Most fantastic restaurants are simply great dining experiences, with amazing service, quality food, décor, etc. You walk away from a meal like that feeling satisfied, but you don’t feel altered in any way. Occasionally though, you come across a place that may not be the fanciest, hippest, or most populist in fine cuisine, yet somehow manages to invoke a vibe that lets you know a little something about the culture that produced it.
Tango Baires Café belongs to the latter category—tasty food with an authentic Argentinean aura to it, a taste that simply transcends the norm.
In fact, the minute I walked in the café I felt as if I was anyplace but Upland. First of all, the waiter in Tango Baires addressed me in Español when I walked in, no cheesy Hola . . . Buenos Dias El Torrito patter. Secondly, there’s a real lack of hurry to the service; none of the “are you done working on that?” inanities that sometimes crop up even in the better restaurants in the area. The staff clearly understands the balance between being attentive without being overbearing. With an Argentinean soccer match on, a beer, amidst a full house of ex-pat South Americans, I only had to close my eyes and imagine I was in Buenos Aires.
None of this would have mattered if the food weren’t as good as the vibe. Tango Baires serves up quality, authentic Argentinean faire at reasonable prices. It’s the kind of place where old ladies come by to pick up a dozen empanadas. The two versions I tried rank amongst the best empanadas I’ve ever eaten. The spinach version contains just creamy spinach and semi-spicy wedges of red pepper (like a spinach pie), yet its ingredients are brought to a level of perfection that could rival any empanada, anywhere. The ham and cheese version was also first-rate, with tiny cubes of ham swimming in a sea of Gruyere cheese. The reason that both versions stand out is obviously the crust itself, flaky and crispy yet with a buttery-soft consistency when bitten into.
I had decided to go for a tapas-like selection of appetizers as a way of getting an overall feel for Tango; consequently, I ordered up an order of jamon crudos, a plate that was almost childlike in its simplicity—prosciutto rolls, heart of palm, tomatoes with a small bowl of salsa. The prosciutto however is excellent, better than one can find in 90% of the deli markets in SoCal, while the tomatoes are fresh and subtly spiced with oregano and basil. The heart of palm mixes wonderfully with the salsa—which is not the kind we’ve come to expect in the States, but the more authentic version of 1000 Island dressing that one sees throughout Spain and South America.
It’s worth pointing out just how much Argentinean cooking is influenced by Italy, due mainly to the influx of Italians into the country toward the end of the 19th century. Thus, at Tango Baires half the menu choices are either pasta or pizza, with one of the main differences being that in Argentinean pizza they use more dough than their Italian counterparts. As with other South American restaurants, you can get order an egg on just about anything.
This here reviewer will be going back to Tango Baires Café, if for one reason only—there’s a hell amount of menu left to eat, and it all looks bueno.
Tango Baires Café, 870 East Foothill Blvd Upland, (909) 985-6800; www.tangobairescafe.com. Open seven days a week, 8:00AM–8:00PM