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I knew it was a restaurant of some kind, but its ugly exterior never prompted me to venture across the street to see what was on the menu.

Why would I? I always thought the restaurant, situated on a noisy Stuttgart intersection clogged with traffic, had the look of a place populated by cigarette smoking middle-aged German guys dining on greasy schnitzel and drinking warm beer. No thanks.

Unexpected circumstances, however, recently landed me at this forlorn looking eatery. My dining partner and I had planned for dinner at one of Stuttgart’s best Turkish restaurants — Aspendos, a place renowned for its mastery of the grill. Sadly, a note posted on the door said the staff was on holiday for the remainder of the month.

What to do?

“Should we try that place?” I asked, pointing to grim building on the other side of the road.

My dining partner ran across the street to investigate. Low and behold, it had nothing to do with sauerkraut and schnitzel. It was a Chilean Restaurant. I didn’t even know Stuttgart had one of those. And Tierra del Fuego was totally great.

The menu was loaded with all sorts of grilled meats and fish. We opted for the tablas for two. I started out knowing nothing about Chilean food but have since learned that “tablas” is the Chilean version of tapas. It can take various forms, but it’s basically an assortment of food — seafood, cheeses or meats — served on a big cutting board.

We opted for the meaty Tabla Tierra del Fuego for two for 29 euros. While a bit pricey, the serving was substantial and the flavor was fantastic — succulent Argentinian steaks, lamb chops and chorizo accompanied with samplings of garlicky vegetables.

The menu included a host of other entrees and a huge wine selection and Chilean beer.

To my surprise, it even had a quiet little patio in the back for outdoor dining.

We opted for the outdoor seating, where the atmosphere was laid back and casual. With soothing background music and fiery torches positioned around the patio, it’s an ideal spot for a summer night out.

Appearances can be deceiving. That old cliché rings true in the case of Tierra del Fuego.

vandiver.john@stripes.com

TIERRA DEL FUEGOLocation: Neckarstrasse 119, downtown Stuttgart, about a five-minute walk from the Meridian Hotel.

Hours: Lunch from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. weekdays; dinner from 6-11 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 6 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

Menu: “Slow food” Chilean specialties. No English menu, but the staff can speak some English.

Prices: The restaurant’s website says they range from $10-$30.

Dress: Casual.

Information: Phone: 0711 57641507; email: restaurant@tierradelfuego-stuttgart.de; website: www.tierradelfuego-stuttgart.de (in German). English information is available on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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