The Best Restaurants in Rio are Hidden Gems
All of the city’s best finds tend to be in unsigned buildings, out of guidebooks and only in the mouths of ‘Cariocas’. I have lived in Rio for years, but it wasn’t until I learned the sub context of this language, this culture, and their dining habits did I really start to experience the real Brazilian life…. So if you have already hit Ipanema beach and are in the mood for a venture into the real Rio, here is a list of my top 5 hidden gems for a Carioca lunch that is fresh, bright in flavor and pairs perfectly with an afternoon beverage.
Lá em Cima @ Dona Coisa – R. Lopes Quintas, 153 (Neighborhood: Jardim Botânico)
Ambiance: A moment of inspiration
Hidden on the 2nd floor of one of Jardim Botânico’s most unique boutiques Dona Coisa, is a space that blends the visuals of an art gallery, the feel of a tropical tea house and the elegance of a French Café. My favorite spot is at a table at the front of the space, adjacent to large Colonial windows that open up exhibiting the flora and fauna that the neighborhood is famous for. Open only for breakfast and lunch, Lá em Cima offers a blend of Brazilian and European classics with a sprinkling of original delights, such as cardamom cheesecake and Gruyère clouds.
Ambiance: Latin American Passion
One of Ipanema’s newer restaurant ventures, La Carioca is your Rio lunch spot for a mid-afternoon line-up of Peruvian ceviche (think classic leite de tigre) and several cold Pisco Sours. I describe this gem on the corner of a small pebbled Ipanema sidewalk with all outside tables, as pure fun! All elements remind you that you are in South America: the salsa music playing, the beautiful people passing by in bright colorful clothes and the rich salt smell of the sea in the air. Known for its ceviche, I highly recommend ordering a small handful of different takes on this classic and don’t forget to add the homemade banana chips!
Bazaar Café @ Livraria da Travessa – R. Visc. de Pirajá, 572 (Neighborhood: Ipanema Beach)
You would never know it was there, simply passing by the storefront of this famous Rio bookstore. On the 2nd floor of this bustling shop is a café from the well known Ipanema Restaurant, Bazaar. The look is sleek, the feel is intellectual yet modern, the food is an assortment of classical yet trendy international dishes from Falafel to Burgers, Lemon Tarts to Cappuccinos. You will equally be fulfilled sitting lunch-ing alone with your new book and a Rio classical dish, Caldo de Feijoada, as you would with the new friend you met at the museum this morning who is tickled to share an afternoon bottle of Sauvignon with you.
Bar Astor – Av. Vieira Souto, 110 (Neighborhood: Ipanema Beach)
Ambiance: a Taste of São Paulo on Ipanema Beach
If Manhattan, São Paulo and Ipanema had a baby, Bar Astor would be her name. One of the few restaurants with an ocean view, Bar Astor is always electric. Any time of the day, you will find the atmosphere in this hip little Rio restaurant, right in front of Posto 8 at the beginning of Ipanema Beach. They have one of the few NY style bars where you can actually sit at the counter, with a large lit up colorful bar that will surely add that tropical feeling to your already balmy afternoon. You can either grab a stool, a plate of oysters and a glass of champagne, or pull up a seat at an outside table for a chopp (a pint) of beer and a steak tartare. If there is an ounce of room still left, I recommend the Brioche Bread Pudding!
Plage Café @ Parque Lage – R. Jardim Botânico, 414 (Neighborhood: Parque Lage)
Ambiance: Classic Rio
Situated at the base of Christ the Redeemer, in one of the last untouched parts of the Rio rainforest, Plage Café is located inside of an old sugar mill turned aristocratic mansion turned art school. This picturesque setting is ideal for everything from brunch to lunch to late afternoon coffee. All seating is outside in the inner courtyard, situated around a beautiful pool (made famous in Snoop Dog’s Beautiful music video). This French-style café offers a large variety to appease any palate, from Salade Nicoise to Roast Chicken. The structure itself is stunning, but add to it a glass of Chilean red and a plate of bruschetta and you have the formula of an afternoon of memories.