Monday night found a friend and I disappointedly smoking a cigarette outside a very obviously closed Thai restaurant named Phuket in Palermo, one which we were hoping to visit as part of our research into the Top 5 Southeast Asian restaurants in Buenos Aires for an article she was writing and which I was taking photos for. Both our searches on Guia Oleo and our relentless interrogations of young people on the topic of Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese, Cambodian and Malaysian restaurants in town lead to disheartening results and we slowly began to sense that our search was a futile one. While authentic Chinese and Korean cuisine do exist here (due to the presence of both Chinese and Korean populations and their accompanying China- and Koreatowns), Thai and Vietnamese exist only as something funky and exotic for those with enough money to splurge on “something new.” These restaurants are inevitably fake, geared to the taste (or lack thereof) of porteños, with bronze Buddha statues, stuffed elephants and fake bamboo adorning every wall but with waiters who have never heard of lemongrass, water chestnuts, chiles or coconut milk. The pad thai is invariably a sticky goop of rice noodles with no peanut essence, the tom kha gai lacks that comforting flavor it was designed to have and pho, my beloved pho is sink-water with little to no flavor whatsoever. We knew all of this yet we did not give up our search until we found Phuket closed. It was a sign.
Thus starving and cranky, we looked around Palermo for something to appease the rumbling of our stomachs with, a consolation prize for what was inevitably going to be crappy Thai food anyway. It was then that we stumbled across La Peca on Gascon y El Salvador, a traditional wood oven pizza restaurant with a hilarious and unnecessary “Middle Ages tavern” atmosphere which turned out to be exactly what we needed. While we were waiting for the pizza we ordered to be baked fresh and delivered to our table, the place filled up with people, mostly large groups of 18-30 year olds, a noticeably young crowd. As they settled down and ordered, their volume increased and the restaurant became downright noisy, but in a good way, filled with the relaxed and comforted chattering of young people at their favorite hang-out spot, catching up with those who have arrived and waiting for the few stragglers. Waiters brought over liter after liter of beer and some weird house specials, including a chicken-salad stuffed pita sandwich made to look like a pirate ship (with a sail and everything) and an enormous ice cream sundae. However, it was not until I saw the heaps of “fries with all kinds of unhealthy but delicious crap on it” being lowered onto each table that I realized this was their Tasty Burger, their “a round of ‘beer + cardiac arrest’ specials, please!” spot and I felt happy to be there though painfully homesick at the same time. Anyway, onto the food…
We split the smallest size of a pancetta y huevo frito (bacon and fried egg) pizza and a beer which came out to only AR$30 per person. The pizza was only AR$35 and more than enough for the two of us, incredibly filling and very satisfying all around. The crust was heavenly, perfectly cooked, with a delightful golden-crisp crunch around the edges and a thick, yet not doughy or soggy, middle. Gooey, salty and immensely comforting mozzarella coated the surface and a generous portion of crisp, fatty bacon chunks adorned this bed of cheese. Four fried eggs were laid over the cheese and bacon, providing a fluffy blanket for the pancetta, and the creamy, thick, runny yolk oozed out when bitten into. There were also a few plump and tart green olives sprinkled across the top of the pizza which added another little treat to each bite. Overall this was a fantastic pizza and did not leave us wanting for anything.
La Peca is officially one of my favorite new restaurants. Moments after leaving the place I happened to ask directions to a bus stop from 2 guys who had also just been in there, splitting one of their wonderful pizzas, and they confirmed everything I was feeling about the place. It is indeed a popular local meet-up spot for young people, pleasantly escondido (hidden) and out of the way of the typical Palermo tourist flow. I have already made plans to go back sometime soon and if those fall through, I definitely have a place to bring my friends from home when they visit.