My Favorite Hood in Santiago: Bellas Artes/Lastarria

by Liz Caskey on May 7, 2010

My disappearance from the blogosphere in the past 2 weeks has largely been due to another move. Yes, after 8 months of living in the farther reaches of the Ñuñoa burbs far, far, far away from the metro and signs of urban life, I am back DOWNTOWN in my favorite hood in Santiago: Bellas Artes (Fine Arts)/Lastarria. This time around, my husband and I were fortunate enough to have found, and become the proud owners of, a remodeled apartment, ironically one floor below where we used to live.

This neighborhood provokes a deep love and appreciation in my heart. I adore it to pieces. Every morning as I look out over the lush, verdant trees of Parque Forestal, with the Fine Arts museum to my left and the sun coming up over the towering San Cristóbal with the Virgin (Guardian of Santiago), I give thanks to live in this part of capital. Just out my doorstep are cool bars, sublime sushi, thin crust Roman-style pizza, colonial-style Chilean pastries, the best ice cream in Santiago, dozens of hipster cafés, cutting edge art galleries, yoga studios, TWO metro stops, and most importantly, the Mercado Central (fish market) and La Vega (amazing produce, cheese, and everything else) are only 10 minutes away on foot. No need for a car with this address. Oh, and last but certainly not least, awesome people abound in the downtown, an ecclectic mix from my caseros to gringo neighbors. Blessed? Absolutely. And I never forget it, especially after my short stint in suburbia which was NOT my cup of tea.

Beyond the convenience and a very spacious apartment to roam around, this part of Santiago feels different. It has character. It walks to a distinct beat. It feels a little European;  definitely a lot Latin. Things happen on the street and in the park. Here the gay community is welcome (not always the case, unfortunately, in very conservative Catholic Chile), young professionals and families hang out with older generations. Hipsters, artists, intellectuals, entrepreneurs, and tourists mingle and sip and soak up the cosmopolitan ambience.

While there are so many places in this hood, you’d need a foodie guide like Eat Wine Santiago as your companion, I want to take you on a short virtual walk with me through a few of my local digs within a 5-6 block radius. If you’re visiting Santiago, DO NOT miss this part of the city. It’s the heart of what’s happening, what’s cool, and gives you a taste of what this city is all about. After all, in 1545 the Spanish Conqueror Pedro de Valdivia founded Santiago de la Nueva Extremadura in what is today Cerro (Hill) Santa Lucía. Listos? Let’s do it.

Take the Metro to the Bellas Artes stop (green line or Line 5). As you exit, you’ll see lots of tables on the sidewalk across the way and surely some budding musicians putting on a show. In the hub of restaurants is one of Santiago’s Golden Boys of Sushi: Kintaro. Fittingly, Kintaro in Japanese means “Golden Boy”.  Don’t walk past it—it’s easy to miss with its nondescript facade. Kintaro goes back decades and packs in a mixed Chilean, expat, and Asian crowd who chow down on ethereal rolls, satiny sashimi, satisfying udon, and dozens of other enticing dishes coming out of the kitchen and sushi bar at lightning speed.  Try the sushi makimoni with a dozen nigiri. The owner Kazu is always on site and this place WILL itch any sushi hankering.

Right around the corner on José Miguel de la Barra is Verace. If you’re looking for a tasty thin crust pizza with the right balance of tomato sauce and ooey-gooey mozzarella don’t look farther. Try some gorgeous toppings like the rústica with Serrano ham and fresh arugula. Head over the bustling street, Merced. Half a block down on the right, you’ll hit a great Asian grocer, Chinese Mark, stocking the fixings for pad thai to homemade tofu, oyster sauce, fermented black beans, and black vinegar. If you’re an Asian food freak like myself, this will be your Mecca. Conveniently across the street is a very well stocked Lider Express supermarket.

On the corner of Miraflores, hang a left. You may smell the waft of tingly eucalyptus filling the air. As you get to what appears to be a parking garage, take the flight of stairs down to the basement. Yes, the basement. Here you’ll find one of the super old school institutions in Santiago: Turkish steam baths at Baños Miraflores. A spa that’s been around for decades, the draw is the hot-hot-hot steam bath (vents covered with fresh Eucalyptus branches) and dry sauna, plus insanely cheap massages and facials. Go there to detox in the smoggy winter months or get rid of a nasty sinus cold—or just relax. You’ll also get a slice of Chilean spa culture on the side. Try their succulent orange-carrot fresh vitamina, juice, from the bar (or have a beer like the hard core spa-goers do).

After, cross the street to Tostaduria Talca, for wholesome, natural products from the countryside: dried nuts, fruits, spices, grains, and more.  Try to control yourself when you walk in: the store smells toasty and divine.  Here, they have toasted peanuts in a half dozen flavors, including merkén; Turkish apricots; dried pitted sour cherries; dates; several varieties of raisins and prunes; desiccated coconut; crystallized ginger; three kinds of quinoa (regular, black, and red); flours such as rye, garbanzo, rice, and lentil; hard-to-find spices like ground mustard, ground cilantro seed, and black mustard seeds; shelled pistachios; European hazelnuts; crunchy nut confit. This is your best bet for stocking up on non-junk food travel snacks.

Let’s go back to our “hub” of José Miguel de la Barra which connects Santa Lucía Hill with the highways that run along the Mapocho River like the Costanera. All along José Miguel de la Barra, you’ll find cafés, restaurants and bars like Catedral and Opera with live music on the weekends. Walk down the scenic Subercaseaux to a picturesque corner with a gorgeous French apartment building. On street level, you’ll see ONA, a high end artisan handicrafts store where you can score beautiful Mapuche jewelry, alpaca shawls, and hand-carved wooden bowls from the South. They also have a café and deli selling artisan cheeses, tar-like espresso, jams from the countryside and the spice Merkén.

Walk up Rosal to Lastarria. This is the Bohemian heart of the neighborhood with many cafés like Patagonia with its artisan beers and homey pastas to the Cine Biografo that shows many foreign flicks. Nestled up in the Plaza Mulato Gil is the MAVI, Visual Arts Museum, housing some of the city’s best contemporary art. Next door is the Café del Museo. Opened in the old Galería Moro location next to the museum, this hip café sports white walls with natural light that illuminates the minimalist surroundings which are decorated with reupholstered vintage furniture in wild magenta, purple, indigo, and paisley fabrics.  Cafés are served up with tempting sweet nibbles like luxurious Damien Mercer chocolates and a variety of gourmet sandwiches and salads pepper the menu, such as a pastrami-pickle sandwich or a ciabatta with smoked salmon, dill, and watercress.  If you’re in need of an Ashtanga or Iyengar yoga class, just head up the stairs to Om Yoga.

Cross Merced where it unites with Monjitas next to the old French Embassy (careful with the micros, buses, they don’t always respect the crosswalk). Here you’ll find Emporio La Rosa. With its parkside location on Santiago’s green Parque Forestal, this was the pioneer over six years ago in the neighborhood bringing gourmet goodies and succulent ice cream to the Centro. It is now a destination for the city’s best ice cream. Outside tables are scarce on sunny afternoons so order a scoop of love in over thirty unique flavors like manjar, sweet milk caramel; dark chocolate; cherimoya, custard apple; the native, nutty-tasting lucuma, an indigenous fruit; and seasonal flavors like castaña (chestnut) and plátanos con miel de palma, banana with palm syrup.  For the adventurous, flavors like dark chocolate with chili, chocolate and basil, rose, or strawberry and black pepper are not to be missed.  Neighborhood residents also visit to sip frothy lattes and nibble chocolate croissants while they read the morning paper on Sundays (yes, it’s divine).

Take your cone and cross the street into shady Parque Forestal. Admire the grand apartment buildings lining the cobblestone street, all built in the 1940s. Make your way towards the impressive Fine Arts Museum on the corner of José Miguel de la Barra. Cop a squat on a bench to watch the pedigrees and babies play. Let your eyes rest from the urban movement, for a moment, in the soothing, natural green. Be sure to look up and wave. You may just see me hanging out on my balcony with a glass of wine. This barrio is a delight. You’ll see.

For more info, also check out this site for the hood: www.barriolastarria.com I also want to send a big thanks out to local photographer Juan Nosé for the great pic crossing José Miguel de la Barra and fellow blogger/wine writer, Margaret Snook for capturing Parque Forestal in Fall.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

jacqueline church May 7, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I remember the beautiful parks in Chile andthe Fine Arts Museum. I loved watching couples some young some ancient, holding hands sweetly giving a peck on the cheek here or there, walking the tiled sidewalks. Chileans have to be some of the sweetest people I’ve met!

The photo above reminds me of another park bench encounter with a little boy in his ubiquitous Catholic school uniform. We were near the Natural History museum and he asked if could sit with us a few minutes. We said sure and asked how he ripped his pants. It was near dinner time, too so we asked if he shouldn’t be on his way home.

He was at the museum because he loved the big animals inside. Also, he was delaying going home because of the ripped pants, torn in a playground incident. He was pretty sure his Mom wouldn’t be too happy about it. He had an ingenious plan, hang out at his favorite museum, eat a treat from the ice cream truck and wait. At least he was enjoying himself. After a while, he decided it was time to go face the music. He put a brave face on, bid us farewell and marched off for home.

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Randy Havre May 8, 2010 at 1:32 am

Aloha Liz,

Great read! I can visualize it all. My wife and I have a running route from Pedro de Valdivia to the Museum and back that even in the winter is choice. Now we have more places to check out.

Mahalo,

Randy

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Kristi Davis May 9, 2010 at 5:24 pm

It sounds fantastic! Love the pictures, it brings everything to life. I’ll have to visit someday.

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