Like a Local in Barrio Brasil, Santiago
Although its proximity to central Santiago means it’s easy to get to, the fact that it has been almost cut off from the city’s historical centre by the construction of the Norte-Sur Highway means the barrio has retained a certain individuality. It’s the sort of low-key neighbourhood where everyone walks to where they’re going, enjoying the sunshine and the still-standing rococo and gothic-style mansions built by some of Chile’s wealthiest families back in the 1920s. Many of them have now been converted into hotels and apartments.
The main boulevard, Avenida Brasil, runs from north to south, and is where mechanics’ garages and classic architecture create a visual puzzle. Just off it is a small street – and neighbourhood – called Concha y Toro, with cobbled streets and historic buildings. There’s a strong French influence here, but the focal point is a beautiful plaza, with a fountain at its heart. Sit in the window at Tales, order a coffee and watch the passing parade of people.
If you really want to eat something traditional, though, head to Santo Barrio and order chorillana, a plate of french fries topped with sliced beef, egg and fried onion. It goes perfectly with a litre of Torobayo pale ale from the Kuntsmann Brewery in Valdivia, in southern Chile.
For something more substantial, Restaurante Juan y Medio sets the benchmark when it comes to Chilean cuisine. You can order any number of specialties, which range from roasted chicken and spicy pork ribs to brined rabbit, but be aware: this restaurant is known for its huge portions. Nearly everyone who eats here goes home with leftovers.
All of these places – and many more – are located along Avenida Brasil, where the epicentre of the neighbourhood is the Plaza Brasil, the local square at the corner of Calle Huérfanos. Tiny, welcoming cafes surround it and, on hot summer days, you’ll find people sitting around, chatting and drinking beers. There are also a number of colourful sculptures by Federica Matta, where children play and hide from one another.
Here is home to Galpón Víctor Jara, a cultural centre covered in vibrant murals honouring Jara’s memory. He was a theatre director, singer-songwriter, poet, political activist and member of the Communist Party of Chile, who was tortured and killed soon after the Chilean coup of 1973. Although most of his recordings were burned by Pinochet’s military dictatorship, his wife Joan managed to smuggle some out of the country and they were later copied and distributed. Joan opened this centre to keep Víctor’s music and artistic legacy alive, both by ensuring his archive is kept safe and continuing his work.
The square is where many nights out begin. Those looking for something sophisticated and modern should head to Baires Sushi Club (its sister establishment Cosmopolitan is almost directly across the road). Grab a seat outside to browse the long cocktail list and take a peek at the attractive locals. But if raw fish is your end game, try Estrella Marina Sushi Fusión, overlooking Plaza Brasil. Combining the flavours of Japan and Peru, it offers some of the best sushi in Santiago.
There are also plenty of other options around here for a meal. You’ll smell Las Vacas Gordas – where huge steaks and racks of ribs sizzle on the grill – before you see it. You can try the Chilean version of a Pisco Sour here – made with Chilean pisco and pica lime – but most locals go for red wine. The service is great, too – not that you’ll go hungry, but the bread on the table never seems to run out.
Another of my favorite places, El Charro de Oro, a Mexican taqueria, isn’t too far away either. It’s a small but colourful spot – there’s a large mural representing Aztec culture – serving different types of tacos best consumed with a bottle of Tecate. Further north in the neighbourhood, visit Galpón Persa Balmaceda, a huge warehouse space filled with antiques dealers. Wandering from stall to stall is a bit like time travelling through different eras of Santiago. If you walk here on Sunday (when it’s open until 6pm) you’ll see Barrio Brasil at play. This is our day off, and it’s when families enjoy one another’s company, often touring the barrio on bikes.
Calle Agustinas is a true representation of the neighbourhood. A market pops up here on Sunday where people, mostly immigrants from Peru, Colombia and Ecuador, sell tables of items, from used hardware to handmade clothing. This is where I go for a Sunday breakfast of juices made from mango, passionfruit and pineapple and, at Avenida Libertad, pick up produce for the rest of the week – seafood, purple corn, cassava and potatoes are all on offer. It’s here you witness the true essence – the life and soul – of Barrio Brasil.