Sociable Spots for Group-Friendly Dining in Lively Rio de Janeiro



Much of Rio de Janeiro´s social scene centers around food, and the city is well geared up towards large groups of diners. 

As Brazilians rarely drink on an empty stomach, most bars serve food - from petiscos - (bar snacks) to hearty, alcohol-absorbing full meals, and most botequims (bar-restaurants) are perfectly happy to host families with young children as well as large and lively groups of friends.

Among the best-loved of Rio's food-focused botequims are Leblon institution Jobi, famed for its excellent bolinhos de bacalhau (seasoned cod and potato balls) and the lively Bar do Mineiro in Santa Teresa, which serves hearty traditional plates from the Minas Gerais region of Brazil as well as some delicious small eats such as pastries stuffed with cheese, shrimp, or black beans. 

Our top pick is trendy Spanish restaurant Venga, in Leblon, which led the charge for Tapas restaurants in Rio, and politely suggests that patrons turn off their phones and talk among themselves. Nearby Stuzzi offers Tapas-style dining with Italian small plates.  Also in Leblon, La Calaca does Mexican food - and tequila-based drinks - with aplomb.

For something more traditional, head to Porcao for a meat feast that can be stretched out over an entire afternoon or evening - here waiters bring cut after cut of freshly grilled meat to your table, while an immense buffet of salads and sides ensures vegetarians won´t go hungry.

Rio de Janeiro is gradually developing its own cafe culture, too, and Cafecito is one of the best options in town with its leafy, ornate terrace, good strong coffees and cocktails and delicious light meals. 



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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. 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.


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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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In a neighborhood where many bars are formal and a little stuffy, Jobi is a breath of fresh air. The early-opening, late-closing Leblon institution is a fine example of the Rio boteco - botecos being informal bars serving food and good company to a relaxed crowd. Locals and out-of-towners alike flock here for perfectly-kept draught beers, well-mixed cocktails and an extensive range of bar snacks that includes moreish versions of local staples such as bolinhos de bacalhau(fried cod and potato balls). The bar opens late and closes early, so you're sure to be able to fit in a visit - whether it be for an early morning coffee, early evening food and drinks, or an end-of-the-night cocktail.


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Chico & Alaide
Photo courtesy of Chico & Alaide

 

The Brazilian bar snack, when well made, is a beautiful thing, and those at Chico & Alaide are among the best in Rio. The pair behind the bar have created a 'petiscos' (snacks) list that is so extensive it is hard to know where to begin, but it really is hard to go wrong with any of the orders at this much-loved Leblon establishment. A good place to begin is with a couple of orders of 'bolinhos' - little fried balls of cassava or polenta, stuffed with yummy ingredients such as shrimp and catupiry - a creamy soft cheese. The empadas (little pies made with light, buttery pastry) are also delicious, and a wide choice of beers, wines and cocktils helps keep the atmosphere lively. For relaxed drinking and dining in Leblon, this is a top spot.


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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 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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Simplesmente
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson


 

This appealingly laid back bar at the heart of Santa Teresa's nightlife strip is a long-standing favorite among locals and visitors alike, with its late opening hours making it a top spot for end-of-the-night drinks. Prices are reasonable, the vibe is chatty and relaxed, and there's a good range of bar snacks to help soak up some of that fast-flowing beer. The black bean soup is a tasty option, while pizzas and portions of fried aipim (manioc) are also popular orders. Wednesday nights see live samba bands turn the place into a full-on party, while on weekends revellers spill out onto the streets, plastic cups in hand.


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Aimed squarely at North Americans with a hankering for taste of their homeland, Gringo Cafe does a roaring trade in US DIner-style favorites such as hash browns, bottomless coffees, pancakes, waffles and French toast, as well as delicious cakes, milkshakes and cheese burgers made with imported American cheese. The breakfasts, served all day, are manna from heaven for many homesick ex-pats, who can indulge a craving for bacon, eggs made any way you choose, while mains such as mac & cheese and spaghetti with meatballs also help to keep homesickness pangs at bay. A couple of blocks back from the beach, Gringo Cafe is also popular with wealthy locals keen to experience a taste of North America, but the English-speaking staff mean that bedazzled visitors to the city can relax and put the phrase book away here.


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The first tapas bar to arrive in Rio is still considered to be the bestin 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 patatas bravas 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.


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This popular steakhouse 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.


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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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