Not too long ago, I hopped on a plane from New York to Miami, then on another from Miami to Montevideo, Uruguay, before getting straight into a rental and driving three hours to the beach side town of José Ignacio, one of the most beautiful areas I've ever visited. It's worth the trek.
I was there with my friend and colleague Ignacio Mattos, the chef at Estela in New York City. Ignacio was born in Uruguay and made a name for himself, as well as some of his dearest friends, while working in this vacationer's paradise. With only three days to spend in the country, it was impossible to hit every place on our wish list. So to complement the story of our trip, here are Ignacio's recommendations for the best places to eat in Montevideo and along the way to José Ignacio.
This is a great, airy spot located in the Old Town. But it's definitely not old school. It's an all-day bistro that opened in 2012 and is part of a small, new wave of restaurants trying to do good things. You can drop in at any time for coffee or a full meal. Breakfast is especially nice.
Jacinto, Sarandí 349
+598 2915 2731
Mercado del Puerto
This is Montevideo's answer to Barcelona's Boqueria market. It's walking distance from Jacinto. A cavernous, historic space, crazy with activity and music on the weekends. It's right by the bay and fort, so you can watch the waves crash against the shore as you walk around.
Mercado del Puerto, Rambla 25 de Agosto de 1825 228
These guys are doing the best coffee in Montevideo, which the city really needs. The food is carefully prepared and tasty. Go for the medialunas (Uruguayan croissants) with ham and cheese.
La Madriguera, Cambara 1614
+598 9436 6149
An old, dusty, legendary snack bar that opened in 1923 and does an amazing chivito, our unofficial national sandwich. Roberto Mallón Orols, an octogenarian who fled his homeland of Galicia in the days of Franco, has run the spot for the last three decades. He's the best.
Bar Arocena , Av Alfredo Arocena
Part of a chain, yes, but a beloved institution. They do great hot dogs wrapped in bacon and ungaras, a thin, slightly spiced sausage. It all goes great with a beer. They also do their own mustard, which is a secret recipe: yeasty, funky.
La Pasiva, 18 de Julio y Yi, Plaza Constitucion Sarandi 600
+598 2903 1770
IN PUNTA DEL ESTE:
The cleverly named spot on the way to Jose Ignacio is owned by Esteban Pazos, an extremely talented chef who decided to come back home after working at New York spots like Il Buco. Everyone around here does milanesas (schnitzels), but these might be the best. Milamores prepares all kinds: beef, chicken, lamb, pork, provolone, and vegetarian. You can get them fried or even oven-roasted. The bread is baked fresh on premises.
Milamores, Lenzina y Chaná, Parada 2
+598 4248 2449
Cantina del Vigía
This lively, casual restaurant in the town center is the latest from Federico Desseno, the chef of Jose Ignacio favorite Marismo. Where his flagship is candlelit, laid-back, romantic—the ideal beach town restaurant—this is an informal cantina serving comforting Uruguayan pizzas, pastas, and more. You pass around food and get completely stuffed.
Cantina del Vigía, Zelmar Michelini 744
+598 4226 8075
IN JOSE IGNACIO:
Simply put, the restaurant. They do hundreds of covers a day, and honestly, we think it puts most of the places like it in Montauk and other vacation towns to shame. The owners are consummate hosts, and the place manages to feel chic and happening but totally warm at the same time.
La Huella, Calle de Los Cisnes
+598 4486 2279
Federico Desseno's completely open air restaurant, where there are cannabis plants growing in the nearby woods and there's always a bonfire going. We're pretty sure everything we ate was cooked in the beautiful oven. The standouts are the crispy provoleta and lamb shank. Get ready to sit on one of those long tables with your friends and family and never want to leave.
Marismo, Ruta 10, km 185 (Look for the fish-shaped sign)
This is the tiny butcher shop and convenience store in town where everyone goes. You can get solid sandwiches and empanadas, pick up some beers, and experiment with local candies. They've got them all.
Carnicería Manolo, Calle Las Golondrinas y Calle de los Cisnes
+598 4486 2089
The breakfast here is exceedingly pleasant. Clo Dimet, the owner, sets out pastries and coffee, and you can hear the birds chirp as you lounge around the pool. It's not full throttle. It's just right.
Posada Paradiso, Calle Picaflores esquina Biguas