By Dave Guenther, President of Roadtrips Inc.
Finding great food experiences is one of the key elements to most people’s travel. Everyone has different tastes and varying levels of adventure in their palette, but more and more food can be a primary driver in destination decisions. Great food can go a long way to making a great holiday. I’m no different. I look forward to exploring the food culture of the places we go and I love seeking out favorite restaurants and making recommendations to our guests, friends and staff.
Rio De Janeiro has a vibrant and quickly growing restaurant scene. There is a lot of money here and where there is money, good restaurateurs follow. As of my travels to Rio to date, here’s my best of Rio favorites (alphabetically).
Alessandro e Frederico – Italian (Ipanema)
The initial AF was so successful that they opened up a second, slightly more casual one across the street. Now there are three more in upscale suburban malls but at the Ipanema restaurant you’ll find a more authentic feel, great alfresco dining with great Brazilian meat, wood fired pizza and an excellent pasta carbonara.
Bar Do Miniero – Brazilian (Santa Teresa)
A local joint kind of place where you’d probably expect to find Guy Fieri if he was Brazilian. Bar Do Miniero offers the chance for travelers to mix with locals in a lively atmosphere that serves up strong caipirinhas and traditional Minas Gerais Brazilian cooking. Crowds wait outside in the street as business goes strong from the lunch hour deep into the evening. This is an excellent place to sample feijoada, the national dish. As you sip a beverage or wait for a table try the pastiche de carne or pastiche de quiejo; little deep fried pockets with meat or cheese. Very casual, friendly and tons of fun.
Braz – Pizza (Jardim Botanico and Barra)
Currently the kids and I are scoring the pizza at Braz second in the world after what we’ve had on the Amalfi Coast. They are that good. Braz is an upscale casual pizzeria with authentic ingredients and white butcher coat service. Killer calabresa pizza and a unique thin folded-over-pie version of a calzone with mozza, ricotta and shredded ham that’s just fantastic. Nao azientonas, por favor (no olives, please!)
Chez L’Ami Martin – French (Fashion Mall Sao Conrado)
Upscale mall dining is very popular in Rio and this French bistro doesn’t disappoint. The magic starts with the couvert; which includes excellent hot fresh bread, french butter, olives, nuts and a delicious aioli dip soon followed by a sterling silver basket of highly addictive (surprise!) pommes frites. For me, greatness is the simple things done with perfection. Here it is succulent and ultra tender beef bourguigon served with what seemed to be the exact same mashed potatoes that I adored at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in London. Superb!
Cipriani – Italian (Copacabana Palace)
Roadtrips World Cup guests at the Copacabana Palace have no fear of not being well fed! The crown jewel of the food and beverage at the Palace, Cipriani is a fine dining Italian restaurant that scores on all levels. For a totally unique experience, Roadtrips has secured access to the chef’s table right in the kitchen. Dinner is a multi course affair that goes through all of the highlights of the menu; which on our night included an ultra creamy lemon seafood risotto, a parmesan cream gratinee tagliatelle, a sesame dusted truffle cheese puff pastry and fine roasted Brazilian filets with a rich dark cabernet sauce. There were no misses and the hotel sparkled like a jewel. The Copacabana Palace is easily the most elegant place in the city.
CT Boucherie – Brazilian/French/Steak (Leblon)
Claude Troisgros is a French kid who left his home to run away to Brazil. A couple more parts to that story: Dad, Pierre and Uncle Jean are the founders of French nouvelle cuisine. Brother, Michel is multi Michelin star awarded. Lucky for Rio, the runaway has done fine, too. He’s now a television personality in Brazil and operates a mini restaurant empire in the city. CT Boucherie is a deliciously unique concept where your main, once served, is accompanied by a parade of servers each with a different hot side for your consideration. This is a great place to eat fine meats and sample a wide variety of traditional Brazilian dishes under the supervision of talented and steady french hand. CT also has a CT Trattoria in Jardim Botanico, a CT Brasserie in Sao Conrado and Olympe, a fine dining restaurant. Claude is the star of the Rio restaurant scene.
Gero – Italian (Ipanema, Barra)
The Fasano brothers are serious about luxury hotels, fine wine and top quality restaurants. Their restaurants are ‘power rooms’ full of beautiful people and big spenders. The original Gero is in Sao Paulo and is vibey, classy, expensive and delicious. It’s also wildly popular. The brothers seeing that they had a good thing on their hands, figured that their template for fine Italian cuisine would work in Rio, too. So they replicated the Sao Paulo restaurant to the finest details and have since done it again in Barra and in Belo Horizonte. Excellent.
Oasis Churrascaria – Brazilian/Steak (Sao Conrado)
When you come to Brazil you need to have a rodizio experience. These are the Brazilian all you can eat churrasco barbeques with various prime meats on huge skewers brought to your table until you cry out “Nao, por favor!” There are dozens of these kinds of restaurants in Rio de Janeiro. Oasis is one of the best. Your meal starts with an extensive salad and hot seafood bar that features three or four fish dishes and a wide variety of vegetables, cheeses, salads and more. As soon as you sit down, the parade begins: meats, starches, roasted bananas (must do!) and more meat. Lots of meat. Oasis wins ‘best of’ for top quality cuts, great service and their addictive pastiche de quiejo (small warm cheese filled pastries) that will keep coming unless you beg for mercy.
Pobre Juan – Brazilian/Steak (Village Mall Barra)
This is another example of a popular Sao Paulo restaurant expanding into Rio. Pobre Juan is mostly about great steak. That becomes readily apparent when you walk past the gigantic glassed in churrasco grill and see the grillmaster in action. The steak here is amongst the best in the country and the atmosphere, set in the ultra luxe Village Mall, is sophisticated but also casual and fun with a huge patio overlooking the lagoons in Barra. Just minutes from the Olympic Park, this place will be a center of attention during the 2016 Summer Games.
Zuka – Mediterranean (Leblon)
Rua Dias Ferreira in Leblon is probably the best restaurant street in Rio and its anchor is Zuka. This buzzing little contemporary restaurant may be a little tightly sat but it is also both trendy and delicious. You’ll find something for all here including excellent beef, fresh fish, king prawn risotto and creamy cannelloni. A top spot on the beautiful people circuit.
Notables that are still on my ‘To Do’ list include Sushi Leblon, across the street from Zuka; the supposed IT place for sushi in Rio. Aprazivel in Santa Teresa features gourmet Brazilian food and is the darling of the New York Times. Sawadee for Thai food. The original is on Dias Ferreira but popular demand has opened locations at the Fashion Mall and in Buzios, just up the coast. Mr. Lam for Chinese in Lagoa. Eike Batista, one of Brazil’s richest men, fell in love with a particular Chinese chef’s cooking…..so he brought Mr. Lam and his entire team some place a little closer to his home!
Anyone in Rio will notice the Porcao chain of rodizio style churrascarias. Porcao’s salad bar is very extensive and includes a large sushi station. Tereze at the Hotel Santa Teresa offers world cuisine in a beautiful setting above the lights of Rio below. Coupled with the hotel’s Bar De Descasados and its softly lit gardens it is worth trip up the hill just to experience this magical place at night. The bar is the location for Roadtrips 2016 Summer Games Hospitality Lounge and guests will be spoilt with this stunning location.