Dine Out in Style in Rio de Janeiro's Chic Leblon Neighborhood



The upmarket Rio neighborhood of Leblon has carved a reputation for itself as the city's foodie heartland, attracting tourists and wealthy locals to its slick restaurants and laid back cafe-bars.

In keeping with its reputation as one of the city's trendiest areas, Leblon restaurants tend to be more about casual chic than formal fine dining, but the food is taken as seriously as the drink and the fashionable decor at bar-restaurants such as Italian small-plates restaurant Stuzzi, smart bistro Brigite's and funky Mexican spot La Calaca.

If in doubt about where to eat, head for the foodie strip that is Rua Dias Ferreira, to find the largest concentration of high end, food-focused bars and restaurants in the city. Stop for small eats and drinks at a few places or settle in for the evening at your hangout of choice.

Japanese food is hugely popular in Rio, and the elegant Sushi Leblon is widely regarded as the best Japanese restaurant in the city, while Venga! is the original and still the best tapas restaurant in a city where the Spanish-style nibbles have been slow to take off. For something more authentically Brazilian, Chico & Alaide has one of the city's most extensive selections of petiscos (traditional small plates), while Jobi is one of Rio's best loved botecos (relaxed bar-restaurants), serving superior bar snacks to a bohemian clientele. Vegetarians and vegans are spoiled for organic eats at meat-free institution Vegetariano Social Clube, where there's a hearty set-price lunch buffet and a-la-carte choices in the evening.  



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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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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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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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Rio's culinary heritage has been notably influenced by Portuguese settlers, but there are relatively few fine dining restaurants in the city where this influence really comes to the fore. At Antiquarius, in Leblon, Portuguese and Brazilian dishes are celebrated in all their rich, hearty glory, and while the restaurant holds little appeal for vegetarians, it will tick many boxes for carnivores looking to tuck into flavorsome plates such as the restaurant's version of the traditional feijoada (meat and bean stew). Elected the best in the city by many local food and drink magazines, the version here features every meat cut you could think of - and some you might never have imagined eating. The setting, which calls to mind the belle epoque-era home of a wealthy landowner, is both sophisticed and homely - not unlike the food itself.


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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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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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A relatively recent addition to Rua Dias Ferreira's already-illustrious drinking and dining scene, the chic whitewashed space that is Brigite's has fast become part of the well-heeled establishment. The bistro-style dishes are as immaculately presented as the restaurant and its clientele, and light dishes such as the 'Salada Brigite's' - crisp mixed leaves topped with grilled squid, drizzled with passion fruit and garnished with a flower - are perfect for body conscious beach goers. The bar serves up a wonderful range of cocktails, too, many of which put colorful Brazilian fruits to good use - ask which fruits are in season if you want a


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Venga serves the traditional Spanish-style small eats in a relaxed atmosphere that lends itself perfectly to socializing over a jug of sangria. Widely considered to be the best tapas bar in town, and the first to open in a city that was slow to succumb to the tapas trend, Venga specializes in traditional small plates such as Spicy sausages, picante potatoes and delicious imported cheeses, all of which are enjoyed with great gusto by the the groups of fashionable young locals 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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Fresh, handmade pasta and wood-fired pizzas are the stars of the menu at this authentic Italian restaurant located at the meeting point between Ipanema and Leblon. The restaurant specialises in dishes from the Emilia Romana region of Italy, and there's been little tampering with the traditional recipes - alongside some of the best pizzas in the city, there's a huge range of pastas, including lasagne, tagliatelle, ravioli, garganelli, tagliolini, cappelletti, tortelli e tortellini. The couvert delicious small plates to be nibbled on while enjoying something from the good - and, by Rio standards reasonably priced, wine list, and an outdoor patio allows for al-fresco dining.


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Among countless Rio de Janeiro sushi restaurants, Sushi Leblon is the sophisticated standout. The restaurant is perfectly suited to the slender, elegant souls that frequent it - forget the all-you-can eat sushi 'rodizios' served by the majority of Rio sushi restaurants, Sushi Leblon is all about immaculately presented tiny portions. Sushi purists may take issue with some of the ingredients - foie gras, for example, is a controversial component but one that has won many fans with the chic diners here. Sushi Leblon's culinary influences come from across the globe, rather than Japan exclusively, and it is a mix that seems to work - the restaurant has consistently topped 'best sushi restaurant' lists for over a decade.


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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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