Eating out is a huge part of Rio de Janeiro’s culture. From workers piling into lunchtime buffet restaurants or heading for an almoço executivo (set lunch deal) to families travelling out of town for a long, weekend feast, food is taken very, very seriously. And while the restaurant scene is increasingly cosmopolitan, it always pays for visitors to try a few hands-down Brazilian classics as well.
Sifting through the hundreds of establishments not just in Zona Sul, but as far afield as Guaratiba in the west and into Centro and Zona Norte, Time Out Rio’s critics have gathered their collective appetites and can’t-live-without addictions to come up with a list of the most unmissable items currently on carioca menus. We hope you’re feeling hungry.
Rabado at Irajá Gastrô
To give the dish its full name, the Rabado como se fosse ossobuco, suppli de açafrão is the best thing on an extremely inviting menu at the contemporary Irajá Gastrô. Slow-cooking oxtail meat over several hours and then reforming it to resemble ossobuco, the chef creates a depth of flavour that is hard to beat, even before the açafrão is broken into – a creamy Italian rice ball made with turmeric. Just the kind of dish that you never want to end.
R$56 (Dhs63). Humaitá
Ojo de bife at Porcão
The original and best all-you-can-eat buffet is found on the edge of Flamengo Park, from where Porcão looks out across the bay to Sugarloaf Mountain and Urca. The building may be something of an eyesore, but once inside, the skewers of juicy filé just keep coming, interspersed with everything from chicken hearts to ostrich steak. Before the slices of cheese-injected sirloin and picanha get a little too much, make a special request for the ultra-succulent ojo de bife (rib-eye steak). It may take a few extra minutes, but a break from all the eating is probably a good idea.
R$97 buffet (Dhs110). Flamengo.
Feijoada at Bar do Mineiro
You never forget your first seriously long, lazy weekend feijoada – a dish that includes slices of orange and a mountain of kale. Mineiro’s down-to-earth version of the national dish is of the perfect flavour and consistency, combining with the convivial setting of this Santa Teresa bar to make it worth the occasional wait for a table on a Sunday.
R$30 (Dhs34). Santa Teresa
Picanha na Brasa at Braseiro
As the name suggests, Braseiro serves up classic Brazilian food to a hoard of hungry locals every day of the week in the heart of hip Baixo Gávea. Of all the city’s DIY, grill-at-your-table picanhas, this one has the most buttery layer of this particular cut’s signature fat, and a good manioc farofa (cassava flour mix) to mop up the juices, along with a carb-hit of a pile of fries and rice.
R$60 (Dhs68). Gávea
Pão de calabresa at Bráz
With so many tables inside the cavernous Italian emporium Bráz it’s a wonder that the place ever fills up. That the queues also snake up the road on weekends isn’t all down to the pizza, either. Indeed, some of the big guns are a bit too clever for their own good, but dip in for a chunk of the pão de calabresa bread and leave safe in the knowledge you’ve had the best thing on the menu. Super crunchy crust on the outside, fluffy on the inside, the ‘pizza cake’ really is worth the trip alone.
R$19 (Dhs21). Jardim Botânico.
Sopa de baroa com brie at Guimas
A generous bowlful of creamy baroa soup comes highly recommended at this quirky, bohemian Gávea restaurant. The vegetable in question has no literal English equivalent; despite being called the Peruvian Parsnip in some quarters, it best resembles the humble potato in texture and taste. Throw in a dollop of brie and a sprinkle of nutmeg and you have a serious winter warmer, the crunchy triangles of oil and oregano-covered toast making for a perfect dipper.
R$26.50 (Dhs30). Gávea.
Moqueca de camarão at Bira
Cariocas stream westwards at weekends to sample the seafood menu at Bira – up in the hills of Guaratiba and possibly the hardest-to-find restaurant in the state. Unsignposted and down a sharp hill, the rustic spot is an absolute treat thanks to incredible views across the mangroves and a nice line in laid-back Rio dining. The shrimp moqueca is a coconut milk-based stew full of palm oil, peppers and huge shrimps perched on top, best enjoyed with a little glug of chilli sauce for those who like it hot.
R$135 (Dhs153). Guaratiba.