Ten of the Best Restaurants with Healthy Menus in Rio de Janeiro



Restaurants with healthy menus are in ample supply in Rio de Janeiro. Although the traditional local meal is a heavy medley of meat, rice and beans, there´s a growing emphasis on restaurants catering to the body-conscious types that frequent the famous sands of Ipanema, Copacabana and Leblon. After all, Rio's's social scene revolves around the beaches, and the year-round toasty temperatures mean less is definitely more when it comes to clothing.

Along with a wealth of ´natural' restaurants (to use the local term for health-food joints) such asNew Natural in Ipanema, Vegetariano Social Clube in Leblon and Cultivar Brazil in Santa Teresa, the city´s many buffet restaurants are excellent places to load up on colorful salads. Kilograma, in Centro, is an inexpensive place to load up on veggies as well as more calorie-dense options.

There's a growing number of vegatarian and vegan restaurants in Rio, too, with Prana our pick of the bunch for its delicious, energising dishes. 

Sushi is also hugely popular among Rio´s middle and upper classes, and the sophisticated Sushi Leblon is the best of an impressive range of sushi restaurants. 



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Located high on a jungle-clad hillside in Santa Teresa, Aprazivel is worth a visit for the views alone. Wisely making the most of the sweeping vistas over downtown Rio, the owners have made al-fresco dining the order of the day, here, with grass-roofed gazebos sitting amid lush tropical gardens visited by toucans and monkeys. At night, the scene is lit by candles and flickering fairy lights which, when combined with the views and the delicious French-Brazilian dishes on the menu, makes this one of the best spots in Rio for a romantic meal. Chef Ana Castilho has combined Brazilian culinary influences with tricks of hte trade learned during her training in France, and the result is a menu of light dishes that add some chic French touches to the wealth of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood available locally.


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Indian food is hard to come by in Rio, so this this little lunch spot downtown is a welcome addition to the city's gastronomic scene. The dishes are less than authentically 'Indian' - there's a vegan version of the classic Brazilian dish feijoda on offer each week - but are Indian-inspired. Each day there are two set menus - at least one of which is usually vegan - comprising a small starter and main, and a choice of hot and cold Indian teas. The first floor restaurant is reached via a stairwell strewn with rose petals, and on entering, a waft of incense alerts you to the fact that this is not your standard Brazilian restaurant. Sitar music (sometimes live) adds to the 'Indian' theme, and veggies and vegans will appreciate the opportunity to tuck in with gusto. Portions are large, and prices are reasonable.


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Creative organic vegan dishes are on the menu at this spick and span little Botafogo eatery, which also offers home-made vegan ice cream and other treats. There are two set menus each day - one of which is always gluten-free - with some daily options varying according to which locally-sourced vegetables are at their best that day. There are other staples, which crop up on a revolving weekly basis on the menu, with a firm favourite being a savory tofu roll with a chickpea - 'pastry'. It's a little off the tourist track in residential Botafogo, but just a short walk from the metro and well worth seeking out.


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Budget travelers can feast on all manner of treats at this downtown lunch restaurant. 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$3 per 100 grams, the Centro branch of this city-wide chain is cheaper than those in Ipanema and Copacabana, and is packe with office workers between noon and 2pm. Be smart and head here shortly after two or shortly before noon, and the 'per 100 grams' price drops.


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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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Located a few blocks from Ipanema beach and right next door to the strip of backpacker lodgings dubbed 'Hostel Alley', this health food store, buffet restaurant and snack bar offers a huge range of wholesome ingredients for self caterers as well as a range of eat-in dishes that are every bit as tasty as they are nutritious. While there is plenty of choice here for vegetarians, New Natural is not entirely meat-free, with low-fat chicken and fish putting in a few appearances on the menu. The buffet operates on a pay-by-weight system, and prices here, while on the high side, are reasonable for the neighborhood. There's an air conditioned lounge upstairs and a couple of sidewalk tables and chairs, making New Natural a favourite spot among backpackers looking for a quick, healthy lunch.


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Cultivar Brazil
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson


 

This little gem of a lunchspot at the heart of Santa Teresa is a real treasure trove of tastiness 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. It´s worth waiting until a batch comes fresh out of the oven - these little golden beauties are at their best served piping hot;


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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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This downtown vegetarian lunch spot is slightly hidden above a backstreet store, but it's well worth seeking out. A popular choice with local workers - whether veggie or just looking for a healthy and budget-friendly lunch. Each day there's a set meal - including a soup, main, drink and healthy dessert, while the buffet also offers a staggering array of tempting healthy options - including colorful salads, wholegrain rice, lentils and beans in various incarnations, and even meat-free versions of classic Brazilian dishes such as feijoada. It's not entirely vegan - cheese and eggs get a look in, but there are plenty of vegan options.


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This cozy little spot is renowned as one of Rio's best vegetarian joints, and has a plum location close to the train stations for rides up to the Christ statue. Along with delicious fresh juices and meat-free sandwiches and snacks, Prana has a daily set lunch menu, usually with a vegan and gluten free option. The dishes - such as a mushroom 'bobo' (creamy stew made with coconut and, usually, shrimp) are typically served with fried collard greens and wholegrain rice, alongside inventive sides such as baked green banana with an almond crust. Prices are extremely fair, considering the quality, attention to detail and the location in prime tourist territory.


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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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