Get Plenty of Bang for Your Buck at Rio's Best Value Restaurants



Formal dining in Rio de Janeiro can be an eye-wateringly expensive, but that's not to say that travelers on a budget will go hungry in Rio.

Many locals have a keen eye for places that are  'bom e barato' (good AND cheap), so bargain hunters should avoid restaurants aiming themselves squarely at the tourist market, and look out for spots that are packed with cariocas (Rio natives).

It is also worth bearing in mind that main meals in Rio often - but not always - serve two people, so check before ordering to avoid spending twice as much you need to.

In some places, even meals for one are huge - the 'individual' set meals at our top pick, Bar do Arnaudo in Santa Teresa, easily serve two or even three hungry diners. 

Also popular with budget conscious visitors to Rio are the city's many 'por kilo' restaurants - where diners take their pick from a buffet and pay according to the weight of their plate - offer everything from sushi and colorful salads to steak for a set price per 100 grams.  Generally catering to the lunchtime market, these spots are a great opportunity to try a number of different foods without spending  a lot of money.

There are even affordable options in famously pricey neighborhoods such as Leblon - try funky Mexican La Calaca for delicious dishes and cocktails that won't break the bank.

 



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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.


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Feira Nordestina de Sao Cristovao
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson


 

It doesn't feature on many tourist itineraries, but foodies in Rio should be sure to pay a visit to this vast market dedicated to all things Northeastern. A huge, purpose built space housing hundreds of food and drinks stalls and restaurants alongside craft and clothing stores, the 'Feira Nordestina' is a great place to sample the often-spicy cuisine from the arid north of the country. Those who find food in Rio to be a little bland may want to sample some of the many colorful chili peppers and pepper sauces here, while seafood fans are well catered for too. Eating opportunities range from quick snacks on the hoof to hearty meals served from heaving buffets, many of which serve food priced by its weight, not its type - meaning that 100 grams of lobster could cost the same as 100 grams of white rice.


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Cultivar Brazil
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

 

This little gem of a lunchspot at the heart of Santa Teresa is a real treasure trove of tastiness for anybody with an aversion to gluten or a preference for natural, organic ingredients. Alongside a range of wholemeal sweet and savory tarts and pies and some yummy sandwiches, there are gluten-free cakes, tarts (try the palm-heart and yogurt) and a mini-store stocked with a range of pastas, biscuits and other goodies to take away. In addition, Cultivar Brazil serves unarguably the best Pao de Queijo (little cheese breads made with manioc flour)in the city, here they are made with organic ingredients and are truly delicious.


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Located just a few steps from Catete Palace, with its pleasant gardens and interesting museum, this unassuming spot is the only place in Rio to sample food from Macau - a region of Southern China settled by the Portuguese. The result is an interesting hybrid of culinary traditions from both countries, with a splash of Brazilian influence thrown in for good measure. Along with a decent lunchtime buffet that features staples such as rice, beans and cassava as well as oriental favorites such as spring rolls and wonton, there's an a-la-carte menu that sees dishes such as tofu with ginger and spring onion sitting happily alongside Caldo Verde (traditional Portuguese soup made with greens, potato and sausage) and mains that range from stir-fried noodles and vegetables to Brazilian feijoada. To wash it down, you might want to try a Portuguese cherry or bitteralmond liqueur, or stick to Brazilian tradition with a caiprinha.


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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, but this Leblon favorite was one of the first to open, and is still unarguably one of the best. 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.


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Budget travelers can feast on all manner of treats at this downtown lunch restaurant. The self-service buffet includes everything from sushi and rice noodles to hot meat, fish and chicken dishes, alongside staples like rice and beans, fries, and local specialities such as pao de queijo and aipim. Priced at less than R$3 per 100 grams, the Centro branch of this city-wide chain is less than half the price of most pay-by-weight restaurants in Ipanema and Copacabana, and floods with office workers between noon and 2pm - head here shortly after two or shortly before noon, and the price per 100 grams drops.


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Bar do Bonde
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

 

Take just a slight detour from Santa Teresa´s main tourist trail and you´ll find one of the neighborhood´s best value bar-restaurants. Located just a few minutes´ walk (follow the tram line uphill from the main square at Largo do Guimaraes), this laid-back little bar offers an excellent range of bar snacks and main meals at prices that compare very favorably with those down the hill at Largo do Guimaraes. There's also a decent cocktail list and a seriously well-mixed caipirinha. Saturday nights see live samba, jazz and bossa nova bands draw a sizable crowd of locals - get there before 8pm to grab one of the few sidewalk tables here.


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This funky Mexican restaurant at the heart of Rio's trendy Leblon neighborhood serves food to satisfy any hankering for Mexican food, as well as immaculately-presented margaritas and other cocktails that taste as good as they look. The food is prepared and plated up with great care, too, and is a cut above the Tex Mex fare more commonly found in Rio. It's a small place with a colorful decor and an impressive attention to detail that extends from the artsy touches to the sleek presentation of the drinks and snacks. Grab a sidewalk table and watch the elegant locals glide by as you enjoy small eats and cocktails, or tuck into something more substantial - Prices are suprisingly fair for this upscale area.


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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. 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.


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This downtown vegetarian lunch spot is slightly hidden above a backstreet store, but it's well worth seeking out. A popular choice with local workers - whether veggie or just looking for a healthy and budget-friendly lunch. Each day there's a set meal - including a soup, main, drink and healthy dessert, while the buffet also offers a staggering array of tempting healthy options - including colorful salads, wholegrain rice, lentils and beans in various incarnations, and even meat-free versions of classic Brazilian dishes such as feijoada. It's not entirely vegan - cheese and eggs get a look in, but there are plenty of vegan options.


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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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