By Tom Le Mesurier
As a timelessly obvious destination for tourists from around the world, Rio de Janeiro’s food scene can often be overlooked. With an offering that ranges from the best in street-level cuisine on up to chefs like Roberta Sudbrack who have consistently been voted as the best in the world, Rio isn’t just beaches and massive Catholic statues. Whether you’re heading to Rio for the Mundial, a visit to Christ the Redeemer, or an old-fashioned vacation, here’s our recommendations for where you should be eating.
Situated on a nondescript street in Copacabana, this simply decorated restaurant lets the food do the talking. As well as an exquisite selection of sashimi, the huge menu also boasts countless delights from the grill. While its flashy peers over in Leblon continue to pull in the rich and the clueless, Rio’s more discerning foodies sit at Azumi’s counter seats and let the chefs’ recommendations dictate their selections. Hands down Rio’s best purist take on Japanese cuisine.
Roberta Sudbrack’s eponymous restaurant offers up an ever-changing tasting menu, based on the very best ingredients picked up each day from Rio’s bustling street markets. Sudbrack’s delicate yet unpretentious approach has won her a legion of fans and earned her restaurant with 10th place in Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants. It’s going to cost you an arm and a leg, but this is one of Latin America’s best chefs and you’re in Rio so what did you expect?
Claude Troisgros has been wowing Rio’s diners for more than 30 years and despite a growing empire of restaurants, Olympe remains his flagship establishment. Today Claude runs the restaurant in equal partnership with his son Thomas and together they apply French culinary technique to Brazil’s unique ingredients. The result is consistently inventive, intelligent and sophisticated dining. One of only 2 Rio restaurants to make the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Modelled loosely on a butcher’s shop, the white tiled walls and simple decor indicate that the meats will be the stars of Claude Troisgros’ Leblon restaurant. And what stars are served here! Highlights include Wagyu Contrafilé with a Beef Marble Score of 8-9 and a Prime Rib Especial that really lives up to its name. Its location on Rua Dias Ferreira should warn you that your wallet will be considerably lighter by the time you leave, but you’ll be walking out with a huge smile on your face.
Bar do Arnaudo
You could be forgiven for walking straight past this unassuming restaurant in Santa Teresa. The plain walls and simple furniture do nothing to make it stand out from its neighbours. However, a glance at the menu, chock full of classic Northeastern dishes tells a different story. The Galinha Cabidela (chicken cooked in its own blood) is not to be missed.
Recently refurbished, though thankfully not so you’d notice, this ancient restaurant has been keeping Lapa’s late night revellers content for generations. Uniformed waiters with an average age of 65 bring trays of beautifully roasted lamb, suckling pig and wild boar, served up with classic broccoli rice and golden roast potatoes. Don’t miss the bolinhos de bacalhau – these are the best in town (that’s right, we said it!).
Perched on a hill with views across the city, Hotel Santa Teresa’s restaurant, Térèze, brings a touch of elegance to bohemian Santa Teresa. Head chef, Phillippe Moulin’s 30 years of experience working in France and Mexico can be seen on the menu with stand-out dishes such as salmon tartare with guacamole and chipotle sauce. Beautiful views, a stylish interior and a killer wine list make this a top choice for those looking to impress. Arrive early to enjoy the view with come cocktails in the next door Bar dos Descasados.
What Adega Pérola lacks in comfort and convenience, it makes up with a veritable cornucopia of seafood and other preserved delights that greet you as you squeeze into this busy neighbourhood bar. The unprepossessing exterior masks a wealth of treasures, among them Portuguese classics such as caldo verde and polvo marinado. Avoid the wines in favour of ice cold chopp, a wide selection of cachaças or the infamous chilli caipirinha.
Not to be confused with Lapa samba joint, Carioca da Gema, Bar da Gema is one of the many treasures waiting in store for anyone willing to venture out of Zona Sul and explore Tijuca. In 2008, this bar/restaurant was opened by four friends fresh out of culinary school and has gone on establish itself as a favourite among fans of Rio’s boteco food culture. The menu takes classic Brazilian bar food ingredients and adds a touch of class – try the crisp-fried polenta cubes topped with slow-roast oxtail.
Bira de Guaratiba
Bira is so far out of town that you’ll wonder if you’re still in Rio by the time you arrive, yet this remote restaurant still generates hour long queues on the weekends. The reasons are manifold – spectacular moquecas and caldeiradas (classic seafood stews), unparalleled views over the coast of Barra de Guaratiba and caipirinhas that will make you wish you weren’t the designated driver. Voted one of Newsweek’s ‘101 Best Places to Eat Around the World’.
L’Atelier du Cuisinier
Esteemed French chef David Jobert came to Brazil in 1998 and worked as executive chef at the Intercontinental Hotels of Rio and São Paulo. In 2012 he quietly opened L’Atelier du Cuisinier, a one room restaurant tucked away on a Centro side street. Seating just 24 diners and only opening for lunch on weekdays, Jobert’s restaurant treats a lucky few to pure French cuisine to rival anything available in Rio today.
Felipe Bronze’s temple to Brazilian ingredients and molecular gastronomy continues to win fans with beautifully presented and inventive dishes that make up the restaurant’s 5, 7, 9 and 21 course menus. The spectacular Bosque dessert is an open-plated wonderland involving various forms of chocolate, intense fruit purées and a cotton candy tree. If foams, liquid nitrogen and spherification aren’t your thing you should probably find another place to eat. Otherwise bring an open mind and a heavy wallet.
Tucked away in the far northern neighbourhood of Cachambi, Cachambeer can be accused on many things, but subtlety isn’t one of them. This bar takes the form of a standard boteco, but serves up dishes with names like Tabua Infarto Completo (Total Heart-attack Platter) – a tray piled high with roasted beef, pork and lamb along with chicken hearts, shrimps (breaded and deep-fried of course) and carne seca. Those without a death wish avoid the tabuas and opt for whole baked palmito (palm heart) and the Costela no bafo (beef ribs so tender you could eat them with a spoon).
Lasai is probably Rio’s hottest new restaurant right now. Head chef, Rafa Costa e Silva (who previously worked at Mugaritz in Spain) grows much of the produce on his own property in a verdant pocket of Zona Oeste. Costa e Silva and his team conjure up 2 tasting menus full of surprises such as the fried egg and bacon (which contains neither) for the lucky 26 diners that visit restaurant. You’ll need to book way ahead, but the experience promises to be as intriguing as it is delicious.
Bar do Gomez
This ancient place in Santa Teresa was once a neighbourhood grocery store and although its official name, Armazem São Thiago, reflects this, it is better known to most as Bar do Gomez. Undoubtedly one of the best bars in Rio, the menu holds a treat not to be missed – bolinhos de abobora (sweet pumpkin fritters stuffed with carne seca and encased in a wonderfully crispy shell. Worth the taxi ride alone.