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10 Best Restaurants in Rio de Janeiro's Lively Lapa Neighborhood



The famously lively Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of Lapa is best known for its buzzing bars, raucous street party and live music venues, but there's plenty here to keep foodies happy too.  Brazilians rarely drink on an empty stomach, so there's food to be found at the abundant bars of this downtown party district. Food is served right up until closing time at most bars in Lapa, and even nightclubs take their food seriously - samba institution Carioca da Gema has its own highly-regarded pizzaria, while Rio Scenarium - one of the best-known live music clubs in the city - serves full sit-down meals to be enjoyed before or after taking a spin around the dancefloor.

Even the famous Lapa Street Party - which bursts into noisy life around midnight on Fridays, Saturdays and the eve of public holidays - is as notable for its foodie offerings as its boozy ones. Hungry revellers tuck into giant X-Tudo (with everything) burgers and hotdogs, freshly made pizzas, delicious acaraje from northeastern Brazil, and barbequed hunks of cheese and meat.

By day, the neighborhood caters to a lunchtime crowd with several pay-by-weight buffet restaurants, several of which can be found on Rua do Lavradio, the historic street at the heart of Lapa, whose handsome colonial buildings have been transformed into cafes, bars, restaurants and - fittingly - antiques stores.


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The name 'X Tudo' comes from the fact that Brazilians pronounce the English word 'cheese' as 'Sheesh', which is the phonetic sound for X in Portuguese. Hence, X Tudo means 'cheese with everything', and a X Tudo burger is basically a cheeseburger on steroids. Sold at street stands and vans across the city, the burgers are loaded with cheese, bacon, a fried egg, matchstick potatoes, salad, and perhaps an extra burger. Often costing just R$2, it's a quick and cheap way to recharge your energy supplies, and a popular post-drinking snack. Opt for stands with long queues - the locals know which burgers to go for and which to avoid.




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.


For a taste of Rio's Belle Epoque past, head to this historic cafe-restaurant in downtown Rio. Ornate chandeliers and jacaranda wood mirrors make an elegant setting for breakfasts, brunches and afternoon teas, and this is the ideal place to take the weight of your feet and soak up the opulence during a Centro shopping or sightseeing spree. Head here for a quick espresso and a pastry at the stand up balcony or sit down and relax with a full breakfast spread complete with breads, coffee, cakes, jams, jellies, juices and fruit. Just don't forget your camera to capture the grandeur of the place.


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Along with the beaches, the Christ statue and Sugar Loaf mountain, another postcard-perfect image of Rio are the mammoth white arches that stand in city's historic center. At night, revelers gather below the arches as a huge street party unfurls - head here on a Friday night to see Rio's party spirit at its liveliest. The area around the arches is taken over by hundreds of stalls selling all manner of tempting treats to eat and drink, from fresh-baked pizzas and beers to Northeastern acaraje and fruity-but-potent cocktails. Surrounded by bars and clubs pumping out everything from hip hop and favela funk to samba and pagode, the Arcos da Lapa are the starting point for many a memorable night out in Rio.




Budget travelers can feast on all manner of treats at this good value downtown lunch restaurant that's a firm favorite with local office workers. 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 lunching workers between noon and 2pm - head here shortly after two or shortly before noon, and the 'per 100 grams' price drops.


Iin the historic heart of Lapa, this reformed colonial mansion home has received a colorful makeover with illuminated artworks on the brick walls, vibrantly-colored cocktails and an equally bright and breezy playlist. An eclectic musical menu takes in electro-heavy club nights, more gentile jazz-fests and live samba sessions, and downstairs dancefloors are packed well into the small hours almost every night of the week. A mezzanine balcony provides ample space for sipping drinks and chatting - should you be able to make yourself heard over the pumping music. Alongside an extensive cocktail list, some tempting finger food. Groups of friends may want to opt for the mixed platter, which includes tasty finger foods such as rosemary and garlic breadsticks, focaccia, sundried tomato paste and little oven-baked pastries.


Rua do Lavradio
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson


Visitors looking for the historic heart of Rio won't find it by the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana, but in the heart of downtown Lapa. Rua do Lavradio was one of the first streets to be built in Rio de Janeiro back in the 1770s, and its handsome colonial buildings offer plenty to offer architecture buffs. Fittingly, many of the buildings have been converted into antiques stores, while others now serve as bars and restaurants. On the first Saturday of each month, the street packs with vendors, shoppers and sightseers when the famous Feira do Rio Antigo - an antiques, fashion and arts fair - takes place.


Nova Capela
Photo courtesy of Flickr user Omar Uran under a Creative Commons license

This traditional restaurant at the heart of Rio's party district opens until 4am every night of the week, and has been helping hard-partying Cariocas to soak up alcohol since the 1960s. But while the late hours and plum location are part of its appeal, it's the delicious food that has secured Nova Capela's success over the decades. Along with excellent renderings of traditional bar snacks such as 'bolinnhos de bacalhau' (seasoned cod and potato balls), the informal restaurant also serves hearty dishes such as a famous goat with broccoli rice. By day it's popular with out-of-towners refueling during walking tours of Centro, but after midnight it throngs with tipsy locals, and the caipirinhas here, while not the best in town, are dependably good and pleasingly potent.




The name translates as 'little bar', but this lively Lapa hangout packs a lot into its less than palatial layout. The name translates as 'little bar', but this lively Lapa hangout packs a lot into its less than palatial layout. The small plates and bar snacks are famous, and make tasty companions to something from the extensive drinks list. Regular events such as samba and feijoada afternoons on the first Saturday of the month, and vinyl-only DJ marathons on Tuesday evenings make this a top spot for those who take their music seriously, while the pumping electro that soundtracks Friday and Saturday nights at Barzinho ensure that the bar attracts a hipped up, clubby crowd. Like most drinking dens in Rio, food has a major part to play, too, and the menu here offers some tasty takes on traditional bar snacks such as pasteis (little stuffed pastries) which here come filled with a mix of flavorsome cheeses. It's open well into the early hours most nights of the week, and the funky decor gives a nightclub-esque vibe to this small space.




Tuck into some of the best pizzas in town before dancing the night away at Carioca da Gema. Samba lovers of all ages flock to this downtown dance house, where the fleet of foot and supple of rump shimmy and shake around the dance floor. The club is housed in a tall and handsome colonial building, with a balcony overlooking the crowded streets of Lapa - perfect for people-watching and catching a breath of fresh air before you carry on your dance-athon. If you don't feel confident to take to the floor yourself, just admire the locals' skill and sip on a caipirinha until the Dutch courage kicks in. It is largely assumed that foreigners can't dance, so nobody will judge too harshly.


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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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