Have you ever had fried ricotta balls? I hadn’t either. I didn’t even know that such a thing existed until I ordered them by accident, mistaking the de for con when ordering a plate of albondigas.

Very few times has a bodegón surprised me. And as I sat staring in silent judgement at the table next to me eating a pizza topped with hard-boiled egg and heart of palm, I didn’t think my most recent trip to Albamonte, the legendary Chacarita cantina, would be the exception.

Where the fuck is the cheese, I thought to myself when the plate rolled out and three ordinary looking meatballs smothered in filetto sauce was placed in front of me. But before I could complain, the waiter slit the ‘meatball’ down the middle with a spoon and a waterfall of creamy white ricotta pooled outward into the bright red tomato sauce. I’m not even mad, my dinner partner replied with a smirk.

But a ball of slightly sweet ricotta that has been chilled, battered and pan-fried makes complete sense here. Did you notice the white tablecloth that the waiter drapes over the chair holding your belongings? That isn’t sophistication. It’s practicality. You came to make a mess.

Dig deep with your spoon and be sure to scrape the edges of the fried batter that has glued itself to the dish. It crunches and mills under each bite—they have been pulled from the oven at just the right moment before the copper colored char turns into a black burn.

ñoquis de espinaca and albondigas de ricotta

Pillowy ñoquis de espinaca are made in-house, dunked in a creamy tomato sauce and warped in the oven with a gooey cheese top that chars and hardens under the intense heat. Ñoquis aren’t my favorite member of the pasta family—semolina flour is hearty and ñoquis are often either too dense or too slimy. Here, they are light and springy and play well with the sauce that has an unexpected kick of lemon.

The gambas al ajillo, shrimp and floppy fried calamari, are laced with a crimson red paprika-based sauce that is are always a solid bet. As are the escalopes de lomo a la marsalla, beef tenderloin lightly floured and oven-roasted in brandy sauce. Although similar to a milanesa, breadcrumbs are swapped out for flour or starch. Starch dredges are a tricky sort, too heavy and the meat dresses up in a slimy coat. Albamonte adds just a touch, enough to form a smooth outer shell and let the fork tender meat take the lead. They are paired with addictive papa noisette, little balls of potato that crisp up around the edges and soak in the meaty broth.

Don’t be fooled by the tortilla con alcauciles, they are bland and boring despite the artichoke hearts; do go for a classic tortilla española, crispy, juicy and filled with chorizo. If you haven’t eaten in two days a dirty milanesa a la fugazzeta is a cheesy mess—just like the rest of the menu.

Albamonte

Address: Av. Corrientes 6735, Chacarita

Open: Wednesday through Sunday noon to 2:30pm and 8pm to 11:30pm, Tuesday 8pm to 11:30pm

Price per person: $450-600