Abuela Pan: Cozy Vegetarian Lunch Spot

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Before settling in at San Telmo’s popular La Poesía for a cup of coffee, grab a bite to eat at Abuela Pan, a charming vegetarian restaurant easily overlooked by those wandering past.

This health food restaurant and bakery has managed to draw in a steady crowd of hungry Argentines for the last twelve years, despite being in the world’s carnivore capital and, until recently in a discreet locale tucked away in the middle of a narrow San Telmo block.

In a city where menu variety is often hard to come by, this daytime restaurant serves up vegetarian food in a handsome little space with dark wood floors and exposed brick walls. Constructed in 1895, the building was once home to a central figure in the Naturalism literary movement in Argentina, writer, Fray Mocho. Mocho founded the seminal magazine Caras y Caretas (Faces and Masks) and carved out a literary niche by embracing the use of Buenos Aires slang, lunfardo in contemporary writing.

The typical turn-of-the-19th century home was restored and converted into a restaurant by former owner, Daniel Suárez, who dedicated the space to his grandmother, María Rosa Pan (abuela means ‘grandmother’ and pan conveniently means ‘bread’, in addition to being her surname). Later, associate, Osvaldo Barros took over the restaurant.

“Our whole idea is to prepare healthy food with lots of flavor,” he says. “They say that vegetarian food doesn’t taste good but that’s an outdated concept, and we set out to prove it.”

Barros, who is not a vegetarian himself but affirms that he tries to eat healthy, says that although they do receive some foreign visitors in search of veggies after overdosing on meat, most of their customers are local office workers.

In addition to a permanent menu that includes Argentine favorites such as vegetarian milanesa (breaded soy patties) there are three new entrée options available each day of the week. Every 15 days a new menu is created, offering customers a constant variety of dishes such as vegetarian lasagna, ricotta and chard crepes and Thai-style risotto.

In rotation are over one hundred healthy recipes from around the world, all of which exclude artificial coloring, additives, canned products or preservatives. Many of the recipes use organic whole-wheat flour, and all food is prepared daily. Abuela Pan bakes 25 kilos of whole wheat bread per day, as patrons will note by the homey smell permeating the dining area. In the restaurant’s idealistic beginning all bread was baked in a homemade wood-burning mud oven but, in the end, it wasn’t practical for business.

Menu items range from pastries to veggie canoles to a heaping salad, all for reasonable prices. Visitors certainly won’t walk away hungry; included with each meal is a basket full of fresh-baked whole-wheat bread accompanied by some tasty puré de calabaza (pureed pumpkin). Bargain desserts include apple pie, carrot pudding and the classic rice pudding.

With only a few small tables for dining, it’s likely that you will have to wait to eat at peak hours, but the service is fast and weekday turnover is rapid, so the delay is usually brief.

In addition to their fabulous breads and sweets, you can pick up some frozen soy milanesas to cook at home or order delivery. For menu updates and prices, check out their website which also has some Argentine-style vegetarian recipes.

—by Avery White with Ande Wanderer

Abuela Pan—$$
Chile 518
San Telmo
Tel: 4361-4936 or 4300-1519

• Hours: Monday-Friday: 8am-7pm
Sundays: 9am-4pm

•Delivery hours: noon-3:30pm