Although Santiago has most recently become a staple in modern South American dining for the efforts of the team at Boragó and their relentless pursuit of the ingredients that only Chile has to offer, if you consult just about any guide book, travel article, ‘best of’ account or other such references to Santiago’s cuisine, Liguria is the name that will, more than likely, appear most often. What began more than twenty years ago as a great place to get focused versions of classic Chilean dishes, a glass of wine or a proper cocktail after work in Santiago’s financial district, Liguria has achieved iconic status among Santiaguinos, and with good reason. Now with three locations, a fourth on the way, and a clientele that is as dedicated to the restaurant as football fans are to their respective teams, Liguria is a must when discussing Chilean cuisine.
How does a restaurant achieve icon status? Persistence. And a killer vibe.
Liguria now boasts three locations with a fourth on the way, each with their own environment, though each uniquely representative of the brand as a whole, but you wouldn’t dare call Liguira a chain. Far from it, in fact. Spread out across Santiago’s Providencia and soon to be in the hot Lastarria neighborhood, each location is merely an extension of the other, ensuring that even if one location is packed to the brim, you won’t have to miss out on your Liguria experience. And although the size and shape and layout of each of the spaces is different, the experience is always the same.Liguria is immediately captivating. From the hand painted pigs and flowers that decorate the exterior of all three locations to the commanding black letters painted on the windows to let you know exactly where you are, the brand’s look is what defines it. Step inside and you’ll find Santiago as it was, as it is, and just how great it will be. Old photos, street signs, football (soccer) paraphernalia and more adorns the walls. Checkered napkins and tablecloths blend with waiters in black vests and bow ties. Are you in Chile or are you in little Italy? Both. And more. You are standing in the middle of a movement that has been happening for more than twenty years. Liguria is to Santiago what Gramercy Tavern is to New York City–an institution.
The restaurant, any one of the three, is never not loud, or packed. From lunch to well past dinner, tourists, business men and women, locals, foreigners, foodies, and those in love with the classics fill the seats and keep asking for more. They order wine from a bar that easily has the best selection in the city. They order Pisco sours to start their meal. They converse and fatten the din of meal time that gets louder with each guest that enters. They come for the food, which is Chile at its simplest–hearty classics that aren’t meant to be elevated, but instead celebrated with good company and even better conversation.
Eating at Liguria is like eating at Grandma’s house if she had nicer plates. The soul of Chilean cuisine, from coast to mountains, is alive and well in each dish that leaves the kitchen. Social media is set ablaze when word gets out that they’ll be serving sea urchin for one day only. Summer is a celebration of dishes like porotos granados (stewed beans with grated corn and peppers) or pastel de choclo (shepherd’s pie with a sweet corn crust). Winter is a time for hearty classics like south-Chilean lamb or a big bowl of gnocchi. Daily specials range from simple garden salads to more ornate dishes like a cream-based crab pot pie. And there’s always pasta.Even better? The service is spectacular, and only makes the Liguria experience more memorable. Don’t be fooled by the simple black vests, white shirts and bow ties–these are professionals, not just a tourist attraction. Easily some of the best waiters in the city, the service staff at Liguria show their love for the restaurant, and what they do. They are knowledgeable and prompt. They know the dishes through and through, and will certainly make sure that you don’t leave hungry. I dare say the service staff is the key to the entire experience. They take care of what’s theirs, always making sure that you’ll leave wanting more.
It’s not likely that Liguria will soon be entering the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants, but not because they don’t deserve it, but because that’s not the point. Liguria was designed to stand the test of time, and to provide a consistently solid dining experience, time after time. It’s not trendy or hip or de rigeur. It is the definition of classic, from the paint on the walls to the last bite of leche asada. Liguria is a Chilean icon, and that’s all they need to be.