WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
If you thought Argentina was still king of steak, think again.
Sizzling, seared on the outside. Juicy, chewy on the inside. This is a steak boasting that it’s the best meat not just in South America, but in the world. It must be from Argentina, you say? Nope. The Baby Beef Garcia is the pride of Uruguay. And it is worth changing hemispheres for.
There was a time that Uruguay sent its greatest cultural achievement to its neighbors. Traditionally, “the best meat was exported,” says Priscilla Vejo, a farmer whose mother was one of the first female beef producers in the nation. For centuries, its countryside was known for its asados — similar to barbecues, in homes with rooms dedicated solely to the task of cooking up carne asada, a thinly sliced beef. Now, though, delicious steak offerings are available everywhere, from the capital of Montevideo to popular beach vacation spots like Punta Carretas and Carrasco.
Chief among destinations for any meat-lovers touring this tiny nation — where grass-fed cows outnumber cow-fed people 3 to 1 — should be the Restaurante Garcia. Located on the lamp-lit, cobblestone Guipúzcoa Street in Montevideo, the menu includes hot and cold tapas, seafood and flan served on dark red tablecloths (for those seeking a feel for the restaurant, it has its own soundtrack posted online). But, of course, the main draw is the restaurant’s namesake steak dish, the Baby Beef Garcia.
A deficit of the English language is that it does not provide the proper adjectives to describe an exquisitely cooked steak. So close your eyes, and imagine the taste of tender perfection and mouthwatering juices … and then make up your own words. The Baby Beef Garcia meets the imagination, and what’s more, does so affordably: 565 Uruguayan pesos ($16) for the premium cut. That’s a steal, considering that top-shelf restaurants globally sell their best steaks for hundreds of dollars (the most expensive in the world, the 2000 vintage cote de boeuf at Boucherie Polmard in France, sells for more than $3,000).
For those wondering how Uruguay can serve up such a mind-blowing steak, just understand that the traditional mores of the beef industry are changing. Uruguay has sought to be recognized as the beef capital of the world ever since Argentina started ceding ground in 2006. Its meaty reputation was bolstered when Anthony Bourdain visited in an episode of Parts Unknownthat aired in May 2018, calling the country’s national sandwich, the chivito, a “terror-inspiring heap of protein.” Uruguayans love their beef more than any other country, consuming the most beef per capita in 2016 (more than 124 pounds annually), surpassing Argentina, Hong Kong and the United States, according to a report published last year by an industry blog tied to Nebraska-based agriculture company FarmCentric.
The Uruguayan industry does face some challenges. Pepe Bonica, a farmer and former president of the Rural Association of Uruguay, worries that future quality could be compromised as Brazilian companies have started buying up the processing chain. “If somebody wants to put a torpedo on the floating raft of the perception of Uruguayan beef, the Brazilians are able to do it.” And he admits that Argentina still has the upper hand, branding-wise.
Still, Uruguayan beef has advantages its neighbors can’t match. “It’s grass-fed, we don’t use hormones and we do have traceability,” Vejo says, referring to the nationwide electronic tracking system that allows customers to know the exact origin of their beef cuts. The world increasingly demands transparency in its food products, and there is an equal push for organic and local options. The biggest x-factor for Uruguayan meats, like the Baby Beef Garcia? You can take a big, juicy bite out of it — and still feel good about yourself afterward.