Tuesday, August 17, 2010

El Hoyo vs. La Piojera (two traditional Chilean restos do battle here on bearshapedsphere)

In the timeless tradition of comparing things that are similar yet not the same, and about which people will have strong opinions (I give you traveler vs. tourist, blogger vs. travel writer, Chile vs. Argentina), I would like to pose to you today the question, if you had to choose just one meat-centered cultura guachaca typical Chilean restaurant that serves meat, more meat, wine, chicha and terremotos, which would you choose, El Hoyo or La Piojera?

El Hoyo and La Piojera are described in approximately the same terms. Traditional, down-home, a good place for a bar fight, but visited by friends and families alike in the afternoons. They're unpretentious, serve hearty portions, have websites (!) and just kind of generally make up what some Santiaguinos think is some of the best culture, ambience (where ambience is of the state-fair variety) and vast portions of meat the city has to offer.

I (a non-meat eater, perish the thought!) have been to both (as I imagine, have some of you), and here are my thoughts on the matter.

On the language front:

La Piojera

Name meaning: Place where lice jump about (lousery?), for the full-on hopping environment.
Jokes associated with name: Blissfully, none.

El Hoyo

Name meaning: The hole.
Jokes associated with name, at least two (both rated R): Has probado la lengua en el hoyo? (Lit: have you tried the tongue in the hole? (referring to the fact that they serve tongue at El Hoyo). No es el mismo el hoyo de arriba como el de abajo (The hole on top is not the same as the hole towards the bottom)
Bonus on the language: the waiter at El Hoyo complimented me vociferously on my Spanish, but the people at La Piojera said nothing.

Location

La Piojera is one big leap (maybe 20 meters) from the Cal y Canto metro. This neighborhood is dodgy at night, and if you think you're the only one that knows you were drinking in La Piojera, you are mistaken. Address: Aillavilú 1030, beside the Mercado Central.

El Hoyo is located along a side street near Estación Central. Quiet neighborhood with no through traffic because the bus terminal cuts off transit. If you go at night with anything less than a phalanx accompanying you, take a cab home, but during the day it's fine, and I actually walked there not too long ago from República, and it was fine, but that's me, not you. Address: San Vicente 375

Websites

Chile is one of the most connected countries in the world. Surely you don't think a little thing like giant slabs of meat would come between you and technology!

La Piojera's website
starts with a picture of the front of the building, which is handy for finidng it if you've never been there. That's about the end of the practical information. No menu, no English translation, just lots of grainy photos.

El Hoyo's website has an English translation, the menu, and a map. They show you specifically the barrels that people stand around to enjoy the nibbles and (more importantly) drinks, and also have pictures of the food.

Food

Here I will admit to being at a loss. I don't eat meat, haven't in years (that's why I need your help!) Both places seem to serve all the traditional meat specialties, including

Lengua-tongue
Carne Mechada- Pot roast (sort of)
Arrollado- rolled up meat with more meat inside
Cazuela-brothy soup with meat and vegetables
Pichanga- a mixed plate para picar (as an appetizer) of grilled chunks of sandwich meats and hard boiled eggs, olives and pickled vegetables.

I can also vouch that El Hoyo has a giant salad with a hefty portion of every vegetable in season and an entire avocado, because that's what I ate when I was there.

Drinks

Terremotos: Both El Hoyo and La Piojera serve terremotos (literally: earthquake), a kind of young wine with a scoop of pineapple ice cream on top, served in a glass reminiscent of an old jam jar. I am not a huge fan of this drink, but can say that the one at La Piojera also has Fernet (a distilled alcohol commonly drunk in Argentina) in it, and that it's more bitter than the one served at El Hoyo, which just has the wine and the ice cream. The second round is called a réplica (aftershock).

Chicha: Both places also serve chicha in season, which is a kind of alcoholic grape (or apple) cider, normally available in September and surrounding months. It's sweet enough to confuse you into drinking too much.

Vino: I was at El Hoyo not long ago with Margaret of Cachando Chile, and she's a winewriter among many other talents, and she picked some fabulous wines for us to drink, at reasonable prices. I did not check out the wine list at La Piojera, but am guessing El Hoyo has more reliable wines. Confirm? Deny?

Ambience

El Hoyo makes you feel like you're going into someone's grandmother's country house because grandma up and moved to Reñaca, and they moved her piano out and put a bar in. It's a multi-roomed space, drafty and beat up, with the aforementioned barrels and judicious application of the Chilean flag's colors (which you Americans may notice bear a striking resemblance to your flag's colors). It's reasonably well-lit and when you sit down at your table you really could be at many lower-to-middle-class restaurants present "a lo largo de Chile" (the length of Chile).

La Piojera feels rustic, from the second you walk past the security guy posted outside until you shake the sawdust off your feet on the way out. It is dark, gives the impression of a cave, of a this-is-for-hardworking-men kind of place. There's a fabulous old cash register all decked out in elaborate metal tooling, and if you're lucky, someone's grandmother (or greatgrandmother) behind the bar. It's one giant room, and can get loud and messy, but that's what the patrons like.

Testimonials:

Anthony Bourdain came to Chile on No Reservations, and was not particularly wowed by the food. I don't think it's because he was taken to the wrong places, just that Chilean cuisine is still improving, and is actually improving by leaps and bounds at the moment. He was taken to El Hoyo, which he pronounced the best food he'd eaten in Chile, but then, his handlers took him to El Hoyo, and not La Piojera.

So I throw it to the wind. What say you, expat gringos, santiaguinos, people who have swung through Santiago on a lark, a whim or a long bus ride. I put it to you now:

El Hoyo or La Piojera? And why, if you don't mind.

Also, if you want to see what I said about these restos in more (or different) detail, feel free to check out the pages I wrote for them for NileGuide. It's a paid gig, so if you prefer not to send any money to the man (or in this case to me), please, by all means, do not click. Nothing if not transparent, don'tchaknow.

El Hoyo on NileGuide
La Piojera on NileGuide

And yes, I take pictures of all the food everyone eats and the outside of every restaurant I've ever been to, and I never tell the people why I'm there, and no NileGuide does not pay for my food, though they did for the $5 lunch blog, but I didn't eat that sandwich, so I'm not sure that counts.

And now back to the questions at hand: La Piojera (whoops, wrote about that one once before) or El Hoyo, and why? And if you've never been to either, which one sounds more your style?

7 comments:

Leigh said...

El Hoyo, hands down. Neighborhood loyalty aside, I found it to be a much more pleasant experience. You don't have to fight to get service or a table or bring an oxygen tank to breathe through all the cigarette smoke. The atmosphere is rowdy enough to make it fun but not so out of control that you have to shout all your conversations. The wait staff is friendly and quite skilled at making dirty "hoyo" puns. Most importantly, the terremotos are better! And the chicha barrels they use for tables are awesome.

BB said...

¡El Hoyo! Porque era el lugar donde iba mi abuelo y no ha cambiado el sabor de sus sánguches en 50 años.

sarabeck said...

Okay, I'm going to be a party pooper on this one but I really don't like either. I have bad luck and both of those places are like bad mojo for me. Plus, the food is okay, but nothing to brag about. I'm not terribly into terremotos or large drinks... basically I don't really get it.

Heather said...

I can't choose yet, but all I can say is that an attempt was made to visit La Piojera on Sat. night and we couldn't get in because we had arrived 5 minutes after a major brawl and they wouldn't let us in!

Anonymous said...

Todo es mucho mejor en el Hoyo, y su ambiente es ideal para ir a almorzar en familia. El terremoto de la Piojera es un bodrio, y su ambiente es ideal para ir con los amigos un viernes por la tarde.

Margaret said...

Hey, come to think of it- we were newbies at both of these places together!
OK- I'm calling apples and oranges on this one. They may both be traditional, authentic Santiaguino fruit (how's that for stretching a metaphor), I wouldn't go to La Piojera to eat or to El Hoyo to drink. I see the former as a bar with food and the latter as a restaurant with a bar.
So- you wanna overindulge in down-home pork delights in a funkily interesting though hardly charming fluorescent-lit dining room? El Hoyo's your place (although the bar does have its charm). You want to rub Guachaca-style elbows & maybe dance a cueca or two while downing a terremoto, cheap wine, or perhaps your best bet, bottled beer--La Piojera's your place.

Oh yeah--and I definitely vote for the Terremotos in El Hoyo--I think I even finished mine!

Anonymous said...

Hey. I just wanted to stop by and say "what an awesome blog!". I just really, really love it. Its great for a Chilean to get a glimpse at how our stuff is perceived by a foreign person.
Keep up the good work!