The best high-end restaurants are concentrated in Lastarria, Bellavista, Providencia and Vitacura – you can sample many of them for less by going for midweek set lunch menus. More classic Chilean cuisine includes cheap and cheerful seafood lunches at the central fish market, empanadas from takeout counters around the city and completos (hot dogs piled high with avocado) at downtown diners.
With cuisines from all of Chile represented at the table and a generation of innovative new chefs experimenting with classic dishes, the capital city is a gourmet's playground. Whether you're eating lunch at a plastic table inside the bustling fish market or dining at a high-end eatery in Providencia, it is customary to begin the meal with a pisco sour and machas a la parmesana (razor clams baked in Parmesan cheese and white wine) or an empanada de pino (stuffed with ground beef, onions and hard-boiled eggs) before moving onto a main course of paila marina (seafood stew), pastel de choclo (a baked casserole made of corn, meat and cheese) or fresh grilled fish, preferably paired with a fine wine from the Colchagua Valley. For dessert, try cake or ice cream topped with manjar, the Chilean version of dulce de leche.
In recent years, the arrival of creative restaurateurs from Peru, Argentina and Europe has added extra flair to the city's already excellent restaurant scene, and while traditional Chilean seafood still reigns supreme, sophisticated Nikkei (Japanese-Peruvian) fare is also having a moment, as are modern takes on ancestral Mapuche cuisine.
A good bet for a midday meal is one of the Centro's vintage fuente de sodas (soda fountains), atmospheric diner-style eateries where businessmen feast on sandwiches and Chilean comfort food. At night, you'll find better cuisine elsewhere in the city.
Barrio Lastarria & Barrio Bellas Artes
These stylish neighborhoods boast some of the city's culinary hot spots, not to mention a range of contemporary cafes, several ethnic eateries and a wealth of lovely sidewalk tables for dining alfresco.
Bellavista is a hot spot for eating and drinking around the clock. Restaurants fit into a few categories: family-run classics that have been popular with locals for years; posh new eateries that come and go along Constitución and Dardignac; and finally, on Pío Nono, the rough-and-ready staples that sustain young people through nights of drinking with inexpensive empanadas, pizza slices, completos and sandwiches.
Providencia & Barrio Italia
Young white-collar Santiaguinos often head to the less touristy Providencia restaurants for dinner. The neighborhood claims some choice midrange options on the streets surrounding Galería Drugstore. Further south, Barrio Italia specializes in long lazy brunches and afternoon once (Chilean tea time), though there are plenty of dinner options, too.
Las Condes, Barrio El Golf & Vitacura
Santiago's plushest neighborhoods are home to the über-rich – and the seriously expensive restaurants and bars they frequent. You'll also see countless Starbucks locations and American-born chain restaurants.
A low-profile but happening food and bar scene makes Ñuñoa a favorite night out for urbane Santiaguinos. East of Centro but well south of Providencia, it's finally connected to the rest of the city thanks to the new metro line (Línea 6). Plaza Ñuñoa is the heart of all the action.