By Natasha Greenhouse
With the first-ever Michelin guide to Brazil set to appear in 2015, and more than a handful of restaurants on the list of Latin America’s 50 Best restaurants, São Paulo is one of South America’s most influential cities for both cutting edge and traditional Brazilian cuisine. Led by giants like Alex Atala, Helena Rizzo, and Alberto Landgraf, a new phase has begun in the cosmopolitan city, ushering in a new focus on locally sourced ingredients, and a return to the Amazon, whose bounty is only slowly being discovered. For those interested in simpler, more traditional fare, the city also offers a slew of botecos and smaller eateries serving up classic dishes like Feijoada and a whole array of international cuisine. Below, find our list of essential restaurants that are a must-try on any visit to São Paulo.
This one’s certainly at the top of the list now that Mani’s head chef Helena Rizzo just won the title of World’s Best Female Chef. Mani gives delightful twists to Brazilian ingredients and traditional dishes, with unexpected combinations like foie gras with goiabada (a guava conserve). We recommend the tasting menu to get a full spectrum of their offerings, although you can’t go wrong with a-la-carte, either.
Chef Mara Salles looks towards Brazil’s immensely diverse culinary roots to create both brand new dishes and classic favorites. José Lima is the mestre pimenteiro who pairs the right chilies with the right dish, and prepares the wide variety of pickled goods available to take home. Tordesilhas has won a slew of awards, including Best Brazilian Cuisine Restaurant by Veja São Paulo a whopping nine times.
D.O.M. is an institution, not just in São Paulo but in the international dining scene. Consistently voted amongst the top ten restaurants in the world, Alex Atala’s restaurant pioneered avant-garde cuisine in Brazil. Atala is best known for sourcing diverse Brazilian ingredients like rare Amazonian herbs as the basis for stunning and mouthwatering dishes. The menu is only prix-fixe, of four or eight dishes.
Both Japanese and Italian cuisines have their mark in São Paulo, but here Chef Fabrizio Matsumoto blends them to make truly creative and unexpected dishes. The star is the “panini” – spicy tuna or salmon with truffle layered between two “slices” of crispy spring roll wrapper and sushi rice.
Dalva e Dito
Alex Atala’s other restaurant in São Paulo, Dalva e Dito specializes in “down-home” Brazilian cooking. The best time to go is for their monthly galinhadas (R$59 per person), where guests enjoy this delicious chicken and rice stew typical from the interior of Brazil, followed by a party headed by some of the town’s most sought-after DJs.
MasterChef Brasil judge, hardcore singer and chef, Henrique Fogaça opened his third (tiny) restaurant, with the others occupying the other two floors in the same building. His food is bright, complex and a result of much creative experimentation. Some crowd favorites include octopus on toast with a mint and green apple vinaigrette, and sesame encrusted tuna with peach palm fruit and black rice.
Epice’s Alberto Landgraf rounds out the trifecta of São Paulo’s hot young chefs making big waves in haute cuisine. Landgraf’s menus use local ingredients and draw from the country’s diverse cultures, merging Brazilian dishes with Japanese or Italian techniques and flavors, for example. Our tip? Go for lunch and order the “Executive Menu,” a fantastic prix-fixe deal at R$49 for three courses. They don’t cut corners for lunch, so you’ll be sure to get a genuine taste of what has made this restaurant so renowned.
Maria Namoradeira Espetinhos
Located in a calm residential area, Maria Namoradeira is a great place to experience a typical relaxing Sunday in Brazil. The rustic locale offers an incredible variety of espetinhos, or skewers, with meats as typical as chicken wings, or as adventurous as ostrich. The vegetarian espetinhos amaze as well, with a variety of stuffed and seasoned vegetables.
Tucked away in the enormous thoroughfare of Avenida Kubitschek, this is easily one of the more stunning restaurants in the city. Kaá’s menu tilts towards Italian, particularly with its fresh pasta, risotto, and seafood dishes. Be it for a business meal or a date, this is one to make a lasting impression on your guest.
Obá acts as an open meeting point for Brazilian, Italian, Thai and Mexican cuisine. This isn’t fusion food, but rather a sample of authentic dishes with respect for its original ingredients and techniques. The restaurant is partnered with a local art gallery and showcases its vast collection of Brazilian folk art, as well as treasures collected by the chefs from their travels.
With its “Italo-Brazilian” menu, Attimo encapsulates the mix of cultural backgrounds that make up the city of São Paulo. Be ready for creative reinterpretations of classic Italian dishes, Chef Jefferson Rueda’s ode to the way immigrants adapt food to their new surroundings. Although their lunch and dinner menus are solid, we recommend going with friends to try out the Bar Menu, featuring small plates and gourmet caipirinhas.
Originally from Rio de Janeiro, Aconchego manages to keep its relaxed charm amidst the bustling Jardins neighborhood. It has some filling comfort foods to share like bobó de camarão or baião de dois, as well as typical snacks like crispy balls of feijoada. Their beer selection is also a highlight, with nearly 200 labels, as well as 100 seasonal ones.
One would be remiss to not include sushi restaurants in this list, with São Paulo’s incredibly rich Japanese community. Hamatyo is renowned for its “orthodox” approach to sushi—so don’t expect crunchy rolls with sriracha mayonnaise. Think of Jiro Dreams of Sushi: here one comes only for classic, delicate sushi and sashimi, each prepared for you by the head chef, Ryoichi Yoshida. This is an experience not to be missed.
Veloso is small but hard to miss, as it’s always packed. The place is legendary for its caipirinhas, with flavors such as starfruit with basil, tangerine with chili pepper, or the local fruit jabuticaba. Their coxinha, perfectly crunchy outside and wonderfully creamy inside, is just as sought after. Saturdays are for feijoada, made in a clay pot.
Brasil a Gosto
Ana Luiza Trajano’s restaurant is a gem—known for her diligent, even erudite approach to cooking, Trajano heavily researches and presents traditional recipes from throughout Brazil, made with ingredients sourced in each respective area. You get a genuine taste of the incredible diversity of Brazilian cuisine, all in a quaint spot in Jardim Paulista.
Paulistanos like to boast that their pizza is the best, even better than Italy’s. Be the judge of that at Speranza, located in Bixiga, the city’s old Italian neighborhood. Many of their recipes are the originals that the family brought over from Naples, such as their Tortano (sausage-stuffed bread) and their award-winning Margherita pizza.
Located on Oscar Freire, the most chic street of São Paulo, Chez Oscar is a new hot spot for its unique layout divided taking up four floors: it is a street café, a second-floor restaurant, and two different bars on the third and fourth floors. The menu is light, with salads, bruschettas, and other small plates, but let’s be honest: you’re here for the ambiance, the cocktails, and the astounding people watching.
There are several locations, but the original at Paissandu is steeped in history – it opened the same week as the Semana de Arte Moderna in 1922, and acted as a meeting point for the city’s artists and intellectuals. It’s also famous for inventing the bauru, a roast beef and melted cheese sandwich now found everywhere. The recipe remains unchanged since its creation in 1936.
On the hipster side of things, there is Rothko in Vila Madalena. Complete with chalkboard menus and artisanal beers, Rothko certainly does not disappoint with its menu. It’s heavy on the meat side, and particular favorites include their pork belly sandwiches and their churrascos. A notable relatively newcomer to the scene.
Hailing from Argentina, Chef Paola Carosella uses fresh, seasonal ingredients with a classic Mediterranean style and influence from her roots. The restaurant prepares its own sausages, breads, ice cream and some cheeses. Like the menu, the space itself is small, but inviting with lots of green and lots of natural light.
A São Paulo institution, this one’s a bit off the beaten path but absolutely worth the trek. For those in the know, Mocotó is the go-to spot for traditional Brazilian meals and salgados (salty snacks). Their great selection of cachaças to wash it all down makes it all the better.
This churrascaria is a pricey but worthy stop for meat lovers. Voted Best Meat five years in a row by Veja São Paulo, Varanda delivers supreme quality Argentine, Brazilian and American cuts. Recently they launched a dinner tasting menu, with the option of five or eight courses to sample the best dishes of the day.
Bar Lanche Estadão
More often than not, you will find yourself at this no frills 24-hour spot after 2am. But trust us, their generous pernil (roasted fresh ham) sandwich on French baguette is fantastic no matter the time of day. But for a, say, more colorful experience, go after 2am!
Jaber Especialidades Árabes
A local favorite, this casual eatery reflects how the Arab community has helped shape São Paulo’s culinary landscape. There are a wide variety of Arab or Arab-Brazilian classics, such as kibe, esfihas, kafta, and rice. You also can’t miss the tempting selection of Arab pastries and sweets to take home.
Another pizza institution in the city, Bráz respects its humble Italian roots while still being innovative. Their dedication to quality ingredients is near-fanatical, using traditional methods to produce their cured meats and cheeses, as well as producing their own label of olive oil and wine. Their white Affumicata pizza features smoked buffalo mozzarella, tomato, olives, rosemary and fresh sage leaves.
For a relaxing, casual meal, Café Crème offers a wide selection of quality, typically Paulistano meals such as sandwiches, burgers, and salads. With outside seating on the lively Avenida Paulista, it’s best to go during Happy Hour when you have an array of drinks to choose from and a mix of people to watch.