“The fire station is the best restaurant in town?”
We checked we heard right. We had. The fire station is the place to eat in the town of Coyhaique in Chile’s Aysen region.
The facade of the Casino de Bomberos looks like the entrance to a fire station, because it is one. Shiny red fire trucks fill the station’s windows on one side whilst an arched walkway leads to an anonymous door. Only a poster on a distant wall of a cook carrying a tray of food gives any indication there might be a restaurant beyond, rather than a troop of burly firefighters huddled around a TV set.
It’s a picada – a hidden away restaurant renowned for serving good, cheap local food. Stepping inside we’re more surprised to find a restaurant than the lone waiter is to see a couple of gringos who’d wandered off grid. The waiter, dressed in black pants, white shirt and a dicky bow, juxtaposes with the windowless room whose décor is clapperboard and woodchip. It looks like a work’s canteen. Portions are big and good value. Kidneys and mash threaten to spill over a generous-sized plate whilst a steak is completely engulfed by fried onions, slabs of bacon and a fried egg. It’s unpretentious and satisfying fare at around 8000 Chilean pesos a dish (€10).
If the casino wasn’t full of townsfolk it might feel as though we were intruders, faux firefighters.
Dining there feels odd, but in a deliciously quirky way; it’s most definitely a restaurant for anyone who revels in off the wall travel experiences.