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Head to Olsen for great food. (Photograph by Annie Fitzsimmons)

Exclamation-Point-Worthy? Buenos Aires!

I had been hearing about “the steak” for three years. My boyfriend, Andy, took a trip to Buenos Aires and has been raving about the Argentine beef he had at La Cabrera Norte ever since. So when I finally made it to the South American hot spot a few weeks back, I had to try this by now almost mythical meal — paired with a juicy, fruit-driven Malbec, naturally.

Almost impossibly, the steak lived up to the hype, but best of all, sharing a common experience made me feel connected to Andy all the way back in New York City. That’s part of the reason I love to get personal recommendations from friends. We could be thousands of miles apart, but in a way, it’s as if I’m having dinner with them.

Buenos Aires is a city that needs an exclamation point after its name. And maybe all caps.

BUENOS AIRES! seems to capture the city’s exuberant, exhausting, and beautiful urban buzz. I spent a full week in the South American capital and left wanting more. The wide boulevards, green parks, French-inspired architecture, late-night dancing, custom leather shops, and delectable dishes combined to deliver an exhilarating travel adventure.

Of course, there are problems. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was warned 20 times about pickpockets my first day in town. I also heard constant complaints about the government’s economic policies. And, though the city has long been known as a great value destination, hotel and restaurant costs are climbing. Still, Buenos Aires is one of the most intoxicating places I’ve ever visited.

Here are my reasons why:

See & Do

Though getting around Buenos Aires is easiest by taxi, (each ride is around $5-8), you need to put on your walking shoes to really get the lay of the land. Start by exploring the city’s distinct neighborhoods.

You’ll find the city’s most exclusive shops and cafes in the Recoleta neighborhood. If you want a custom leather jacket, try Uru Recoleta. Nearby you’ll find city-center sights like the gorgeous Teatro Colon opera house, Casa Rosada, and the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral, where Pope Francis served as archbishop. Don’t miss one of the world’s most stunning bookstores, El Ateneo, and the famous cemetery where Eva Perón and other notables are buried (the real draw is the intricate architecture of the mausoleums).

You’ll be charmed by Palermo. The shaded, cobblestoned streets there reminded me of my neighborhood (the West Village) in NYC. Spend one late night at the casual milonga (dance hall) Salon Canning, where the locals start dancing after midnight. Save a few hours to check out the mind-boggling, sometimes gut-wrenching exhibitions at the Buenos Aires Museum of Latin American Art and take a stroll through the Bosques de Palermo, a beautiful urban oasis. The area perks up in November and December when the glamorous Argentine Derby and Argentine Polo Open Championship come to town. Watch for beloved native son, polo player, and Ralph Lauren model Nacho Figueras.

The old docks area of Puerto Madero has been reinvigorated thanks to the bizarre Faena Hotel and Universe, which puts on one of the city’s most over-the-top (and pricey) tango shows, Rojo Tango. Though the rest of the area is unremarkable, the Fortabat Collection is worth seeing, and outdoor biking and birding enthusiasts will love exploring the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve.

Make a quick stop during the day in La Boca, the colorful, small area where tango was born. Though it’s touristy during the day and generally lifeless at night, it’s still an essential stop for the first-time visitor.

And, on Sundays, the place to be is the bustling flea market in San Telmo for leather, antique watches, and unique artwork.

Sit & Eat

While Argentina doesn’t come close to disappointing when it comes to red meat (besides La Cabrera Norte, try Cabaña Las Lilas or Fervor for steaks), I’ll take dulce de leche any day of the week. Lucky for me, a different version of the South American sensation — inside crepes, drizzled over grilled bananas, giving flavor to gelato — was offered on nearly every menu I encountered in the city. Speaking of gelato, head to Volta or Persicco to sample more local flavor.

Piegari and Sottovoce are great choices for Italian. I took a friend’s recommendation to find Guido on a nondescript, locals-only street, where families and friends devour pizza and pasta and no English is spoken. Tegui has a chic-meets-industrial vibe and fantastic Mediterranean food, while Olsen, with its stunning garden, was my favorite lunch spot. Tip: Don’t book a dinner reservation before 10 p.m.

Stay & Sleep

I recommend making your home base in either the elegant Recoleta or the au courant Palermo districts.

You’ll find the ultimate in comfort at the Four Seasons Buenos Aires, where much of the design reflects Argentina’s heritage, including the striking horse sculpture out front. The swirly patterns in the lobby were inspired by the tango, while polo lends inspiration to Elena (absolutely the hottest restaurant in Buenos Aires right now). Guests can choose between the historic belle epoque-style mansion or the more modern “tower” with its sweeping views of the widest avenue in the world, 9 de Julio.

In Recoleta, Loi Suites, where some rooms overlook the famous cemetery, is a good value, while the chic Hotel Krista in the Hollywood district of Palermo provides a great boutique option.

Annie Fitzsimmons is Intelligent Travel’s Urban Insider, giving you the dish on the best things to see and do in cities all over the world. Follow her on Twitter @anniefitz.