Rio de Janeiro is a big ass town with some amazing restaurants and some pretty bog standard ones. If you are looking to try out some traditional Brazilian cuisine at quality establishments take a look at my top 5 recommendations below. I can’t promise michelin stars, but these will steer you clear of the tourist traps.
Traditional BBQ Food – @churrasqueira_rio
This is a new player in town, but his notoriety has in fact infiltrated across state boarders as the original restaurant and owner hail from the great Juiz de Fora. This may seem like your average steak house, however, there is something beeaaauutiful about the way Mineiros (natives of Minas Gerais state) cook their meat that brings tender, drool-worthy succulence. Absolutely anything on this menu is astounding, though I’ll run through my favourites so far.
Grab a starter to share of fried gilo. This is pretty rank raw, but fried up it tastes a little like a slightly bitter fried zucchini. Definitely a conversation starter at least. Both the rib-eye steak and the grilled chicken are excellent choices for main and as a side get mandioca chips (fried cassava).
Basically, my advice is be a team. That is, work your way through the meats and I’ll guarantee you’ll want to give the chef a pat on the back before you leave this establishment.
Traditional Portuguese Food – http://restaurantecervantes.com.br
Cervantes is your spot for a late night Carioca feast. We’re talking 5am munchies on a Friday and Saturday morning and sandwiches you could die for. It’s a real crowd pleaser.
The original restaurant in Copacabana, Avenido Prado Junior, opened in 1965 and has since spread in infamy opening two branches in Barra. It has a basic Portuguese set up with pristine waiters dressed in black and white with bow ties and a decor adorned with paintings of the Portuguese conquest, however, this is anything but you average Portuguese cuisine.
I would opt for the classic sandwich, which comes with filé mignon ao ponto (how the chef sees as perfectly cooked), sumptuous caramelized, grilled pineapple, squashed between Brazil’s version of a mini baguette (pão francesa).
There’s no going wrong trust me.
If you are looking for more of a knife and fork kind of dish, choose the filé mignon with batatas portuguesas and a side of pineapple (it just really is melt in your mouth goodness). Batatas portugueses are homemade crisps, or potato chips for our American buddies. Small circular fried potato about half a centimetre thick and absolutely 100 x better than French fries. This is the best place in town to eat these bad boys.
Traditional Exotic Food @territorioaprazivel
Aprazível is parked at the top of the bohemian neighbourhood Santa Teresa. It sits like a treehouse with a gobsmacking view over Rio de Janeiro. Although a little out of the way, you can easily squeeze in an uber with your fellow foodies or opt for the $R30 restaurant transport (see website for details).
Down to the serious stuff, filling your gob with the most delicious fusion Brazilian grub! In a country the size of Europe the food variety is a force to be reckoned with and this blessed restaurant makes the most of it.
Although not a cheap abode, I would highly recommend spending a bob or two and having a three-course meal here. For starters or nibbles begin with the pastel de angu. It’s delectable and if there’s a few of you, try sharing several starters. For the main, I personal love the octopus (polvo), but equally the cabrito (goat) is something a little different.
Now let me tell you, I usually skip dessert in Brazil (far too much condensed milk for my taste), but you would have to be bonkers to miss out on the Castanha de Pará ice-cream with capuaçu sweet.
Finally I have to admit there is one other thing that drags me back every time because I just cannot recreate this drink at home…
Cachaça do Jámbu at Aprazível – a simple cocktail served in a mojito glass.
Jambu is a herb found in the Amazon that the indigenous believe to have medicinal properties. When you consume this herb you gradually get a tingling sensation on your lips and the back of your throat. It sounds scary, but is actually thrilling. Aprazível mix this cachaça with pineapple juice and a squeeze of lemon and the result is lipsmackingly good, literally.
4. Japa B
Traditional Japanese Food – @ japabrestaurante
There is no doubt that Brazilians have worked hard to perfect and adapt the art of sushi making and I for one will not deny it as one of the country’s traditional foods. With the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, Brazil’s sushi is second to none.
Japa B Nao Hara is a sushi restaurant in Jardim Botânico that offers fantastic quality and professional sushi at a reasonable price. The restaurant is the project of renowned chef Nao Hara, who designs each night 3-6 surprise sushis to bring his guests during their evening meal. The rodizio, which is all you can eat made to order sushi, varies in price depending on the day and time. Something which is a hit with the locals looking for quality food at off-peak times.
Just go there, order a load of Japanese foods that you don’t understand the names of and watch as they are paraded to you in a wooden boat the size of your head. Cue, fall into bliss.
Just remember that you must eat everything or you’ll need to pay extra. It’s a great rule that saves us from being greedy little buggers.
I love the niro, salmon skin and caipisake (caipirinha made with your choice of fruit and sake rather than cachaça, much easier on the stomach and the head!).
5. O Bom Galeto
Traditional Chicken – @obomgaleto
Many might snub their noses at my last pick, which is a restaurant nestled in a neighbourhood that consists of just one square, though I believe it is something special. On the exit of Largo de Machado metro station O Bom Galeto serves up the best version of this traditional Brazilian cuisine with decorum and pride.
Galeto is a young, spit-roasted chicken, which has tiny bones and super-moist meat.
The idea of the restaurant is unpretentious, you choose your galeto either clássico (with bones), or desossado (boneless). Then you choose your seasoning from a range of BBQ, curry to garlic cream, whatever really takes your fancy. I would also opt for the pão de alho while you’re there. It is a classic of the Brazilian BBQ made with those same Brazilian baguetes. It’s not like any garlic bread you’ve had before.
In sum, rotisserie chicken with mind numbing seasoning, there’s no going wrong.
Tell me, where would you go in RJ for your traditional Brazilian grub?