On our first night in Punta Arenas we ate at one of the popular, upscale restaurants near Dreams Hotel that caters to the tourist crowd. It was okay. Not bad, but not really that great, either. And it was not cheap. We were staying at Ilaia Hotel and asked the staff if they could suggest something with a little more local flavor and they suggested that we go back to the waterfront and head south two blocks from Dreams Hotel to the Mercado Municpal.
The Mercado is a modern building with clean rest rooms on each floor. The first floor is filled with food vendors (including fish mongers) and a few sundries shops. The second floor has a row of restaurants overlooking the water and the other side has shops full of crafts and souvenirs. As we came up the lone staircase, the first place to eat we saw in the corner was called Cocinera Anita and we decided to give it a try.
For one, it seemed like a family owned operation and the staff was all too enthusiastic to serve us. When we asked for recommendations the staff got into a good natured argument amongst themselves about what was the best fish that day and then they debated how best to prepare it for us. They asked us what we were in the mood for, what kind of flavors do we like, etc. They acted like it was no bother at all to take the time to get it right. So we ordered, the got us our drinks and soon we had our fish and some very nice mashed potatoes.
It tasted great, it was cooked just right. And while we ate, they checked up on us to make sure we had everything we needed. Excellent service, friendly atmosphere and good food. What more could you want? Well, how about a bill that was almost half of what we spent at the other place! The next day we came back again for lunch before we went to the airport to fly back to Santiago. They were really happy to see us again, they took that as a real compliment. We tried some different fish dishes that they recommended and again it was good, fast and inexpensive.
As we left, we walked by the other restaurants on the second floor of the mercado and they seemed very similar to Cocinera Anita – small, family owned places cooking up a storm for the locals. The place was very clean and they all speak pretty good English. I would definitely recommend a lunch or dinner at the Mercado, especially Cocinera Anita.