What’s the Deal With
Argentinean Steakhouses in Amsterdam?
By SEBASTIAN HEGMAR | May 20, 2020
Cover photo by Kira Guehring / The Amsterdammer
As I strolled around Amsterdam during my first few days in the city, I couldn’t help but notice a strange pattern. Around every corner there seemed to be at least one Argentinean steakhouse covered in goatskin with a massive neon-lit bull staring intensely into my soul. All of the restaurants appeared to follow the same cookie cutter format. There wasn’t any cultural connection I could draw to explain this, and none of my friends could offer any insight. The reason why Indonesian restaurants are here can easily be explained with the two countries’ colonial history, but why Argentina? And most importantly, why so many? One Reddit user said that it’s “to keep the giant Guinea pigs out” and another user labeled it “the Forbidden Question.” Unfortunately, the answer may not be as exciting or interesting as you would have hoped.
In 1981, Jaime Dobson and Daniël Uzcudun established the first Rancho Argentinean Grill in Amsterdam. Their business proved to be successful as they now collectively run seven Rancho’s around the city as well as three Tex-Mex restaurants and two Tapas bars. As you have probably noticed by now, these are mostly sprinkled around the most touristy areas in the centre of Amsterdam. Many copycats obviously thought it was a good idea to follow Rancho’s blueprint which eventually resulted in the overflow we see today.
That’s all well and good, but why was it such a success? There are a few arguments floating around by locals on TripAdvisor, Quora and Reddit. Something almost everyone writes about is the simple and revenue-friendly formula of the restaurants themselves. They mostly offer steaks and cheap side dishes such as baked potatoes, fries and lettuce on their menus. This makes it a cash cow (pun intended) for a few reasons. Frozen steaks can be purchased by restaurants in bulk and then sold for high prices. In fact, one person argued that steaks are one of the most expensive ‘simple foods’ out there. This means that despite their hefty prices, steaks can easily be prepared without hiring skilled chefs. It should also be noted that tourists usually don’t require service from experienced waiters, and the drinks are notoriously overpriced as well. That last part shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. In short, only the bare minimum is paid for by the restaurants themselves in order to keep the operation as profitable as possible.
A steak-with-fries combo is a ‘safe’ option to have on your menu because it’s almost universally beloved and therefore appreciated by unadventurous tourists. Speaking of which, a whopping 80% of Rancho’s customers are tourists. You can be rest assured that most Amsterdammers don’t make a habit out of eating at these restaurants. Any married couple x from the UK is much more likely to chow down on a flavorful rump steak at Los Argentinos any day of the week. Another explanation worth bringing up is that Argentina has a reputation for having some of the world’s best beef, characterized by its tenderness and rich flavor. Much of this comes from the cattle being grass-fed as opposed to grain-fed which is more popular in America. It therefore makes sense for restaurant owners to (undeservedly) claim the “Argentinean” label to boost their prestige. These are more often than not just simple, middle-of-the-road steakhouses which couldn’t hold a candle to the authentic stuff.
Even though this explanation isn’t overly fascinating, it will hopefully put some minds at ease. I still think it’s a shame that the city center doesn’t have a more diverse selection of restaurants and a higher quality control put in place. I often struggle to find good restaurants in these areas that don’t feel like money laundry operations. All of the tourist traps with their bright colors and eye-catching signs hurt the overall aesthetic of the city in my opinion. It’s not just an Argentinean steakhouse problem at the end of the day, but rather a bigger ‘problem’ many popular cities are faced with around the world. Unfortunately, since that current model seems to be a very profitable one, I don’t see any changes happening any time soon.
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