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From Meat Feasts to Vegan Treats: The Best Rio de Janeiro Restaurants



Rio de Janeiro is a great city for foodies, and while dining out can be pricey the top fine dining options really do deliver a memorable experience (tip - restaurants with a view are always a good bet in this stunning city).

For a real treat, try the culinary tricks at our Michelin-starred top pick, Oro, or sample Brazil's famously good beef at a churrascaria such as Fogo de Chao, which has expanded internationally.  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 - a good case in point being the upmarket 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 at the other end of the scale the enduringly popular Bar do Arnaudo serves mammoth portions of hearty dishes from Northeastern Brazil. 


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Occupying a corner building on Santa Teresa's liveliest square - Largo do Guimaraes - Cafe do Alto has carved out a reputation for serving delicious dishes at fair prices, in a wonderfully colorful setting. The emphasis is on food from Brazil's Northeast, but but avoids the stodginess that sometimes weighs down Nordestino cooking. Light dishes include tapioca panckaes filled with everything from tomato and marinated tomatoes or shredded jerk beef, to sweet versions filled with fruit and curd cheese; while recommended mains include moqueca - a typical seafood stew, here adapted to include veggie friendly versions made with palm heart or yucca. There are abundant breakfast options, and the weekend breakfast buffet - which runs until 1pm - is the ideal hangover cure for anybody who partied hard in nearby Lapa the night before. Service is attentive, the decor is cheery and the cafe scores major parental brownie points for its kid-friendly menu and drawing materials.




Venga serves the traditional Spanish-style small eats in a relaxed atmosphere that lends itself perfectly to socializing over a jug of sangria. Widely considered to be the best tapas bar in town, and the first to open in a city that was slow to succumb to the tapas trend, Venga specializes in traditional small plates such as Spicy sausages, picante potatoes and delicious imported cheeses, all of which are enjoyed with great gusto by the the groups of fashionable young locals 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 .




With a prime location on the main drinking and dining strip in leafy, artsy Santa Teresa, Bar do Mineiro is the focal point for the neighborhood's famously lively social scene. As the name suggests, the menu bears the culinary influences of the owner, a 'Mineiro' (native of Minas Gerais) who over the years has built up a loyal fanbase drawn to his hearty plates of meaty dishes. For a lighter snack, the portions of 'pasteis' (small, deepfried pastries filled with cheese, meat, beans or shrimp) are widely considered to be among the best in the city. But it's the lively atmosphere that is the real draw here, with locals and visitors gathering here to eat, drink and chat well into the night.


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This popular steakhouse has branches across Brazil and has even expanded internationally. The Barra branch offers top quality grilled meats on a 'rodizio' basis - waiters flit among the tables, offering slice after freshly-cooked slice to diners. The main emphasis is on beef, but chicken and pork get a look-in too, and there's a lavish buffet laden with all manner of tempting sides. The set price of around R$120 includes limitless meat and as many trips to the buffet as you can manage, and vegetarians can opt for a 'Market Table' - trading the meat cuts for treats such as hearts of palm, quinoa salads and imported cheeses.




Whether you're a staunch vegetarian, a health-food enthusiast or even a carnivore who has tucked into one steak too many, this cosy corner restaurant in Leblon is just the ticket. Healthfood and organic eating is a growing sector of Rio's dining scene, and this long-standing Leblon favorite has stood the test of time. At lunch, diners can load their plates high at a wholefood buffet including soups, salads, beans, rice, soya dishes and a range of healthy pies and pastries for a set price, while a-la-carte options are available in the evening. The vegan version of 'feijaoda', the usually-meaty national dish, made here with smoked tofu, is legendary.




Rio's culinary heritage has been notably influenced by Portuguese settlers, but there are relatively few fine dining restaurants in the city where this influence really comes to the fore. At Antiquarius, in Leblon, Portuguese and Brazilian dishes are celebrated in all their rich, hearty glory, and while the restaurant holds little appeal for vegetarians, it will tick many boxes for carnivores looking to tuck into flavorsome plates such as the restaurant's version of the traditional feijoada (meat and bean stew). Elected the best in the city by many local food and drink magazines, the version here features every meat cut you could think of - and some you might never have imagined eating. The setting, which calls to mind the belle epoque-era home of a wealthy landowner, is both sophisticed and homely - not unlike the food itself.




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.




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.




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.


Oro
Photo courtesy of Oro/Tomas Rangel


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.


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Meet 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.

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