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