At first glance, Rio de Janeiro's meat-heavy culinary scene can look gloomy for vegetarians and vegans. But, in fact, the city offers real treats for even the choosiest eaters, in the form of its ubiquitous pay-by-wait buffet restaurants.
With a simply huge variety of options to choose from, diners can help themselves to as much or as little as they like of whatever they like, making this a good chance to sample unfamiliar dishes or just to create a personalized plate of favorites.
These handy lunch spots charge according to the price of the food on your plate and typically feature separate hot and cold buffets, along with a meat carvery. The cold buffets can be a lifeline for vegetarians, as they usually feature a quite staggering selection of colorful salads, as well as sushi, olives, pickles, palm heart, quail eggs and other such treats.
"Por kilo" restaurants charge by the weight of the food on your plate — Photo courtesy of Nate Cull
The hot buffet, meanwhile, is the place to find more substantial sustenance, such as pasta and rice dishes, meat pies, slabs of fish and chicken and those ever-present Brazilian staples of rice and beans. Carnivores would be well advised to take a trip to the carvery, too, where freshly grilled steaks, sausages and other meat cuts will be artfully dropped onto your plate.
There's normally a separate desserts buffet, too, with prices set a little higher than the main buffet.
These pay-by-weight spots - known as por kilo or comida a kilo restaurants - tend to open for lunch only (although lunch usually extends from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.), with the food priced per 100 grams. Prices range from around R$2.90 per 100 grams at a simple downtown location such as Kilograma to more than twice that for upmarket Zona Sul restaurants such as the health food-focused New Natural in Ipanema.
It's worth waiting until after 2 p.m., when the lunch rush is over and most restaurants drop their price per 100 grams. But note that the range and quality tend to drop off after around 2:30 p.m., when the kitchens stop preparing fresh supplies.
Most por kilo restaurants feature daily specials, which they advertise on boards outside along with the price, and the sheer variety of foods on offer makes it hard for the tastebuds to tire of eating at these unpretentious spots.