Rio de Janeiro is one of the world's most beautiful cities, situated between high mountains and the blue sea with homes nestled among the long string of beaches. Ipanema and Copacabana are world-famous names for the gorgeous locals, famous drinks, and lovely beaches. But, if you're planning to spend any time in Rio, you'll have to get away from the beach and try the city's amazing food.
You wouldn't think it to look at the perfectly sculpted bodies that litter the beaches but eating is a national pastime and finding great food is never difficult in Rio de Janeiro. Beyond simply picking the "best" restaurants in Brazil, it's important to know how to eat in Rio, with respect to finding the right type of restaurants for each meal.
Pao de Queijo
Traditionally, Brazilians eat a light and simple breakfast, opting for a slice of toasted bread with jam, butter, Minas cheese, fruit, and an espresso. Another popular breakfast item is the pao de queijo, a stuffed bread roll made from tapioca flour and filled with melted cheese. You can find the pao de queijo throughout Rio, but the most famous franchise is Casa de Pao de Queijo where the pao de queijo always tastes flaky and hot.
But, American and European tourists generally prefer a heartier breakfast, leading a few Brazilian restaurants to launch American-style bakeries or brunch options. Gringo Cafe directly caters to that demographic, offering up traditional American breakfast dishes like pancakes, waffles, and omelets. Or, try Bakers which serves sandwiches, quiches, and plenty of pastries to fill the stomach.
One of the best parts of staying in Rio de Janeiro is the abundance of juice bars at nearly every street corner. Juice bars sell a dizzying array of fresh juices plus chopped fresh fruit in cups, perfect for eating any time of the day.
Most juice vendors specialize in acai juices (acai suco), a must-eat indulgence when in Rio. The acai (pronounced ah-sigh-ee) berry is one of the world's superfoods because it has a higher concentration of antioxidants than other similar berries like cranberries, blueberries, and strawberries. The acai berry is grown on acai palms in South America and native to Brazil. Because the berry itself is sour, juice bars blend the acai fruit with ice and sugar to create a smoothie consistency and serve the acai smoothie with or without granola or topped with other fruits. It's delicious, healthy, and the perfect way to cool down on a hot day in Rio.
There are dozens of juice bars around Rio, but some of the top places to try acai suco are:
- Polis Sucos (Rua Maria Quitéria, 70, loja A, Ipanema)
- Big Nectar (Rua Teixeira de Melo, 34, loja A, Ipanema)
- Bibi Sucos (Avenida Olegário Maciel, 440, lojas A e B, Barra)
Rio de Janeiro is hot, with summer temperatures reaching well above 100 degrees, and all that heat can sap away the desire to eat a heavy meal. If you'd prefer a lighter lunch or dinner, consider trying a quick bite from some street food stands.
You'll find street food vendors lining the sidewalks from Copacabana to Leblon and they serve a staggering assortment of pastries and savory treats. Try a flaky pastel, a deep-fried pastry stuffed with chicken, cheese, hearts of palm, or beef. Or munch on pipoca, popcorn flavored either with caramel or bacon. Tapiocas, crepe pancakes made from cassava flour, might be filled with cheese, tomatoes, meats, or Nutella and bananas. There are also plenty of kebab stalls that sell kibe balls, made by combining meats with ground bulgur, reflecting the strong Lebanese presence in Rio.
Padarias are bakeries that serve sandwiches and pastries. You'll find dozens of different types of breads, sweet and savory pastries, and the famous brigadeiro. The brigadeiro is made by combining condensed milk, cocoa, and butter, and rolled into balls and surrounded with chocolate sprinkles. The brigadeiro is Brazil's most famous dessert, enjoyed everywhere from birthday parties to family reunions, across regions and regardless of socio-economic level. These little chocolate balls are definitely a must-eat while in Rio.
Lanchonetes, or small diners, serve many of the foods common to street food, such as pasteis and kibe balls, but they also serve sandwiches, bolinho de bacalau (fried codfish balls), caldinho de feijao (black bean soup), and coxinhas (fried spicy chicken rounds). You can also order beer at these spots, making them a good place to have a quick lunch.
Restaurant Por Kilo
Plan to splurge on a few days of your trip to Rio and visit a restaurant por kilo, a restaurant with a massive buffet where diners can load up their plate and purchase food on a per kilogram basis. In other words, you pay for what you eat but it's all based on weight, so that big piece of steak costs the same as an equivalent weight of watermelon. For a high-end splurge, try Frontera in Ipanema which serves up delicious churrasco (grilled meats) and a huge array of soups and vegetable dishes. Temperarte is a good budget option and near the Copacabana beach. Restaurants por kilo are always a great option for vegetarian and gluten-free guests.
The churrascaria rodizio is Brazil's most famous type of restaurant. Rodizio translates to "rotation," meaning that servers bring racks of food around to each of the tables at the restaurant. At a churrascaria rodizio, guests pay a flat fee upon entering the restaurant and receive a card that is green on one side and red on the other. If the guest turns the green side over, waiters bring huge racks of grilled meats to each table, allowing guests to pick as many meats as they would like, while the red side will stop the flow of meat from arriving. Fogo de Chao is one of Rio's most famous churrascarias.
Feijoada is Brazil's national dish. This rich bean and meat stew is served with rice or farofa (made from toasted cassava flour) and a regular part of most Brazilians' Saturday afternoon plans. The best place to try this famous dish is at Casa de Feijoada in Ipanema where you can order feijoada any day of the week.
Restaurante Tipico and Restaurante Internacional
If you need a break from Carioca fare, Rio de Janeiro has a number of restaurante tipico and restaurante internacional, which focus on regional and international restaurants. Try some of these options while in Rio:
- L'Atelier du Cuisiner: French restaurant located in Centro, with a focus on creative French fare, utilizing Brazilian ingredients. Reservations are essential because the restaurant is only open for lunch.
- Hachiko: Modern Asian restaurant with Japanese influences, including sushi. The restaurant particularly focuses on fusing traditional Asian dishes with local ingredients, such as serving sashimi with passion fruit.
- Rotisseria Siria Libanesa: Rio has the second largest Lebanese population in the world, outside of Lebanon, so there are a number of wonderful Lebanese restaurants across the city. This one, located in the Largo do Marchado mall, serves up lovely Lebanese cuisine in simple and cheap surroundings.
- Quiteria: This is an upscale restaurant, serving high-end gastronomic fare, from an Argentinian chef. Try the wild boar chops or grilled seafood with coconut risotto.
Tipping and Eating Etiquette in Brazil
In Brazil, a 10 percent gratuity is automatically included on the bill, listed as the gorjeta, so no need to tip any further than that amount. It's best to pay in the local Brazilian reais, but U.S. currency is also accepted since there is a favorable exchange rate. Unlike in the United States and most Western countries, in Brazil, locals eat with the knife in their right hand and the fork in their left hand, using the knife to scoop food onto the fork. Most of the time, Brazilians will have a light breakfast, a heavy lunch, and a heavy dinner eaten with family, as is also common in Portugal.