Best Restaurants in Rio de Janeiro: Enjoy Carnivorous Treats and European Feasts
By Lucy Bryson
Rio de Janeiro Local Expert
Rio de Janeiro is world famous for the quality of its meat, and there is no better place to try Brazilian beef and pork than at one of the city´s many famous churrascarias, such as our top pick - Porcao Rio's. Operating according to the rodizio system, the restaurant's smartly-clad waiters flit between tables, offering cut after cut of meat. With a staggering array of salads and sides at the restaurant's heaving buffet, vegetarians won't go hungry here either.
For informal dining, head to one of Rio de Janeiro's many 'botecos' - casual bar restaurants where food and drink provide the focal point for social activity. It is rare for Brazilians to drink without eating, and classic bars such as Bar do Mineiro, in Santa Teresa, are as much about the culinary offering as they are about the lively ambience and free-flowing beer.
Fine dining tends to have a European air in Rio - among the city´s most celebrated restaurants are the refined Italian restaurant Pergula at Copacabana Palace, and the upmarket French eatery Olympe, manned by celebrity chef Claude Troisgros.
Tapas and other small eats are becoming big news on Rio´s dining scene, too. Hip Spanish restaurant Venga! blazed a trail for small-plate dining, while the similarly fabulous Stuzzi celebrates Italy´s take on the concept.
Based on the Italian concept of 'Stuzzichini' - small plates of light bites for sharing over drinks, similar to Spanish Tapas or Greek Mezze - Stuzzi brings together deliciously moreish finger foods and dangerously drinkable cocktails to create one of the most enticing options along the foodie strip that is Leblon's Rua Dias Ferreira. The street has become the must-visit address for gourmands visiting Rio. and acclaimed chef Paula Prandini (formerly of top-end French restaurant Le Pre Catalan) works wonders with imported Italian deli ingredients and native Brazilian fruits and vegetables to create immaculate dishes in a laidback lounge that is as sleek and chic as its fashionable neighborhood demands. (21 2274-4017)
Rio de Janeiro has traditionally been lacking coffee shops that have gone beyond with-or-without-milk, but this Argentine-owned spot in leafy Santa Teresa is one spot where a good cappuccino or cafe latte is guaranteed. Perfectly positioned on a picturesque balcony overlooking Santa Teresa's busiest street for drinking and dining, this is a great place for people watchers, and the range of sandwiches and breads makes it a good spot for a light lunch or late breakfast. There's a good range of cocktails and imported beers too, making it a popular option for early drinks before a night out in Santa Teresa or nearby Lapa. (21 2221-9439)
Opened in 2012, this relatively new addition to Rua Dias Ferreira's already-illustrious drinking and dining scene, Brigitte's soon found a loyal clientele. The chic whitewashed space is now one of the most popular spots on this smart gastronomic strip. The bistro-style dishes are as immaculately presented as the restaurant and its clientele, and light dishes such as the 'Salada Brigite's' - crisp mixed leaves topped with grilled squid, drizzled with passion fruit and garnished with a flower - are perfect for body conscious beach goers. The bar serves up a wonderful range of cocktails, too, many of which put colorful Brazilian fruits to good use. (21 2274 5590)
Widely considered to be the best Tapas bar in town, Venga serves the traditional Spanish-style small eats in a relaxed atmosphere that lends itself perfectly to socializing over a jug of sangria. Spicy sausages, picante potatoes and delicious imported cheeses are among the tempting options here and are designed to be shared among the groups of fashionable young things that frequent the trendy spot. The hum of lively chatter is as intoxicating as the red wine punch, and you could easily find that 'a quick bite to eat' turns into a full-on night out. This was the first of Rio's tapas restaurants, and set a high standard for others to follow. ((21) 2512-9826)
For the ultimate indulgent Rio experience, head to the Pergula, the elegant poolside restaurant at the enduringly elegant Copacabana Palace hotel. Less formal than the hotel's fine dining Italian restaurant, Cipriani. at Pergula you can dine in your (suitanbly stylish) swimwear and sarong. Watch beautiful people splash around in the pool as you sip Champagne cocktails and dine on seafood and light pasta dishes, or head here for the famous breakfasts and brunches, which include salmon and even caviar washed down with a spot of bubbly. The likes of the Obamas, Will Smith and Madonna have all dined here, so keep your eyes peeled for A-listers. (0055 21 2548 7070)
Bar do Arnaudo
It doesn't look like much, but this unpretentious little spot in leafy Santa Teresa offers vast portions of delicious Northeastern Brazilian food at more than reasonable prices. The walls are hung with paintings by Chilean artist Selaron - whose masterwork, the Lapa Steps, lies just a few minutes' walk from the restaurant - and the accommodating staff always offer the warmest of welcomes and the speediest of service. T Not the best spot for dieters, the restaurant (it's a bar in name only) serves hearty dishes such as sundried beef with cassava, rice and beans, while vegetarians can opt to switch the meat for 'queijo coalho' - thick slabs of grilled white cheese. Exercise caution when spooning on the pepper sauce that is served with each dish, it's fiery stuff. Set meals for one easily serve two or even three, making this a cost-effective spot for couples, families and groups of friends with hearty appetites. (21 2210 0817)
Located high on a jungle-clad hillside in Santa Teresa, Aprazivel is worth a visit for the views alone. Wisely making the most of the sweeping vistas over downtown Rio, the owners have made al-fresco dining the order of the day, here, with grass-roofed gazebos sitting amid lush tropical gardens visited by toucans and monkeys. At night, the scene is lit by candles and flickering fairy lights which, when combined with the views and the delicious French-Brazilian dishes on the menu, makes this one of the best spots in Rio for a romantic meal. Chef Ana Castilho has combined Brazilian culinary influences with tricks of hte trade learned during her training in France, and the result is a menu of light dishes that add some chic French touches to the wealth of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood available locally. (21 2507 7334)
This top-end French restaurant is arguably the most celebrated eatery in Rio de Janeiro, and is manned by celebrity chef Claude Troisgros - of the multi Michelin-starred Troisgras family of France. The award-strewn restaurant offers such delicacies as raw salmon with ginger, and organic eggs with caviar, and gives French dishes a Brazilian twist with the addition of locally-sourced fruit, vegetables and seasonings. Not a spot for the budget traveler, this is a wonderful 'special occasion' restaurant, and the degustation menu, at R$260 is a real feast for the eyes as well as the tastebuds thanks to Troisgros' immaculate presentation. (21 2539-4542)
Brazil is famous for the quality of its meat, and carnivores with a hankering to sink their teeth into as many cuts as possible will be in seventh heaven at Porcao. This chain of Brazilian ' churrascarias', or meat grills, works on an all-you-can-eat principle, whereby smartly-dressed waiters bring slab after glistening slab of meat to your table until you can eat no more. This 'rodizio' system is in place across many Rio meat restaurants, but few places have as solid a reputation for quality and service as Porcao. There are branches in Ipanema and Barra da Tijuca, but the Flamengo branch - known as Porcao Rio's - is the standout thanks to its floor to ceiling windows that take in a jaw-dropping view of Sugar Loaf mountain. Along with tucking into an endless supply of meat, diners can pay as many visits as they like the the heaving buffet, which offers salads, sushi, seafood, cheeses, olives and all manner of other treats. (21 3461 9020)
Brazilian celebrity Chef Felipe Bronze performs culinary alchemy at this super-trendy Jardim Botanico restaurant. The menu largely eschews main dishes in favor of a dazzling array of small plates, and Brazilian ingredients are given a contemporary spin through the use of innovative cooking methods, scientific know-how and a seemingly endless imagination. Cases in point include tiny cones made of acai 'paper' and filled with tapioca, white fish and fruits from Brazil's northeast. The culinary party tricks continue with dessert, and the dishes are as tasty as they are innovatively presented. Those who frown upon contemporary restaurants' sometimes 'out there' food presentation will wince at the lack of traditional plates here, but if you're after food as grand theater, this is the place to come. (21 7864-9622)
About Lucy Bryson
Lucy is a British freelance writer living in Rio de Janeiro since 2007. While there are some things she misses about her home country, the lure of year-round sunshine has proved too powerful to resist.
Read more about Lucy Bryson here.