From fresh caught seafood to succulent grilled meats to traditional home style stews, dining in Rio de Janeiro presents an exciting mosaic of tastes, textures and flavors. Churrascarias or grill houses where tuxedoed waiters circle the dining room with unending skewers of beef, pork, lamb and chicken are a favorite as is sushi from local waters popular with the ever thin and beautiful Cariocas as the locals are known.
Be sure to take part in the tradition of dining on feijoada, a stew of pork and beans traditionally available only on Saturday nights and you won’t be able to avoid feijão, the side dish of black beans that accompanies almost every meal along with steaming plates of rice. Finally if you choose to skip the ubiquitous cold beer or sugar cane rum caipirinha cocktail served with every meal hit up a juice bar for a suco, a smoothie like concoction of blended ice and fresh tropical fruits from the Amazon like acai, acerola, ata and a menu of others as fascinating to taste as they are difficult to pronounce.
The churrascaria of choice for locals and visitors alike is Porcão, which features a continuous, juicy and delicious parade of grilled and roasted meat and fowl along with sides like fries, onion rings, cheese balls, beans and rice. That bounty is accompanied by a gargantuan buffet of charcuterie, casseroles, soups, salads, sushi and stews plus rolling carts offering fresh fruit juices and specialty cocktails. All you can eat, all for one price, there are three locations throughout the city but Ipanema is considered the best.
Fine dining carnivores head to Gula Gula Ipanema, an outpost of an upscale steak and seafood chain set in a Jazz age mansion. Upper crust natives dine on grilled and roasted high end cuts of beef and pristine seafood that share the menu with award winning vegetarian dishes and composed salads like Peruvian corn and pineapple, hearts of palm, watercress and raisin and a Mediterranean salad of shrimp, squid, potatoes and zucchini.
The celebrated sushi and sashimi at Satyricon served in an elegant dining room decorated with tanks of live sea creatures and elaborate shellfish displays have attracted the likes not only of the most chic Cariacocas but of visiting celebrities like Madonna and Sting. The raw seafood menu is complimented by a selection of Mediterranean inspired cooked dishes including whole baked fish in a rock salt crust and grilled specialties like octopus, squid and langoustine.
Sample savory, hearty and inexpensive traditional Portuguese cooking at the century old Nova Capela in the Lapa neighborhood, Rio’s answer to Greenwich Village. The décor might be dated but the heaping portions of home cooking attract crowds at all hours especially late at night when the surrounding samba clubs disgorge their dancers. Specialties of the house include chicken soup, garlic lamb and the city’s finest interpretation of the ubiquitous codfish croquettes found on the menu of every bar and restaurant in town.
Arguably the best feijoada, that traditional stew of pork and beans served only on Saturdays, can be had in the upstairs dining room at the Confeitaria Colombo, a breathtaking Beaux Arts landmark covered in polished wood and gleaming marble that first opened its doors in 1894. The downstairs café reminiscent of turn-of-the-century Vienna serves a full menu of coffee drinks, pastries and desserts ideal for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
At Olympe experience a mashup of the classic French cooking techniques of a Michelin three-star chef and a menu of only locally sourced Brazilian ingredients. The end result is a completely original dining experience, at once familiar and exotic, with expertly grilled meat and fish bathed in light sauces with the essence of tropical fruits, traditional side dishes like feijão reinvented and familiar French desserts like soufflés flavored with tastes of the Amazon.
Connoisseurs of the unusual flock to Espirito Santa in the historic Santa Theresa neighborhood for a taste of the Amazon in all its forms from river fish to plants to fruits and nuts. Of course piranha soup is on the menu as are other exotic swimming specimens grilled, baked and broiled. Dig into desserts designed around little known fruits like bacuri or pods like cupuaçu that are also transformed into potent flavored caipirinha cocktails.
At critically acclaimed Restaurante Aprazível the cuisine of Northern Brazil takes center stage. Evocative of the Caribbean in its flavors, grilled fish is served with fruit salsas, rice is prepared with coconut, lime and cashew and salads are studded with crab, shrimp and prawns. Try one of the wicked cocktails or homemade ice creams in surprising tropical fruit flavors all served in a serene garden setting shaded by mango trees.
Two blocks off Ipanema Beach, Polis Sucos is the king of juice bars in city where they seem to be situated on every corner. The elixirs of exotic Amazon fruits, each said to deliver particular health benefits from energy to relaxation to an immunity boost, are the recipients of numerous local and national awards. There is also a full menu of more familiar but no less delicious or nutritious sucos like guava, papaya and watermelon which can all be enhanced with addition of vitamins, protein powder, chlorophyll and granola. Best of all a suco will set you back all of about two dollars.
A day at the beach or seeing the sites is only enhanced by reveling in Rio’s exceptional cuisine. Served up with fresh juice, cold beer or a creative cocktail it’s impossible not to be totally seduced by the city’s charms and never want to leave.