My top 5 Restaurants in Rio de Janeiro

One thing that gets me reaaaally excited is to give recommendations about my city to first-timers. Since there´s nothing that I like to do more than EAT, making lists of restaurants for friends to go check them out once they are there is a bittersweet task. Though one part of me is really happy that I´m passing on useful information, the other one is just kicking and screaming thinking about all the food I´m missing out!

So, in the spirit of sharing local tips that might come in handy for somebody, I´m here in agony having had to describe all of these restaurants and looking at food pictures! I can only think of two consequences of this post: you having a great culinary experience in Rio, and me buying a ticket to go back there REALLY soon! Win-win situation!

 

ESPÍRITO SANTA

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One of the Restaurant´s delicious Fish Dishes (official picture from the website)
Aside from being one of my favorite restaurants in Rio, it is located in one of my favorite corners of the city! Santa Teresa is a district on top of Rio de Janeiro´s hills, which is as bohemian as a place can be: it is inhabited by various artists (painters, poets, sculptors); it has cute garden bars, handcraft shops and a historic yellow train that takes you up and down the neighborhood.
Espírito Santa fits this ambiance quite well. The atmosphere of the restaurant is rustic, colorful, and genuine. The food served here reflects the soul of the country showcasing flavorful ingredients from the Amazon, which, believe me, can be a first to even Brazilians who haven´t traveled much northern. This is what makes this one of my favorite places (if not my favorite!) to eat in Rio – the dishes and drinks here are so much more than just food. Natacha Fink, Espírito Santa´s chef, offers you a trip to the heart of Brazil using the simplest ingredients that nature gave us. A truly inspiring experience.
The first time I ate there, I was blown away by the Tucunaré fish, which is cooked wrapped in collard leaves and served on top of plantain cream. YUM! This first experience made me go back many times, always excited to learn a bit more about our rich Amazonian culinary culture. Here you will also find beef, pork, poultry and vegetarian dishes. I have always loved everything I had here, but I can say my favorites were the crab stew, the diced fillet mignon and the Tucunaré fish mentioned above.
The drinks are also worth getting drunk for. They serve caipirinhas with different Amazonian fruits you will rarely find in Rio, like taperebá and jambu (my favorite!). The waiters are also very good in recommending special house drinks that will suit your palate.
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The Gabriela Drink (photo by Luciana Fiaux)
I hope you save some space for dessert too! I find the desserts here just amazing. It´s like the chef can´t help but adding a special Brazilian taste even to the most international sweets like the brownie. At Espírito Santa, the brownie is served with plantain compote and doce the leite. Other examples is the chocolate pie with cupuacu pudding, and the guava compote served with warm feta cheese.
If possible, sit at the balcony. You will have the tastiest food looking at the most enchanting views of Santa Teresa.
Honorable mention (I always wanted to say this!): if you have the time (and the stomach!), pass by Bar do Mineiro, in the same neighborhood, where they have a pretty tasty mini pastry filled with beans (pastéis de feijao)

 

CHURRASCARIA RIO BRASA

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Meat Paradise!
“Meat overload” would be the best way to describe a Brazilian Steakhouse. These restaurants operate on a rodízio system, which basically means rotating. So, imagine you are sitting at a table while waiters keep continuously coming at you with grilled meat skewers and they will not stop until you tell them to.  For a fixed fee, you can eat all you want or all you CAN. I seriously believe this is one of Brazil´s best inventions….
But, if you have ever been to one of these churrascarias, you will see that it is not only about the meat. The drinks, the salad buffet, the side dishes, the desserts all come together to build the perfect steakhouse experience. For me, Rio Brasa is the only one that excels in every aspect of what a steakhouse stands for.
First of all, let´s talk about the star of the house here, the meat. You will be served so many different cuts and kinds of meat, it will be hard to remember, specially because they just keep on coming. Some I have in my mind are beef, chicken, pork, wild boar, lamb, duck and bison. My favorites are the picanha, the barbecue ribs, the beef sausage, the chicken wrapped in bacon and the cheesy sirloin. You can always ask for different cuts and temperatures.
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The cold Buffet!
In the rodízio you will also be offered other non-meaty options like salmon (ask for the passion fruit sauce!), grilled cheese, garlic bread (sooo yummy!) and grilled pineapple (gotta have it!). You can also order side dishes and, here, the choices are almost endless. In the list you are given you can find usual things as manioc, polenta, rice, onion rings…but, aside from the list, you can order, for example, octopus, garlic shrimp, different kinds of sushi and sashimi…just ask what you feel like. If they don´t have it, I bet they can offer something which will satisfy you nonetheless.
My favorite part is the buffet though, which is very varied! As cold dishes, you will find carpaccio, Japanese food, cheese, salads, hummus, vegetables, cold cuts, nuts, oysters…The hot dishes are less diverse, but also very tasty. Though they change every day, it´s likely that you will find at least big grilled shrimps and a dish with fish and sauce.
Before you drag yourself out of the restaurant, ask to see the dessert cart. A waiter will come and present to you the options they have on display and additional ones. The flambéed banana is definitely my favorite! Since they cook it right in front of you, you get a culinary show too. Another interesting dessert is the pineapple carpaccio, served with mint sauce. This is my mom´s ultimate favorite! Important note: some desserts like the grilled and carpaccio pineapple are included in the rodízio fee, others like the flambéed banana are not.
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Pinnapple Carpaccio….tastes so fresh!
In the end, yes, you can find other pretty good steakhouses around Rio. Palace, Fogo de Chao, Carretao, Tourao, Mocellin are all playing in the higher league when it comes to meat. Still, I feel they are all stronger in some aspects and weaker in others. Fogo de Chao is great if you want to concentrate on the meat, for example, while Palace has pretty tasty Japanese food included in their price.
I feel Rio Brasa has spoiled me for life with their jaw dropping assortment of meat grilled to perfection, their huge salad bar shrimps, their fresh and made to order Japanese food, their boozy flambéed banana dessert, their nuts-dipped-in-honey sauce for cheeses and, especially, their service, which makes me feel they can pull anything you want out of that kitchen. I just can´t help feeling disappointed every time I go anywhere else.

 

CAMARADA CAMARAO

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The yummy gratin Shrimps!
There´s no visit to Rio which is complete, for me, without paying a visit to this restaurant. The reason is simple: the food is delicious and well seasoned, the portions are big, and the prices are fair. Rio has become quite the touristy city, meaning, unfortunately, that it has become harder to find fair prices which are paired up with quality. There are too many tourist traps out there, especially when it comes to seafood.
That´s why Camarada Camarao is such a jewel. Here it is guaranteed that you will eat well and won´t leave your wallet at the restaurant. For example, dishes like the shrimps served in a pumpkin (my favorite!), the shrimps´ gratin, and the seafood stew are options that easily feed 3-4 people and will cost you less than R$160. As starters, don´t forget to order the empadas (a kind of small savoury pie) or pastel (a fried filled pastry).
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Shrimps´ Starter
It is also a restaurant where everybody in your party will be happy, since the menu is very varied. Aside from shrimps, octopus, lobster and fish, you will find pasta, meat and vegetarian dishes. I have to be honest and say that I haven´t tried anything other than seafood, which is their forte anyways. Thus, I really encourage you to come here for the regional northern seafood dishes they are known for. Just know that if you have a kid that isn´t the biggest fan of fish, for example, he won´t go hungry.
Talking about local food, Camarada Camarao first opened in the northern part of Brazil, where the culinary is very rich in flavors like coconut, chilli, bell peppers, palm oil, nuts, and curdled cheese to mention a few. Dishes like the stew and the  pumpkin mentioned above, as well as the bobó de camarao, a shrimp chowder manioc dish, will let you taste what our North is all about.
To make it even better, they offer food and drinks´ specials during happy hour time. By the way, their drink menu is quite inviting, filled with international and regional drinks. I highly recommend the cashew caipirinha!

BAR DO DAVID

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Seafood Croquettes, Sausages cooked in Cachaça and Fried Manioc
This one combines a gastronomic, a cultural and a sightseeing experience. Bar do David won the international newspapers during the 2014 World Cup, but it had been winning our locals´ hearts for years before that. Here, it´s not only about good food. It´s about everything that this amazing city encompasses: good mood, amazing views, friendliness and cold drinks.
Bar do David is located at Chapéu Mangueira, a favela in the Leme neighborhood. After going up a steep hill, which will definitely make you even hungrier, you will see the busy bar on your right hand side. Don´t let yourself be fooled by the simple plastic chairs and concrete floor, this bar has won many national and local competitions already. The food here is delicious, very authentic and the price is honest!
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View to the Christ from Chapéu Mangueira
The menu is simple and 100% Brazilian! Here you will eat what the locals really love – sausages fried in cachaça sauce, fried fish dumplings, croquettes, beans and seafood stew, shrimps sautéed in garlic and oil, and much more. And don´t get me started on the caipirinhas. Bar do David serves the most creative and tastiest caipirinhas I have ever tried. If you have a sweet tooth, do me a favor and don´t miss the peanut caipirinha. You´re welcome.
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Coconut Caipirinha! YUM!
This bar attracts the coolest guests, so don´t get surprised if you end up joining tables with your neighbor by the end of the night. By the way, it´s almost guaranteed that you will meet David, the owner itself. He told me once that he wakes up at 3-4 am to go buy fresh ingredients and is, of course, the last one to leave the bar that carries his name. You can taste his love in the food, in the drinks, and also in the time he spends talking to guests. Though he has had many opportunities to open a branch of his bar in different places around Rio de Janeiro, he has no interest leaving Chapéu Mangueira, where he grew up and where his heart is. I´m quite sure the bar wouldn´t be the same anywhere else.
After tasting David´s delicious food, take a walk up to the favela´s lookout. The view from Rio there is just amazing! A great ending to a real local experience!

BIRA DE GUARATIBA

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My mother introduced this restaurant to me and boy, am I thankful for it! This became my go-to restaurant every time I have a foreign friend on vacation in Rio. I normally go during sunset hours, when the view is unbeatable!
Bira de Guaratiba is not the most central restaurant but, getting there, you realize this is one of its advantages: the neighborhood is quiet, beachy and totally relaxed. The restaurant sits on top of a hill with views to beautiful canals and the Atlantic sea. Many people go there after a day at the Grumari Beach or after stand up paddling through the sandbanks channels.
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The Views from Bira de Guaratiba!
The restaurant belongs to a former fisherman, so you can count on fresh and really good quality seafood here! You can choose from dishes like octopus rice, fried fish with cream cheese and shrimps´ sauce, fish stew, fried fish with plantains…the fried shrimps served as a starter are so yummy, by the way!! I also really love their palm oil farofa! I know, I know…it looks like sand, but just try it 😉
This is not the cheapest restaurant of this list but the portions are big, serving 3-4 people. In the end, you also pay for eating good food with these unbeatable views….
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