SAN JUAN, Argentina — We had hired a driver for the day, as was our custom. The mountain roads twist and turn and we were there to taste wine. Other than wineries, San Juan is a sleepy town in the northwest, not far from the Chilean border. Argentines had told us that nothing much happens here. We went anyway. The air conditioning inside the car was a welcome reprieve from the sweltering heat. Our driver, despite his Mercedes, was unkempt with wavy, wild hair and a worn red T-shirt. We asked him to take us somewhere for a good lunch. He whipped left and took off without a word.
He pulled into a YPF (Fiscal Petroleum Fields) service station. Maybe he needed to fill up? Then he motioned to the roadside restaurant beside the station.
Inside it was refreshingly icebox cold. Argentines have a national obsession with super chilled beer. We brushed past racks offering regional wines and sought out the tap. In this scorching heat, nothing less than a pitcher of clean, light Quilmes, the local brew, could quench our thirst. At the counter, we flipped through the plastic menu book. We were surprised to see so many Mexican dishes and even though we were curious about the burritos, we weren’t curious enough to order them. We opted instead for the local specialties and headed for a table.
A few minutes later, a waitress brought napkins and flatware. We sipped the delicious beer. Then she brought a basket of bread with aioli and marinated garlic, then a salad, piled with fire-engine-red tomatoes and crisp iceberg, dressed with oil and vinegar.
Then our entrees: milanesas de pollo, a cousin of chicken schnitzel and an Argentine specialty. This version came with a head of roasted garlic and peach chutney. The french fries were standard and good, accompanied by hash browns. There was also a sunny-side up egg, the yolk soft and runny, which made a dipping sauce for both fries and chicken.
We peeked through the blinds into the glaring sun and the whirling dust. Surrounded by absolute nothingness in a very unremarkable gas station, we were dining well.