After living in Santiago as an expat for a year I finally found the neighborhood gem to rival them all - Barrio Franklin. I’d heard of an “authentic” Santiago neighborhood with a massive flea market called Persa Bio Bio, but hesitated to venture alone. So when my friend and fellow travel writer, Steph Dyson from Worldly Adventurer, offered to give me a tour, I found myself in Santiago’s next hipster haven.
Why Barrio Franklin is Santiago’s Next Hipster Haven
#1: There is Gorgeous Artwork in Metro Franklin
Almost immediately after you step off the metro at the Franklin station, you’ll find creative displays depicting the history of this neighborhood as it was known in its earlier days of Barrio Matadero.
The first work you’ll see is a diorama by Rodolfo Gutierrez of the old train station that used to run through the neighborhood, which transported various animals (cows, sheep, etc) and farmers, butchers and migrants. This influence of migrants still remains a strong part of the neighborhood’s identity even today.
The second, and most striking work is by Rodrigo Estay (or “Estoy” for short) who painted El Relato de un Matarife. It’s a beautiful depiction of a group of family and friends partaking in a communal gathering of food and music.
#2: Persa Bio Bio (“El Persa”) is Vintage Paradise
It’s the biggest flea market in Santiago, with endless rows of stalls that cover multiple street blocks, making it very easy to lose yourself in the chaos. The commercial offerings are varied as well, with vintage furniture, clothing, toys, vinyls and most importantly, food. Basically, if you can think of a need, you can guarantee you’ll find it in here.
The flea market has over 4,000 vendors and welcomes 30,000 visitors each weekend. Besides window shopping, I was also impressed with the range of live music acts that lined each street corner - from blues to jazz to hard rock. There was a welcome chaos that could keep you entertained for hours.
While you have to find your own favorite shops to look through, I was most intrigued by the clothing store Baccarat (Galpon 1) that preserves and sells used clothing from old TV & movie sets. You’ll have to rummage through the racks of clothes, but as with everything in Franklin, there’s something for everyone.
Another stop on your Persa Bio Bio tour should be the art gallery run by the famous Chilean artist Alejandro “Mono” Gonzalez, whose artwork can be seen throughout the city, most notably at the Bellas Artes metro station. While there, you can chat with the famous creative himself, and peruse the artwork he has for sale, ranging from $15,000 CLP to $50,000 or more.
#3: There are endless places to eat
Franklin’s food scene is, like the rest of the market, chaotic and unexpected. Every month there are new vendors opening up budget-friendly food trucks or stalls throughout El Persa. You could spend the rest of your life trying to keep up with the number of culinary offerings, but here are some of my recommended places to eat in Barrio Franklin:
Located in a food hall on the famous Calle Victor Manuel, their small menu focuses on three dishes, none of which exceed $4,000 CLP ($6). The two chefs, Jacob and Javier, were former cooks at Salvador Cocina y Cafe, an awesome lunch restaurant in Santiago’s downtown.
But Jacob and Javier have decided to branch out on their own, and believe in the potential of Barrio Franklin’s growth in the months and years to come. Their food style is very similar to Salvador, with a knack for cooking unusual meat bits (ex: pig’s feet) with impressive ability.
Vegetarians will be happy to note their mila de berenjena is a creative plate of three pieces of eggplant rolled in oats, lightly fried in olive oil - trust me, you’ll love it. If you’re a skeptical meat lover, order their signature dish - bao de pierna chancho - pork leg cooked for 10 hours with a soy sauce glaze, fresh greens and fried potatoes with a citrus mayo.
Is your mouth watering yet?
Address: Victor Manual 2253
Hours: Saturdays & Sundays 12-6pm
Let’s be honest - Santiago doesn’t have a great ramen scene. Many have tried, but fail to have the quality most consumers want.
Until Gema Ramen.
The place itself is small, with cramped bar stool style seating situated in a highly trafficked part of the market. But that doesn’t deter eager customers from lining up, waiting their turn to slurp up some piping hot noodles and broth.
They have a few different versions, with a classic Japanese one satisfying all traditional taste buds. The crowd pleaser seems to be the Shoyu Ramen, with pork meat slow cooked for hours (sense a theme here?), served with egg noodles and various accompaniments.
Again, vegetarians and vegans will also find a home at Gema, with menu options to satisfy one’s craving.
Address: Victor Manual 2241, L.299
Hours: Saturdays & Sundays 12-5pm
This seems to be a Franklin staple, serving up decadent sandwiches favoring meat lovers more than vegetarians. It’s clear that the cooks take great care in preparing their food, and since most of them are from Venezuela, there is a certain flair that sets them apart from the other local sandwich shops.
La Chanchita boats both a food truck on Calle Victor Manuel, and a sit-down restaurant in the food hall that also hosts Veneno Negro. The wait staff in both locations are incredibly down-to-earth and always willing to chat you up in the middle of a busy work day.
Address: Placer 657
Hours: Saturdays & Sundays 12-5pm
#4: Other things to do in Barrio Franklin
Get cultured with Zenen
Visit Zenen Vargas, better known as the King of Calligraphy in Chile. He learned typography from his father, when he was just 15 years old. Since then, he has developed national and international fame, most notably for the buses (‘micros’) that adopted his unique style of lettering. His work can also be seen in popular Santiago hotspots like Emporio la Rosa. Sr. Vargas can frequently be seen in his home neighborhood, eager to talk about his visual masterpieces. Make sure you stop by and say hello, at the corner of Placer and Santa Rosa.
Talk a walk through history
Away from the hustle and bustle of the market, you’ll find Plaza Huemuel, a one-block radius of tall palm trees that line the patrimonial buildings. Most of these are in disarray, but serve as positive reminders of the deep history rooted in this neighborhood.
Honorary Mention: Visit spoH cerveceria
Within a 20-minute walk of Barrio Franklin, you’ll find the owners of spoH, a well-established craft brewery in the city. While it’s more of a tap room than a gastropub (ie no food), you’ll find friendly staff who are keen on sharing their latest brews with interested customers. The quality, especially compared to the competition, is quite high, and they have great variety - from light beers to ones that will knock you off your feet.
Note: as of May 2019, the owners opened up a proper bar in Barrio Lastarria, opposite Galeria Lastaria.
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