In need of pampering that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg? Reward yourself with a meal at harmoniously posh, yet low-key, Café El Observatorio. Housed on the first floor of an elegantly modern refurbished mansion in the heart of the picturesque Lastarria neighborhood, Café El Observatorio is the gastronomic arm of the El Observatorio de Lastarria foundation.
Photo by Carla Pasten
The foundation’s several business ventures—gift shop, swanky underground restaurant, café, event space and art gallery—converge under one roof, all with the same mission: to preserve and celebrate the cultural heritage of Chile’s many distinct regions. Although the café doesn’t reflect this mission by serving regional Chilean cuisine, the food there certainly is tasty.
Café El Observatorio serves several garden-variety sandwiches (ranging from CP$2,500 to $3,000, or US$4.63 to $5.55), but some of their sandwiches which come with more rare (for Santiago) Mediterranean ingredients like melted goat cheese, ricotta, arugula and olive tapenade. But if you’ve tried the deliciously flaky quiches (CP$3,200, or US$5.92), you may have trouble straying from the quiche corner of the menu. These savory tortes come in simple but delectable flavors such as spinach or artichoke, but the star of the pack is the pumpkin and goat cheese combo. The surprising sweetness of the pumpkin perfectly contrasts the saltiness of the smooth goat cheeses, making for a memorable medley of flavors.
If you’re going to try a salad, the Greek Salad, which comes with olives and lightly grilled semi-soft goat cheese, is a satisfying option, mostly due to the scrumptiousness of the cheese. In addition, all the salads here come topped with actual dressings—quite a surprise in a city that is content to top its raw veggies with lemon and oil, no más.
The best thing about the quiches, daily specials and salads is that they can be ordered “menu” style, meaning that they come with a soft drink, soup/salad, coffee and dessert—all for CP$4,400 (US$8.14). Sure this isn’t dirt cheap, but considering the amount of food and drink you get with this pack plan, you certainly get your money’s worth (it shaves about CP$2,000, or US$3.70, off of what you would pay if you were to buy everything separately). Although the menu plan starts out with a forgettable soup/salad, it finishes with a bang with an intensely sweet suspiro limeño custard-and-meringue dessert contrasted nicely by your choice of strong, full-bodied espresso drinks.
If you just want coffee or dessert, Café El Observatorio has all the normal beverages and a wide selection of flavored teas, plus they offer coffee and dessert promotion combos before noon and after 6 pm that can cut CP$1,000 (US$1.85) off your bill. The dessert menu has the old standbys pie de limón (lemon pie) and kuchen (fruit pie), but it also features several dessert crepes (CP$2,500, or US$4.63) with rich fillings such as chocolate-orange, and almond-manjar (dulce de leche).
After you’ve polished off your coffee and said goodbye to your unbelievably friendly waiter (the wait staff here is practically saintly by Santiago standards), browse artisan-crafted clothing, home décor and pantry-fillers at the foundation’s cozy shop; or take a turn about the upstairs gallery, a loft with rotating exhibitions showcasing indigenous art. And if you don’t have time to look around, don’t sweat it. You’ll be back to Café El Observatorio.
Café El Observatorio
José Victorio Lastarria 203, Santiago Centro (Lastarria and Villavicencio)
Metro: Universidad Católica
Phone: 639 1627 (they take reservations)
Hours of Operation: Monday through Friday 8:30 am to 10 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 10 pm