Slideshow: The 11 Best Things I Ate in Chile

Chorillana in Valparaiso
Chorillana in Valparaiso
The Chorillana is everything you could ever want in a bar food, and more. A pile of French fries covered with beef and onions and topped with some form of egg and cheese—it will make you incredibly happy right before you feel like you never want to eat again. El Domino in Valparaíso serves up a mean one. The French fries are fresh from the fryer and the beef, slow-cooked like a sauce-less brisket, melts in your mouth. With the spicy pebre sauce and a few local beers, it’s the perfect companion to a night out in Valparaíso.

El Domino, Av. Cumming 67, Valparaiso (map)

Completos at El Oriente in La Serena
Completos at El Oriente in La Serena
Oddly enough, one of Chile’s signature dishes would look familiar to most Americans: a South American take on a hot dog. A "Completo" is a standard frankfurter topped with tomatoes, onion, mashed avocado, a heavy spread of mayonnaise, and your choice of ketchup, mustard, or aji pepper sauce. The keys to a good completo are the bread, which is a sturdier roll than most American hot dogs, and the proportions of toppings, which will probably still all fall off when you take a bite anyway.

El Oriente is a La Serena institution. On the walls, you can see old photos of the region, and on the jukebox you can play just about any tune you like; Gangam Style has been popular recently. With the Completos you'll get a substantial, chewy bread, a healthy dose of avocado, and the special homemade mayonnaise that makes them hands down the best in the area.

El Oriente, Pasaje Cuarto (map)

Shrimp and Cheese Empanada in Coquimbo
Shrimp and Cheese Empanada in Coquimbo
When your country is made up almost entirely by coast, you'd better hope you have good seafood, and the Coquimbo fish market never disappoints. From a table overlooking the fishing boats, you can enjoy the fried camarón queso (shrimp and cheese) empanada, a regional specialty. The mild mantecoso cheese inside complements the fresh shrimp well. Frying the empanada gives it a flaky, golden crust that has just enough crunch when you bite into it.

Coquimbo Fish Market, Puerto de Coquimbo (map)

Pan y Palta (Bread and Avocado)
Pan y Palta (Bread and Avocado)
In Chile, the mid-day meal, usually eaten around 1pm, is the big meal of the day; supper, called oncé, is typically much lighter and simpler. A popular choice for oncé is pan y palta, or bread and avocado. Chilean avocado is fresher and more varied than its North American cousins. This one came from the large Mercado Central in Valparaíso. We picked up some rounds of plain white bread from a panadería around the corner, borrowed their knife to cut everything up, and enjoyed this satisfying snack in the park.

Mercado Central, Valparaíso (map)

Pastel de Choclo (Corn Cake) in La Serena
Pastel de Choclo (Corn Cake) in La Serena
Pastel de Choclo, or corn cake, is a spin on the traditional pino empanada. A layer of beef cooked with onions is topped by a gooey, sweet corn-and-cornmeal mixture. A black olive and sliced hard-boiled egg are thrown into the mix for a nice surprise, and everything is baked together. Sometimes, the mixture comes in an empanada shell, but at Margarita's, it comes in a cast iron skillet fresh from the oven. The sweet corn steals the show, complementing the salty beef nicely with a deep, rich flavor.

Margarita's, Gabriel Gonzalez Videla, La Serena (map)

Wine Tasting at Emiliana Vineyards
Wine Tasting at Emiliana Vineyards
Chile’s fertile valleys have become a hot spot for interesting and affordable wines, especially dry, fruity whites. At Emiliana Vineyards, all the grapes are grown organically. Chickens and alpaca sheep are used to keep weeds and insects in check, while herbs are mixed with natural fertilizers to ensure the right chemical balance. A tour of the vineyard concludes with a tasting of four wines paired with your choice of cheese or chocolate. The dark chocolate pairs nicely with the spicy, complex reds.

Vinedos Emiliana, Casablanca Region (map)

Reinata Frito in Valparaiso
Reinata Frito in Valparaiso
Another example of the masterful art of fried fish: reinata, the buttery white fish that is something of a local specialty, covered in a tempura-style batter and served with a pretty garnish and a lemon wedge, which gives it all the extra flavor it needs.

Pasta e Vino, Calle Templeman 352, Valparaíso (map)

Eggplant Gnocchi at Pasta e Vino, Valparaiso
Eggplant Gnocchi at Pasta e Vino, Valparaiso
Valparaíso is more a city of corner cafes than fine dining, but Pasta e Vino has spent years at the forefront of the city’s white-tablecloth scene. The handmade pasta here is unusual but well-respected in a country half a world away from Italy, and for good reason. These gnocchi were delectable, substantial without being tough, and the rich goat cheese sauce was balanced by the crunchy, salty almonds. We also enjoyed a crab ravioli dish with a ginger broth that brought the nearby ocean together with the best Italian traditions.

Pasta e Vino, Calle Templeman 352, Valparaíso (map)

Alfajores from Alfajores Artesanales in Valparaiso
Alfajores from Alfajores Artesanales in Valparaiso
Alfajores are like the beautiful love child of an Oreo and manjar, the Chilean version of dulce de leche. Homemade manjar is spread between two thin, crisp cookies, then the whole thing is smothered in chocolate. The main downside to these cookies is that they tend to disappear before you even realize you’ve taken another bite; but at 150 pesos (30 cents in US dollars), why not buy a few?

Alfajores Artesanales, Cerro Concepcion, Valparaiso (map)