Best Spots for Hearty, Homestyle Treats in Rio de Janeiro



Given the soaring temperatures, one might expect Rio de Janeiro dining to be all about light salads and seafood. In fact, the opposite is true, and heavy rice and beans are the staple part of virtually any home-style meal Rio de Janeiro. 

The one meal they are not served is at breakfast, which is a veritable feast of breads, cheeses, cold cuts, cakes, coffee, fresh fruits, jams and jellies as well as delicious pao de queijo - an addictive mix of manioc flour, eggs and cheese.

Our top spot for a home-style feast is Bar do Arnaudo, a welcoming and unpretentious little spot in Santa Teresa that serves mammoth portions of hearty Northeastern Brazilian cuisine. The Brazilian national dish, feijoada, sees black beans mixed with all manner of meat cuts and served with spring greens, rice and farofa (seasoned manioc flour). Traditionally served on Saturdays, feijoada can be enjoyed any day of the week at Casa da Feijoada, while a delicious vegetarian version is on the menu at Leblon´s Vegetariano Social Clube, while that other Brazilian speciality, grilled meat, can be enjoyed across the city at spots such as Churrascaria Pampa Grill. And what better way to toast your visit to Rio than with a traditional caiprinha, that mix of rum, lime and sugar that is as intoxicating as the city itself.



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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.


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Rustico
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson


 

The team behind Santa Teresa's acclaimed Cafecito cafe-bar have expanded into the floor above their much-loved establishment, transforming the leafy courtyard into a dining space that is arelaxed in ambiance and as rustic in decor as the name suggests. The menu takes in some interesting vegetarian options such as a delicious grilled brie and pineapple salad as well as grilled ribs and other meaty favourites. It's hard to go wrong with pizzas from the wood-fired oven, and the light, crispy vegetarian option that skips the cheese and piles on the grilled eggplant, cherry tomatoes and black olives is a refreshingly light way to indulge. Staff are attentive without being pushy, the choice of wines and beers is impressive, and the location at the heart of Santa Teresa can't be beat.


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Cultivar Brazil
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson


 

This small, unassuming, unsigned little lunch and brunch spot is a great option 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), here made with organic ingredients. There's no sign above the cafe, but Cultivar Brazil opens right onto Santa Teresa's main drinking and dining strip.


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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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Da Casa da Tata frequently crops up in food and drink magazines' 'Best of' lists, with its breakfasts in particular garnering rave reviews. The range of home-made breads is in itself a reason to visit, and the fresh-out-of-the-oven smell hangs in the air as you enter, to mouthwatering effect. Breakfasts range from simple - bread, butter, jam, juice and coffee - to lavish spreads of cakes, pastries, breads, cheeses, fresh fruit and juices, and the coffee is seriously good. Come here with a good book and/or good friends and settle back for a leisurely breakfast that will set you in good stead for a day´s adventures.


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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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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, such as traditional Minas sausages served with butter-cooked 'aipim' (cassava). 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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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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Feijoada - a hearty bean and meat feast - is Brazil's national dish, and no foodie worth their salt will want to leave Rio without having tried it. Traditionally served only on Saturdays, Casa da Feijoada is one spot where you can feast on this delicious stew every day of the week. Served with traditional sides such as fried 'couve' (spring greens), farofa (toasted and seasoned manioc flour) and a slice of orange 'to lower cholesterol', the feijoada itself combines all manner of cuts of meat slowcooked with beans, and is such a feast that Brazilians will usually eat it over the course of several hours, turning feiijoada-eating into a social event.


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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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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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