Tacacá do Norte, Flamengo
This Amazonian juice and snack joint opposite Flamengo beach has a stream of devoted regulars, with whom you’ll have to jostle with for elbow space at the counter. Options are limited but immensely flavourful. The eponymous tacacá (R$17, around £4.50) is a tangy soup with shrimp and an odd green leaf that numbs the diner’s mouth slightly. Locals love it and foreigners often find it disconcerting. The unha de caranguejo, shredded crab meat (£1) with a peppery yellow sauce, is popular. Sweet-toothed regulars come for a bowl of the velvety purple açaí juice (£4), an Amazonian berry usually served overly sugared but offered pure or with guaraná syrup here. A variety of fruit-flavoured ice-creams (£2.50), such as carimbó, the exotic Amazonian fruit cupuaçú (its flavour is like a tart melon) mixed with Brazil nut, are a hit in the summer.
• Rua Barão do Flamengo 35, +55 21 2205 7545
It looks like a prohibition-era American speakeasy from its windowless exterior, and on the inside, the alcohol is indeed flowing at Botero. In the São José market, once a slaves’ quarter and granary, the stalls now host several bars, and this one, named after Fernando Botero, the Colombian artist known for painting roly-poly figures, is the most happening. In a city where boteco after botequim (both terms refer to no-frills bars) serve the same lacklustre staples, the young owner and head chef, Bruno Magalhaes, adds a little creativity to local dishes. In addition to the evening bar foods that accompany Botero’s cold beers and fruit cocktails, there’s a lunchtime special every day, such as stracotto em cerveja preta (pork in stout sauce) with gnocchi (£6) and frango ao molho dijon, a chicken in Dijon mustard sauce with farofa (ground and toasted cassava root) and a salad of mixed grains and vegetables (£5).
• Rua das Laranjeiras 90, + 55 21 3235 6314, page
Point Lanches, Tabajaras
Perched on the hill between the Copacabana and Botafogo neighbourhoods, and with high-rise condos on either side, you may not notice the Tabajaras favela from the beach. To get there, take Rua Siqueira Campos away from Copacabana beach and fork off to the right up the steep Ladeira dos Tabajaras. About half a kilometre up the hill, take a left on to Rua Euclides da Rocha and you’ll find Point Lanches, also know as the Bar do Baiano. Tabajaras was pacificado or “pacified,” the term Rio authorities use to describe the 24-hour police patrols in favelas that were once controlled by drug traffickers. Baiano’s no-frills bar existed several years before pacification and has become all the more happening since, attracting visitors from outside the favela. On a stifling day you’ll find shirtless men from the neighbourhood drinking leisurely after work. His trademark dishes are tilapia with baião de dois, a rice and bean mix (£8.50, serves two), and camarão empanado, battered, fried shrimp (£4 for 15).
• Rua Euclides da Rocha 546, loja A, +55 21 9258 5636
Confeitaria Colombo, Centro
The vaulted ceiling of the belle epoque Confeitaria Colombo is a reminder of Rio’s elegant high society era, when the city was still Brazil’s capital (a distinction it lost to Brasília in 1960). Colombo is in the underappreciated Rio Antigo, the city’s most historic corridor that most tourists skip in favour of the beaches of the Zona Sul (south zone). Until the 1970s, men were required to wear suits and ties and women hats inside the Confeitaria. But the management has since turned the Confeitaria, which specialises, as its name suggests, in sweets and pastries, into an accessible stop for office workers and visitors looking for a teatime treat or fancy lunch. Crepes, such as the brie with apricot, and quiches, such as ricotta, spinach and banana (£3.50) – Brazilians embrace savoury and sweet combos – are popular for brunch. The list of desserts is overwhelming and the pastries are best chosen by pointing to the glass counters. Try the tartelette de chocolate e avelã (hazelnut and chocolate tart, £2), or the classic Portuguese pastel de nata (custard tart, same price).
• Rua Gonçalves Dias 32, +55 21 2505 1500, confeitariacolombo.com.br
Fat Choi, Glória
A Brazilian and child of a Macanese immigrant, Silvana Assumpção spares no hyperbole when describing the richness of the Macau gastronomy and why she is intent on preserving it. Newly opened in the Glória neighbourhood, the spacious restaurant, decorated with photos of Macau’s hotels and skyscrapers, serves some of Rio’s most unique dishes. The porco bafassá (pork shank marinated for 12 hours in wine, saffron and coconut milk, £6.50) is a house favourite, as is the caldo de pé de galinha com amendoim (chicken foot and peanut soup, £2).
• Rua do Catete 127, +55 21 32356623, fatchoirestaurante.com
Long before the Rio city government turned its eyes to the port zone and started the renovation project that has lead to the current wave of gentrification, Gracioso was serving up meals to the area’s cargo workers. Now it sits at the corner of a massive urban transition, with countless new building projects along the bay in front of the bar and restaurant. Lunchtime specialities are huge portions for two, such as the peito de boi com arroz e feijão manteiga (beef with rice and brown beans, £8.50), and the rabada com polenta, arroz e agrião (beef tail with polenta, rice and watercress, £9).
• Rua Sacadura Cabral 97, +55 21 2263 5028, page
Delírio Tropical, city-wide
The Delírio Tropical chain is a great option for vegetarians or anyone who’s had their fill of Brazil’s trademark meaty dishes. It’s a slightly different approach than Rio’s ubiquitous “kilo” joints, where diners fill up their plates and pay by weight. In this serve-yourself buffet each item added has a set price. The setup is efficient while still pleasant and colourfully decorated. Healthy options in a city whose cuisine is generally quite heavy include quinoa with vegetables, ratatouille, whole grain rice with sundried tomatoes and Brazil nuts, and green onion soup. Delírio has a handful of locations in Zona Sul, Centro and Barra. Prices vary based on how many dishes you take.
• Various locations, including Rua Garcia d’Ávila 48 in Ipanema, and Rua Santa Luzia 762, Centro, delirio.com.br
Baixo Gago, Laranjeiras
This is where locals go for the most Brazilian of meals: feijoada. The traditional pork and black bean stew is served in huge portions, with side dishes of rice, “greens” and cassava flour called farofa. Baixo Gago is behind the Largo do Machado and a short walk from the train station that takes visitors up to the Christ the Redeemer statue. The feijoada is £18 and serves up to three people, and the churrasco misto, grilled beef and chicken with sides of french fries, rice, farofa and diced tomatoes, is the same price.
• Rua Gago Coutinho 51, +55 21 2556 0638
Bar do Adão, city-wide
Bar do Adão offers huge portions of Carioca (Rio) favourites, like the escondidinho (£7), a yucca-root lined dish filled with a meat (beef, chicken, shrimp, or cod) and topped with a crispy layer of parmesan. The bar is famous for having about 60 varieties of pastel (£2.25), thin-crust deep-fried pies filled with cheese, meats and, here at least, just about anything. Try the provolone com cebola (provolone cheese and onion), Italiano (gorgonzola, sundried tomato and arugula), or the brie with shiitake.
• Various locations, including Rua Gomes Freire 602 in Lapa, and Rua Dona Mariana 81 in Botafogo, bardoadao.com.br
The lacklustre grey exterior of this former wholesale fruit and vegetable market in gritty north Rio makes the gastronomic surprises that await inside all the more delightful. What were once sellers’ stalls have been turned into delis, barbecues, cafes and liquor stores. The bottom floor of the three-storey warehouse is where the high-end Sorvete Brasil ice-cream brand is made, and individual cones can be bought at the balcony, with flavours like fig and nut or lychee, for £1.25. At the Corujão grill on the third floor, diners serve themselves from tall piles of grilled chicken, ribs, beef, pork, picanha (steak) or bacalhau (cod) sizzling on iron plates, with side dishes of blacks beans, rice, french fries and tomato vinaigrette for £6.50 upwards.
• Rua Capitão Félix 110, +55 21 2589 2666