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Best Buffet Restaurants in Rio: From Budget to Major Blowout



If you're the type of diner that likes to sample a little of everything, Rio's hugely popular buffet restaurants are sure to appeal. 

At lunch time, many locals head to one of the ubiquitous 'por kilo' buffet restaurants in the city, which allow diners to take their pick from a staggering array of salads, pasta dishes, meaty main courses, fruits and vegetables in all manner of guises, cheeses and even sushi. 

These buffet restaurants range from cheap and cheerful to luxurious, and even the most humble spots offer such a vast range of dishes that they are perfect for every type of foodie, from the staunchest of carnivores to the strictest of vegetarians. Some, such as New Natural in Ipanema, are specialist health food spots, with an emphasis on wholesome, organic ingredients.

Meanwhile, the legendary meat feasts at Porcao are accompanied by a salads, sides and sushi buffet that would keep even the hungriest vegetarian happy.

Some por kilo restaurants have a meat grill in addition to the buffet, while all have separate dessert buffets- check pricing as these are often more expensive than the main section. While the pay-by-weight buffets of upscale Ipanema and Leblon are often expensive (head to an Ipanema por kilo restaurant with a raging hunger only if you have a substantial budget), those of Centro are generally very affordable, and it is worth noting that many of these restaurants are cheaper before 11pm and after 2pm. 

 


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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. 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.




The Copacabana branch of this well-established 'comida a kilo' (pay-by-weight buffet) restaurant is handy for post-beach late lunches, and the vast array of meat dishes, sides, salads and desserts will keep even the fussiest of diners happy. The name translates as 'manioc and celery', but this food on offer at this family-friendly spot is a lot more appealing than that may suggest, and diners can load up their plate with everything from simple staples like rice and beans to elaborate, freshly-prepared versions of classic Brazilian stews and fish dishes. The huge range of inventive, colorful and appetizing salads will keep vegetarians happy, and diners can treat themselves to goodies such as palm hearts and stuffed olives.




Located a few blocks from Ipanema beach and right next door to the strip of backpacker lodgings dubbed 'Hostel Alley', this health food store, buffet restaurant and snack bar offers a huge range of wholesome ingredients for self caterers as well as a range of eat-in dishes that are every bit as tasty as they are nutritious. While there is plenty of choice here for vegetarians, New Natural is not entirely meat-free, with low-fat chicken and fish putting in a few appearances on the menu. The buffet operates on a pay-by-weight system, and prices here, while on the high side, are reasonable for the neighborhood. There's an air conditioned lounge upstairs and a couple of sidewalk tables and chairs, making New Natural a favourite spot among backpackers looking for a quick, healthy lunch.


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Graca da Vila
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

Located just steps away from the Museum of the Republic and Catete Palace, this spick and span buffet restaurant is popular with local business people as well as tourists visiting the nearby attractions. The popularity is deserved - it serves some of the best ´comida a kilo´(food served by weight) in the area. As well as an ever-changing menu that takes in dozens of fresh, colorful salads, as well as hearty hot dishes and a meat grill, there's a sushibar with some very decent Japanese food. After 6pm, the restaurant turns its attention to pizza, offering all-you-can-eat feasts of pizza, chicken and fries for a set price.


The name - which translates as 'cauliflower' in English, may not sound hugely appetising for meat lovers, but this upmarket buffet restaurant is a real find for fussy eaters and groups with diverse culinary wants and needs - it offers over 20 different salads daily, along with sushi, freshly-prepared pasta dishes and sizzling steaks at the meat grill. A firm favourite with the well-to-do local residents, it makes a great option for lunch after a visit to the famous botanical gardens that give this attractive neighborhood its name. There's a decent selection of wines by the bottle or glass, too.




The down-town branch of Pampa Grill (the original branch, in Barra, has been in business some 30 years) is a popular choice among local business people, who head here for the excellent cuts of meat on offer, along with the vast range of hot and cold side dishes that tempt diners to the heaving buffet bar. Pampa Grill operates two dining systems - you can choose to pay by weight (around R$6 per 100 grams) or you can pay a set price of R$90 for all you can eat feasts. The first option is great for those looking for a light lunch, while those with hearty appetites would be wise to opt for the latter. Whichever you opt for, you are guaranteed a memorable culinary experience, with the opportunity to feast on top quality cuts of meat, fresh fish and seafood, and fresh tropical fruits and vegetables in more variations than one could ever imagine.




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$2.60 per 100 grams, the Centro branch of this city-wide chain is cheaper than those in Ipanema and Copacabana, and floods with office workers between noon and 2pm - head here shortly after two or shortly before noon, and the 'per 100 grams' price drops.




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.


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.




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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