Best Places to Enjoy a Meal in Rio's Bustling, Beautiful Copacabana



Copacabana is better known for its beach, bronzed beach beauties and touristy beach bars than for fine dining, but there are some surprisingly sophisticated restaurants to be found in this most touristic of neighborhoods. There´s seriously good Italian food on offer at  Cipriani, the formal Italian restaurant at Copacabana Palace hotel. There is equally glitzy, but more laid-back, dining at Pergula, the hotel´s poolside restaurant, and both welcome non-guests. More budget-friendly options can be found in the form of the kiosks that line the sands. These range from simple beach bars with plastic tables and chairs to champagne bars and pizzerias, and prices range from around R$15 for a plate of fried sardines to R$100 for a plate of smoked salmon. 

For informal dining, head to one of Copacabana's many botequims - casual bar restaurants that throng with locals and tourists at all hours of the day. One of the best for beer lovers is Espetto Carioca - where diners can munch kebabs and sip beers and caipirinhas while soaking up terrific beach views.



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Sushi is taken seriously but the atmosphere is lighthearted at this excellent Japanese restaurant at the Leme end of Copacabana. Sushi and sashimi abound in seemingly endless variations, while edamame beans are satisfyingly crunchy and miso soup feels suitably health-giving. Dine at the counter or seated on cushions around ultra-low tables, and sip on a fresh fruit juice, Japanese beer or, to perfectly combine the tastes of Japan and Brazil, a caipisake - a twist on the classic caipirinha cocktail, using Japanese rice wine in place of cachaca rum.


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Seafood, sea views, ice cold beers and a chilled vibe make this one of the most popular of Copacabana's many beach bars. It's located at Posto 3 - lifeguard post three - making it pretty much midway along the beachfront, so it's a good place to stop and refuel if you're taking a stroll along the five kilometer promenade. You don't need to order a full meal, but you may find yourself tempted by some of the fresh seafood on offer here, as well as decent range of cocktails as well as the standard beers and caipirinhas.


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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.


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This kebab-focused food and drink spot has several branches in Rio, but the one at the Leme end of Copacabana beach is the most appealing, thanks to its stellar location. Tables and chairs are set up in front of the outdoor bar which sits atop a giant rock harboring one end of the beach, allowing drinkers and diners to enjoy a view that takes in the full four-mile sweep of white sand beach. Popular throughout the day and well into the evening, the food focus is mainly on various types of 'meat on a stick', but there are veggie options too - including a tempting palm heart, arugula and sun-dried tomato kebab, and some yummy fruit and chocolate combinations. The drinks list impresses, too - there's a wide range of Brazilian and imported beers, and a cocktail menu that goes way beyond the ubiquitous caipirinhas.


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Amir
Photo courtesy of WhitneyinChicago

 

A history of Middle Eastern traders settling in Rio has had a marked influence on the city´s culinary scene, with dishes such as tabouleh and kibe popping up with suprising regularity in bars and restaurants across the city. This is one of the best places for a full middle Eastern feast, and will satisfy a hankering for hummous, kebabs, falafel and spiced meat. Take an outdoor seat downstairs to watch Copacabana´s interesting street scene, or opt for the air conditioned upstairs dining room if you want a little respite from the chaos. This part of Copacabana can be a little edgy after dark, so it can be worth calling a cab if you have far to walk.


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Copacabana Beach
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson


 

There´s no danger of going hungry at Copacabana beach. While vendors stroll the sands selling simple snacks and sandwiches, the boardwalk is lined with bars and restaurants that range from cheap and cheerful to seriously sophisticated. Here you can tuck into everything from a plate of fried sardines to smoked salmon washed down with a glass of genuine French Champagne. When it comes to relaxed dining, this is really the way to do it, and the leisurely pace of life here means you can linger as long as you like over your meal and drinks. With some kiosks open into the small hours, this is a great place to start or end a night out.


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This chic Italian restaurant is housed within the elegant confines of Copacabana Palace Hotel, and welcomes non-guests with reservations. The service is as impeccable as the renderings of Italian dishes made with fresh seasonal ingredients, and the fresh pasta is simply wonderful. This is about as formal as dining gets in Rio, so put on your glad rags if you want to feel at home in a spot that has catered to a range of A-listers that takes in such diverse names as the Obamas, Will Smith, Madonna and Mick Jagger. There´s no need to go for full on black-tie and tux, but smart-casual attire is a must.


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Thanks to an enviable location at Copacabana's closest point to Ipanema, Atlantis offers stunning views that take in the length of Copacabana beach. An outdoor seating area makes the most of these sweeping vistas, and the food on offer is just as appetizing as the visual feast. There are some solid renderings of French and European dishes, but locals flock here for the Saturday feijoada, the perfectly grilled picanha steak, and the famous Sunday seafood buffet. With attentive service and a perfectly-crafted caipirinha, this is one of the best spots in the city to enjoy dinner with a sea breeze.


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Your morning coffee comes with a refreshing sea breeze and stunning sea views at this al-fresco spot in the grounds of Copacabana Fort. Breakfast is served at several outdoor table and, while service can be a little on the slow side, who's in a rush when you've got a view over Copacabana beach and out to sea? The 'farmhouse breakfast' (R$29) features corn cake, coffee cheese, baskets of bread, fruit and the delicious Brazilian speciality that is pao de quejo - little rolls of manioc flour and cheese. Come here with time to spare and take your time just soaking up the view and enjoying the cooling breezes.


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Pavao Azul
Photo courtesy of Los Viajes del Cangrejo/Flickr

 

Much of Rio's liveliest drinking and dining centers around its informal, unpretentious 'botecos' (casual bars) and this unassuming hole-in-the-wall bar-restaurant is a great case in point. Serving award-winning bar snacks and ice cold beers to hungry locals for over half a century, Pavao Azul is the type of unpretentious establishment where sandy-shorted, flip-flop wearing visitors can fit right in. Reasonable prices and a location at the heart of Copacabana add to the appeal, and it's not unusual for live music to break out at weekends. There are some good mains here - including a delicious shrimp risotto - but the best way to eat is to grab a sidewalk table, beers and a few plates for sharing, and experience relaxed Carioca life at its best.


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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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