce, tomatoes, eggs and cheese, and served on a bed of fries. Try it at one of Uruguay’s oldest fast-food chains, La Pasiva (18 de julio 1251 is a 25-minute walk from Escaramuza). Hang on a table near a window to people watch while you dig.
If you feel sleepy after lunch, do as the Uruguayans do and return to your hotel for a leisurely siesta.
Stroll the Rambla at dusk
From your hotel, walk down to La Rambla, Montevideo’s waterfront promenade which, at 22 km, is the longest continuous sidewalk in the world. You’ll pass by the skate park, the Montevideo letter board, the Holocaust memorial, and the mysterious Pittamiglio Castle. Try to be around Punta Brava at dusk for stunning views of the sun setting over the Río de la Plata.
Believe it or not, 9pm is early dinner time in Uruguay. After the sun goes down, order an Uber for the 10-minute drive to local haunt El Rastro Parrillita. Known for its excellent cuts of meat and average prices, this restaurant is where you can experience asado, the Uruguayan barbecue, and enjoy meat cooked to order on the parilla (grill). Order the grilled provolone cheese and the meat of your choice like the ojo de bife (steak) – then go for dessert with the flan drizzled with dulce de leche.
Time travel in Ciudad Vieja
Enjoy breakfast at the hotel before strolling through Puerta de la Ciudadela and Ciudad Vieja, Montevideo’s old town. Avoid Café Brasilero (renowned as Uruguay’s oldest but lackluster coffeehouse) and instead have your coffee at Café La Farmacia, a former apothecary turned cozy café.
Nearby is the Andes Museum 1972 which tells the harrowing story of the Uruguayan rugby team which lost 29 colleagues in a plane crash. Sixteen passengers survived turning to cannibalism until they were rescued 72 days after the crash.
Tribute to Anthony Bourdain at Jacinto
Stroll down Sarandí, Ciudad Vieja’s main pedestrian-only thoroughfare – and think of the legendary Anthony Bourdain, who bonded with Uruguay’s obsession with meat and loved bites pudding in particular. Dine where the chef did, at Jacinto, and be sure to order the Milanesea traditional dish of breaded steak or chicken.
Skip the siesta and participate in another national pastime, merienda. The mid-afternoon snack is usually a baked good such as a pionono (a layer of sponge cake rolled with dulce de leche) or ham and cheese miga’s sandwich accompanied by coffee. In Ciudad Vieja, one of the best merienda spots is the Federación bakery. Try one alfajorcomposed of two puff pastries filled with dulce de leche then rolled in coconut flakes.
Evening at the Mercado del Puerto in Montevideo
Touristy and a little expensive, the historic Montevideo Port Market, which opened in 1868, is still worth a visit. Grab a light dinner early at Empanadas Carolina: try the beef with raisins and ham with corn. Then, stroll a few blocks to the Montevideo Wine Experience to learn about Uruguayan wine culture and try varietals from some of the country’s most famous wineries. Bodega Garzón, for example, has won international awards and was the first LEED-certified winery in South America.
A modern day in Montevideo
After breakfast, stroll through the leafy urban space of Parque Rodó on your way to The Lab Coffee Roasters, located in the park, to enjoy a gourmet al fresco coffee. Next to it is the National Museum of Visual Artswhich houses a superb collection of Uruguayan art, including pieces by Pedro Figari and Juan Manuel Blanes. After your cultural outing, treat yourself to a mid-morning donut at the new women-owned In Her Oven bakery.
Lunch at Mercado Ferrando
Food markets are popular in Montevideo, with stalls offering parrillas, sushi, pizza, pasta, burgers, churros and more. From Parque Rodó, walk 20 minutes to Mercado Ferrando and head straight to Il Gufo to sample one of Uruguay’s culinary specialties: pizza a caballo. Almost half of all Uruguayans are of Italian descent, which has strongly influenced Uruguayan cuisine. But rest assured: this wood-fired pizza is not made with horse meat, but rather with mozzarella and lazy (chickpea crepe) on top. Celebrate Spanish Uruguayans with a dessert of dulce de leche stuffed churros.
Learn about Montevideo’s booming vegan scene
Although Uruguayans consume one of the highest amounts of meat of any population in the world, there is a thriving vegan scene in Montevideo and a handful of plant-based restaurants. Go green for the night with plant-based versions of Uruguayan cuisine like Milanese in La Temeraria. (And don’t skip the chocolate peanut butter cookie — you’ll find it hard to believe it’s vegan.) After dinner, stroll down España Boulevard to sample some of Uruguay’s best local beers at the Montevideo Brewery Company.
Celebrate the influence of immigrants on Uruguayan cuisine
Montevideo has a large Armenian immigrant population, and several have opened restaurants serving falafel, commonly a breakfast item in the Middle East and neighboring countries. Since Ararat opens at 11 a.m., sleep in then enjoy a falafel wrap with tabbouleh and hummus for brunch.
Taste the wine of Uruguay
Hop in an Uber heading north: in less than 30 minutes, you’ll be at beautiful Bodega Bouza. European colonization wreaked havoc on Uruguay, but left behind a wine culture that has only recently begun to gain international recognition. Indulge in lunch with wine pairing—which can include grilled duck breast with a glass of Monte Vide Eu 2019—then take a guided tour of the winery and vineyards. Enjoy the afternoon to soak up the serene scenery before returning to town for dinner.
If you are in Uruguay on the 29th of the month, there is only one dish for dinner: noquis. Dia de Ñoquis is a monthly tradition honoring the potato pasta dish imported by Italian immigrants, who at the end of the month would have nothing but potatoes and flour, which they would use to make big lots to share with newcomers. Newcomers would try to pay; when the hosts refused, they left coins under their plates. We still do it every month for good luck. Carry on the tradition with the superb potato dumplings of Morelia.
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