[JOSE IGNACIO, URUGUAY] — It’s 3pm, the day after Christmas. It’s 82 degrees and sunny, with a light breeze gently flapping the white canvas awnings, fanning the cool shade underneath. The place is packed, everyone’s knee-to-knee. Cool pitchers of Clerico — the local Uruguayan version of a white sangria — are flowing past above the heads of the crowd, headed toward an antsy, thirsty table. There’s a DJ tucked in the back, but affecting moods in the front; like the breeze, causing everyone to gently sway along with him in a cool, mellow vibe.
The smell of woodsmoke wafts out onto the beach. The best smell there is. Large wood cutting boards burdened with a grilled whole smiling fish swim by, browned at the edges, flaky white inside, with an outrigger of chimichurri in a clear small bowl. Was it for the fish or the crisp fries spilling off the edge of the platter? Both.
Beautiful People, tanned, fit, usually blonde, lay all over the white canvas couches, lined up cheek-by-jowl out on the covered deck. Some in swimsuits, straight from the beach, covered with a sexy scarf; others in cottons or crisp linens, usually white or pale hues of tans, creams and French-striped sea blue.
The whole place looked like a photoshoot, for Vogue, Conde Nast Traveler, Bon Appetit, Departures or Elle Decor — doesn’t matter which, the subject matter would fit comfortably in each. Waiters as good-looking as the patrons add to the scene, dressed in matching which Lacoste polos and shorts. Walking to the bathroom, the sound of five, six or seven different languages could be heard. No one loud, just smiling and chatting with groups of friends. Civilized. Classy.
We’d had standing reservations at 3pm sharp, every single day for our our week in Jose Ignacio. Just as we do every year, this, my fifth or sixth trip to Jose Ignacio. Mostly because of this place. Here. Every damn day of the week, certainly several times at night for a later dinner. That’s what you do at Parador La Huella. The best restaurant in the world.
You may have just had lunch here hours earlier, but waking from your sunset nap and thinking of dinner at 9pm — early around these parts — and reviewing the numerous incredible options on this secret culinary peninsula, it’s a hard choice each night… until someone eventually says “….or, we could just go to La Huella.” Decision, done. We’re off.
Nothing I could ever do could compare to how cool this video totally captures the vibe of La Huella… and of Jose Ignacio itself. Get in the mood with this video from Bon Appetit:
Jose Ignacio is an amazing beach town north about ½ hour north of Punta del Este — which is like the Miami Beach of South America, which is not my scene. But Jose Ignacio is its down-low cousin, more like Montauk, 30 years ago. You can read more about Jose Ignacio on my website.
Situated on a perfect peninsula surrounded by some of the best beaches of the world, Jose Ignacio is like the best of all worlds, and La Huella is its epicenter. More like a dot, than epicenter, since Jose Ignacio is small, with dirt streets and a low key vibe. But contrasting that are amazing houses designed by top architects, done in a laid-back style and not ostentatious. That vibe best describes La Huella.
Set right in the center of town, La Huella — pronounced “La WAYsha” in the local dialect — is a place you want to stop in to everyday. In fact, as soon as you get in town, set a standing reservation everyday for 3pm. Then you can in-fill on nights when you don’t eat somewhere else incredible.
Incredible food. Extremely nice vibe. And some of best people-watching on the planet. Walk through this casual place — which doubles as a Lacoste store, complete with servers wearing all tasteful Lacoste – and you’ll hear maybe a dozen languages being spoken, sometimes at the same table. It’s like being in the Cote d’Azur, Mykonos, Amalfi and Buenos Aires all at once. But with zero pretension. The owners, Martin and Guzman, seem to know everybody as they welcome all back each year. The place is jumping at 2pm and 2am, even with the large families and kids staying up way late past midnight in a mellow, relaxed mood.
Come for the beaches. But come for the food. I’ve only been to Jose Ignacio five times, but after a stressful life and a long flight, there’s nothing I look forward to more than getting to the hotel, kicking off my shoes and getting itchy to walk down the road to La Huella. They may not know me, but I feel welcomed each time I come back.
Here is a completely awesome article on La Huella (pronounce Hoo-ay-sha in the local dialect) in the July, 2012 Bon Appetit, which calls it “The Best Beachside Restaurant on the Planet”. Seeeee. I’m not alone on this…. Make sure you click through the video, it’s the best thing to capture the vibe of the place…way better than I can ever describe. Also featured in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. And in AFAR magazine as The Best Restaurant on the Planet. In a great article in Food & Wine. And Johnny Jet. And even the Daily Mail. And Conde Nast Traveler In the Mood for Maldonado, the surrounding area.
Last Visited 2005, 2006, 2011, 2012, 2014
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