Argentina is nearly 12,000 miles away from China and culturally, the two are several worlds apart. By plane, it takes about 21 hours to travel from Buenos Aires to Beijing.
But in Las Vegas, it takes no more than a 30-second jog from Chinatown to Rincon de Buenos Aires, an Argentine restaurant nestled in the middle of a mile-long strip of noodle houses and massage parlors.
The tranquil Italian-style restaurant opened in October 1996, before Chinatown was established in the central part of the valley. Since then, Rincon de Buenos Aires has provided a family-oriented atmosphere and an authentic South American feel that goes well beyond the food on the menu.
“When they announced the new pope, all of the news stations came here and interviewed customers,” owner Johnny Garcia said. “We’re the only Argentinian restaurant in town. We have Lionel Messi and the pope.”
Life is good when your country is home to the world’s greatest soccer player and the leader of the Catholic Church.
But from the pictures of downtown Buenos Aires on the wall, to the authentic Quilmes beer, to the constant flow of soccer games being broadcast by TyC Deportes, Rincon de Buenos Aires is authentic Argentina.
The men speak loudly and with their hands, much like their Spanish predecessors. And when they aren’t marinading their steak with chimichurri, an Argentine sauce made of fresh parsley, oregano, garlic, oil and vinegar, they’re watching some of the most intense rivalries in soccer.
The Argentinians breathe soccer, and next to Catholicism, it is the country’s premier religion.
Garcia bought the restaurant from the original Argentinian owners six years ago. Though he’s from the Dominican Republic, Garcia said, Rincon de Buenos Aires caters to more than just Argentinians.
“We have all sorts of people come in,” he said. “Cubans, Brazilians, Peruvians, Americans, everybody. Even our employees. They’re Argentinian, Mexican, Colombian, Salvadorian, and I’m Dominican.”
Hugo Patti, the restaurant’s butcher since it opened, came to the United States from Cordoba, Argentina, when he was 24. Now 63, Patti has brought a lifetime of skills as a South American butcher to Las Vegas.
“It’s part of my life,” Patti said. “I’ve been a butcher since I was 10. I love the job that I do. I like cutting the meat the Argentinian way. I want to do it the right way like they do it back home. It makes me feel like I’m there.”
Rincon de Buenos Aires is on Spring Mountain Road between Decatur and Jones boulevards. It hasn’t always been lost in the Asian-influenced part of town that attracts thousands of tourists because of its closeness to the Strip.
“When we opened there was no Chinatown here. There was nothing,” Patti said. “We decided to open it here because of its closeness to the Strip.”
The South American and Asian cultures are about as apples and oranges as one could get. Throughout the bustling Asian markets that attract thousands of tourists a year, the local population flocks to Rincon de Buenos Aires.
“We get more locals than we do tourists,” Garcia said.
Because Argentina is known for its beef, the menu at Rincon de Buenos Aires caters to the average carnivore with several cuts including New York steak, sirloins, short ribs, filets and the restaurant’s most popular steak, entraña.
And, next to the long deli that runs halfway through the store, in the corner of the restaurant, is a small market that offers groceries brought from Argentina. Garcia said they get deliveries from Argentina every couple weeks.
“We’ve got good service and great food,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
A family atmosphere echoes throughout the restaurant. It’s a step into a culture that isn’t popular in Las Vegas, especially when it’s forced to be “little brother” to the Chinatown with which it shares a neighborhood.
But the authentic food and friendly service of Rincon de Buenos Aires brings a much-needed culture shock to Las Vegas.
Even the “Pray for me Argentina” banner that hangs outside the window next to the cafe tables makes you feel different. Culturally different. When leaving, they’ll kiss each other on the cheek and say “ciao,” just like they do in Argentina.
Contact Steven Slivka at SSlivka@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0264.