Located just two hours east of Buenos Aires is a weekend retreat for food lovers. Carlos Keen (population 500) is growing in popularity as it attracts daytrippers from Buenos Aires and the nearby town of Luj??n. What draws people to this small town? Good, old-fashion Argentine country cooking.
At first glance, Carlos Keen looks like a forgotten railway town in the Argentinean pampas. The old brick railway station stands in the town center while long grass and dandelions overtake the railway tracks. Look deeper and you’ll find that this tiny village is not as deserted as it seems at first.
Like many similar turn of the 20th century railway towns, Carlos Keen was set to grow with increasing trade. The large church, station house, and spacious central square are reminders of the town’s rich history. Argentina once had one of the largest rail networks in the world, until an unsuccessful plan to nationalize it in 1940 and a disastrous attempt to re-privatize it in 1993. Hundreds of stations closed, threatening small towns that relied on them. Carlos Keen is one of the few that has turned things around.
The town’s transformation began when the family-run Angelus restaurant opened 12 years ago. The beautiful restaurant wouldn’t look out of place in an upscale Buenos Aires district, yet the bare-brick walls and antiques create a country dining room vibe. The food is 100% Argentinean, with a set menu costing 80 pesos.
Today, Carlos Keen has about a dozen restaurants, mostly lining the streets around the central field. Menus are similar, so it is best to stroll around and see what strikes your eye. One excellent restaurant set away from the main square and a short walk away is Los Girasole. This organic farm-restaurant-guesthouse is also a refuge for local boys from troubled homes. While the Argentinean campo (countryside) is not ideal for vegetarians, most places do offer a range of homemade pastas. Try the delicious pumpkin, honey, and cracked black pepper ravioli at La Casona de Carlos Keen.
Carlos Keen isn’t the only former Argentinean railway town to reinvent itself. A few miles further east is Tom??s Jofr?� and southwest of Buenos Aires is the town of Uribelarrea. The common tie linking these old railway towns together and drawing visitors to their restaurants is that meals are designed to be eaten at a leisurely pace. So leisurely in fact that lunch is practically a day-long event, ideal for those on a relaxing Argentina vacation.