Like Locals Do
Rio de Janeiro has long been on the map as a top spot in South America — and it’s easy to see why. The Marvelous City, or Cidade Maravilhosa in Portuguese, is famous for its stunning geography, swoon-worthy beaches and urban comforts. The perfect blend of seaside getaway and city excitement, Rio de Janeiro continuously awes travelers from across the globe, and thanks to the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, it’s enjoying greater appeal than ever before.
Justifiably, much attention is paid to Rio’s iconic landmarks, like the towering Cristo Redentor statue, the granite peak of Sugarloaf Mountain and, of course, Copacabana and Ipanema beaches. But Rio’s culinary culture also deserves to be revered.
The city is a gastronomic delight mixing high-class restaurants and cozy cafes to suit any traveler’s palate. But to really do Rio right, you have to know where to find authentic Brazilian fare. With the help of this guide, you’ll be able to sip the perfect cup of Brazilian coffee, discover the best boteco for a quick bite and a cold beer, and enjoy the finest spots to get spirited away with the local caipirinha cocktail...ideally followed, of course, by a samba dance.
Brazil is a country synonymous with coffee, and few spots do it better than Sofa Café. This modern-but-cozy favorite took root in 2011 and professionally roasts its own beans, ground to perfection. Impurities need not apply.
Sofa offers a variety of different grinds from Brazil and other countries, and utilizes various methods to get the highest-quality brew, from a pour over to a siphon. Make sure to ask to see and smell the grinds before your coffee is made; the staff loves sharing their knowledge of coffee and the brewing process.
Step into Rio’s glamorous past at the decadent Confeitaria Colombo. This exquisite cafe dates back to 1894 and features a gorgeous two-story setting with an open-atrium feel and stunning architectural details. Large antique mirrors with ornately carved molding line the walls, while marble-topped cafe tables welcome guests to sip an espresso or a sparkling wine, depending on your mood.
The cafe serves an array of gorgeous sweets to be sampled, but for a true Brazilian specialty, opt for the quindim. This Brazilian yellow custard is made of ground coconut, sugar and egg yolks, and melts in your mouth. Confeitaria Colombo has three other satellite locations, but for the true experience, head to their historic cafe in the Centro.
This coffee joint is located in a building that houses a bus terminal and a parking garage, and seating is limited. None of that, though, has stopped Curto Café from becoming a go-to spot for fresh coffee, pastries and assorted treats.
Curto Café’s award-winning baristas will help you make the most of your experience, whether you sip a latte on site or want to perfect your home-brewing techniques. After the professionals guide you through different roasts and grinds, peruse their homemade brigadeiros, a popular Brazilian sweet that is similar to fudge. And don’t forget to check out the cafe’s artisanal breads, cheeses and jams, too.
Gaia Art & Cafe
The vegetarian and vegan movements have swept through Rio — and there’s no better spot to enjoy meat-free fare than at Gaia Art & Café.
This cozy and colorful cafe offers breakfast foods for all tastes, but specializes in vegan and gluten-free options. Popular lunch and dinner options include the vegan feijoada, a bean-based stew served with rice, and moqueca, usually made with fish but here made with bananas for a sweeter taste.
Consider spending an evening at Gaia to enjoy live music, too. The sounds of jazz, bossa nova, samba and more fill the cafe as diners enjoy a variety of drinks, like kombucha with mate or a specialty coffee tasting.
For an off-the-beaten-track coffee spot, look no further than the appropriately named Café Secreto. Tucked into a quiet brick alleyway, this specialty coffee shop has plenty of charm to keep you coming back. The narrow coffee counter allows guests to experience the finer points of a pour over, all while coveting treats in the pastry display case.
For a quieter workspace, head up the spiral staircase to a small second floor that has a few tables and a workbench area. Or have the true carioca, or Rio locals’ experience, by opting for one of the bright red tables outside. Café Secreto offers the finest in quality coffee, as well as coffee workshops to expand your knowledge. For a unique coffee cocktail, order La Presidenta, a concoction of gin, tonic, lemon and coffee — the perfect way to beat Rio’s tropical heat.
Café 18 do Forte
To take in one of Rio’s classic, postcard-worthy views, head to the Copacabana Fort. You’ll be swept away by the coastal setting, which looks over stunning Copacabana beach as it arcs northeast. Settle in at a table at the fort’s waterfront restaurant, Café 18 do Forte, where you can enjoy views of the azure waters along with your coffee or cocktail. The fort’s historic ambiance and gorgeous trees along the cobblestone street will frame your experience.
If you’re enjoying breakfast at Café 18 do Forte, you’ll be treated to one of Rio’s finest roasteries, Kraft Café, along with an assortment of freshly baked goods, yogurt parfaits with raw honey, and eggs made to order. For lunch or dinner try the crispy tilapia or seafood risotto. Toast to another marvelous day in Rio with a specialty cocktail or a cold draft beer.
Academia da Cachaça
To fully enjoy Brazil, you’ll need to get to know the national liquor, cachaça. This is a strong liquor distilled from fermented sugar cane, and it is incredibly popular throughout the country, particularly in the classic Brazilian cocktail called a caipirinha, which mixes cachaça, sugar and fresh fruit juices. Cachaça has some similarities to rum, which is also made from sugar cane, but it is also totally distinct. To taste the difference for yourself, head over to Academia da Cachaça.
The Academia has been around since 1985 and offers quality drinks, a comfortable environment and an attentive, knowledgeable staff. While tasting the various kinds of cachaça, including some fruit-infused varietes, order the queijo de coalho, a slab of cheese that is charcoal grilled to perfection and makes for an excellent addition to your cachaça tasting.
Bar do Mineiro
Rio has plenty of beach neighborhoods to explore, but for a different experience, take the old tram up to the Santa Teresa neighborhood. This is one of Rio’s best boho spots to discover, and after seeing the sights, you can venture to Bar do Mineiro for an afternoon drink.
This is one of Santa Teresa’s popular botecos, or neighborhood bars. Botecos offer a casual meeting place and serve as local watering holes. At Bar do Mineiro, first-rate cachaça is used in mean caipirinhas; for a refreshing twist, you can ask for batida de gengibre, with adds ginger to the mix.
This particular boteco has food typical of the state of Minas Gerais (“mineiro” means “native to Minas Gerais”), so expect heavier fare, like pastéis de feijão, fried pastry with black bean filling.
South of Copacabana and Ipanema you’ll find the upscale neighborhood of Leblon. But though this area is luxurious, it still offers plenty of down-to-earth Brazilian experiences, especially at Bar Bracarense.
This boteco is a local’s favorite with frills-free design: features include wood paneling, a worn glass countertop, and an array of wooden tables and chairs that spill out onto the sidewalk. It offers all the typical Brazilian bar food you could want, like fried mandioca balls, or bolinhas de aipim. And make sure to complete your boteco experience by ordering a cold draft beer, better known as a chopp bem geladinho.
Also in Leblon, Zuka is a must-visit. Chef Ludmilla Soeiro has been the chef at the restaurant since its opening in 2002, and ensures that this dining experience is worth the splurge. The restaurant has a clean, almost minimalist style, mixed with rustic wood touches, creating a classy ambiance that doesn’t feel stiff.
As for the menu, it’s split into two parts: from the grill and the sea, and from the air and the earth. The first part offers sophisticated seafood dishes like grilled calamari with tumeric risotto. The second section offers plates like the honey-glazed duck with Moroccan couscous, roasted almonds and raisins. Everything on the menu is a reflection of Chef Soeiro’s efforts to present food as art, with color, texture and volume gracing the plate.
ViaSete is more than a dining location; it’s a meeting place with more than a decade of experience serving customers the freshest food. The restaurant specializes in creative dishes featuring organic greens, grilled meat and fish, and generally the chef shies away from heavy frying. Try the grilled mushrooms with thyme or the tuna tartar to start.
This is also an excellent restaurant to discover the popular Brazilian dish of roasted palmito, or heart of palm, here made with pesto. Top off your meal with the light but decadent cheesecake or creamy gelato.
ViaSete’s popularity has grown, and the restaurant now has two locations in Ipanema and another in the Centro of Rio.
Zaza Bistro Tropical
The bright blue exterior of Zaza Bistro Tropical beckons diners in to see what this quirky restaurant is all about. The bistro opened in 1999 and brings a mixture of international flavors to the table, thanks to the owners’ extensive world travels. They’ve carefully created dishes that go perfectly with Rio’s tropical climate and vibe, and choose organic ingredients whenever possible.
The dining experience at Zaza is not just about feeding your body, but also about engaging your senses. Start with a specialty cocktail like the caramba carambola, made with star fruit, vodka, ginger, mint and Monin lemon syrup. To enjoy a variety of international tastes, go with the appetizer sampler of tapioca, lamb croquete with tamarind chutney, and organic chicken pastilla with mint yogurt sauce. For your main course try the beet tortellini with feta and almonds. You’ll leave feeling as well-traveled in the culinary world as Zaza’s owners.
Had your fill of caipirinhas? Step into this beer-lover’s bar of choice, which departs from the typical menu of Brazilian light lagers to offer a variety of brews.
Delirium Café has all the makings of a Belgian pub, with dark wood interiors, beers stacked from floor to ceiling, and a selection of food that will hold up against even the strongest ale. The cafe carries Brazilian artisanal beers, but also the imported brews that are harder to find in Brazil. Selections from the U.S., Belgium, England, Scotland, Spain, Mexico, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany and Australia are all on the menu.
Just be advised that the bar may be out of stock on your first choice, so have a backup brew in mind.
No trip to Rio is complete without a stop in the hip Lapa neighborhood, the bohemian center of the city and home to a plethora of bars and dance halls. Rio Scenarium is among the most famous of the area’s samba venues and boasts an eclectic style; throughout three floors, you’ll find chandeliers, antique clocks and other vintage treasures.
The venue offers a menu of hearty food and boozy drinks. But the real draw is the chance to let your hair down. Visitors and locals pack the dance floor no matter the music, which includes rock, samba, reggae, forró and MBP (Brazilian pop music). Enjoy the opportunity to quickly make new friends as you discover the rhythm and pulse of Rio around you.
Alto Vidigal Bar and Lounge
Although Rio is home to world-famous beaches and a gorgeous landscape, it is also known for its favelas, or shanty towns. To safely experience this part of Rio, go to Alto Vidigal Bar and Lounge. This bar offers a pick up and drop off service for 10 reais each way, which ensures you won’t be wandering around a potentially dangerous part of town.
Once at the Alto Vidigal, kick back, relax and enjoy one of Rio’s most spectacular panoramic views. The lounge offers a complete drink menu and plenty of petiscos (bar food), as well as salads, hamburgers and nachos. Reserve a table ahead of time and stay for sunset to see Rio’s landscape at twilight and night.