Foodies visiting Rio de Janeiro should make a beeline for the breezy, beautiful and bohemian hilltop neighborhood of Santa Teresa, where the steep cobbled streets are lined with dining opportunities to suit all tastes and budgets.
There’s fine French-flavored dining at Térèze, while cozy Bar do Arnaudo entices with its fair prices, vast portions of northeastern dishes, and and friendly atmosphere. Cafe do Alto is a haven for families and fussy eaters – this centrally-located Northeastern restaurant offers vegan and gluten-free goodies alongside meaty stews and sausage dishes, and kids are offered crayons and paper. There are organic, gluten-free treats at Cultivar Brasil, while those looking for a more formal dining experience can enjoy al-fresco meals with glorious views at the delightful, somewhat hidden Aprazivel. Santa Teresa is also home to some of the best examples of the carioca boteco.
Botecos are informal bar-restaurants where the conversation and ice cold beer flow freely, and two of the city´s most inviting are the Santa Teresa institutions Bar do Gomes and Bar do Mineiro. A little farther off the tourist track, Bar do Bonde offers delicious bar snacks and a perfectly-crafted caipirinha, sometimes to the sound of live samba music.
Santa Teresa is fast becoming the destination of choice for interesting dining options, and Espirito Santa is a firm favorite on the neighborhood’s dining scene.
Chef Natacha Fink has created a menu that makes good use of fresh ingredients from across Brazil, including Amazonian piranha and hearts of palm.
Even the drinks list has a tropical flavor, with native fruits such as cupuacu used in place of the standard lime and mixed with cachaca (sugar cane rum) to make an interesting take on the traditional Brazilian caiprinha.
The building itself, a handsome colonial building dating back to 1875, is another point in the restaurant’s favour, with the small balcony providing the best seats in the house on warm evenings.
Recommended for Santa Teresa’s Best Restaurants because: For a taste of deliciously diverse native Brazilian ingredients, this is the place.
Lucy’s expert tip: Try the mixed entree platter – while ingredients vary according to the season, it usually includes grilled palm hearts served with a delicious chutney made from Acai, the Amazonian ‘power berry’ renowned for its energising properties.
This Santa Teresa bar-restaurant was opened by a family of Spanish settlers in Brazil in 1919, when it doubled as a grocery store. The official name, Armazem Sao Thiago references this, but for decades this most inviting of watering holes has been affectionately known as Bar do Gomez in honor of the affable owner. Visually, little has changed here over the years, and it maintains a historic charm that makes it one of the best-loved botecos (bar-restaurants) in Rio. Along with an extensive list of bar snacks and nibbles, there are some good sandwiches and main meals on offer – including hearty plates of grilled meat with salad, rice, beans and fries. Wash it down with a cold draught beer or one of the 60 types of cachaca on offer.
Recommended for Santa Teresa’s Best Restaurants because: This laid-back boteco is one of the best-loved in Rio, and a great place to make new friends.
Lucy’s expert tip: Head here on a Friday evening for a chance to meet friendly locals and long-stay visitors, before heading down to the lively nightlife of Lapa.
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson
Take just a slight detour from Santa Teresa’s main tourist trail and you’ll find one of the neighborhood’s best value bar-restaurants. Located just a few minutes’ walk (follow the tram line uphill from the main square at Largo do Guimaraes), this laid-back little bar offers an excellent range of bar snacks and main meals at prices that compare very favorably with those down the hill at Largo do Guimaraes. There’s also a decent cocktail list and a seriously well-mixed caipirinha. Saturday nights see live samba, jazz and bossa nova bands draw a sizable crowd of locals – get there before 8pm to grab one of the few sidewalk tables here.
Recommended for Santa Teresa’s Best Restaurants because: A friendly local crowd, reasonable prices and tasty traditional food make this a refreshing change from more touristic spots.
Lucy’s expert tip: If you can’t decide what to order, go for a few portions of petiscos (light snacks to share).
With a prime location on the main drinking and dining strip in leafy, artsy Santa Teresa, Bar do Mineiro is the focal point for the neighborhood’s famously lively social scene.
As the name suggests, the menu bears the culinary influences of the owner, a ‘Mineiro’ (native of Minas Gerais) who over the years has built up a loyal fanbase drawn to his hearty plates of meaty dishes.
For a lighter snack, the portions of ‘pasteis’ (small, deepfried pastries filled with cheese, meat, beans or shrimp) are widely considered to be among the best in the city.
But it’s the lively atmosphere that is the real draw here, with locals and visitors gathering here to eat, drink and chat well into the night.
Recommended for Santa Teresa’s Best Restaurants because: The atmosphere at Bar do Mineiro is always lively, and the bar snacks are famous across the city.
Lucy’s expert tip: Try the ‘batida de gengibre’ – this small but potent infusion of sugar cane rum and ginger is not only delcious but is also said to be an aphrodisiac.
Located high on a jungle-clad hillside in Santa Teresa, Aprazivel is worth a visit for the views alone.
Wisely making the most of the sweeping vistas over downtown Rio, the owners have made al-fresco dining the order of the day, with grass-roofed gazebos sitting amid lush tropical gardens visited by toucans and monkeys.
At night, the scene is lit by candles and flickering fairy lights which, when combined with the views and the delicious French-Brazilian dishes on the menu, makes this one of the best spots in Rio for a romantic meal.
Chef Ana Castilho has combined Brazilian culinary influences with tricks of the trade learned during her training in France, and the result is a menu of light dishes that add some chic French touches to the wealth of fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and seafood available locally.
Recommended for Santa Teresa’s Best Restaurants because: Delicious food is served al-fresco in beautiful tropical gardens at this hidden hilltop restaurant.
Lucy’s expert tip: Call ahead to book tables if you want to sit outside – these seats are extremely popular on balmy evenings.
It doesn’t look like much, but this unpretentious little spot in leafy Santa Teresa offers vast portions of delicious Northeastern Brazilian food at more than reasonable prices.
The walls are hung with paintings by Chilean artist Selaron – whose masterwork, the Lapa Steps, lies just a few minutes’ walk from the restaurant – and the accommodating staff always offer the warmest of welcomes and the speediest of service.
The restaurant (it’s a bar in name only) serves hearty dishes such as sundried beef with cassava, rice and beans, while vegetarians can opt to switch the meat for ‘queijo coalho’ – thick slabs of grilled white cheese. Exercise caution when spooning on the pepper sauce that is served with each dish, it’s fiery stuff.
Set meals for one easily serve two or even three, making this a cost-effective spot for couples, families and groups of friends with hearty appetites.
Recommended for Santa Teresa’s Best Restaurants because: Delicious, traditional northeastern food in mammoth portions make this a great option for hungry visitors.
Lucy’s expert tip: There’s no wine list here, but bring along your vino of choice and staff will happily uncork it for you at no cost.
High on a hillside in the boho, historic neighborhood of Santa Teresa, each weekend sees Nega Teresa set up her chandelier-lit stall selling authentic Bahian acaraje (pronouced a-kah-rah-jay). These savoury treats are bean patties that are fried in palm oil and then split open and filled with shrimp, hot pepper sauce, chopped tomatoes and a gooey but delicious okra paste. Veggies can omit the shrimp, and customers can ask for as much, or as little, hot sauce as they can handle. Nega Teresa’s stall is located right next to popular local hangout Bar do Bonde, whose caipirinhas make an excellent companion to this delicious street snack.
Recommended for Santa Teresa’s Best Restaurants because: Sipping a beer and chatting to locals while waiting for your acaraje to be ready is a delicious Santa Teresa experience
Lucy’s expert tip: Grab one of the sidewalk tables at Bar do Bonde and order a drink as you wait for your acaraje.
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson
This small, unassuming, unsigned little lunch and brunch spot is a great option for anybody with an aversion to gluten or a preference for natural, organic ingredients. Alongside a range of wholemeal sweet and savory tarts and pies and some yummy sandwiches, there are gluten-free cakes, tarts (try the palm-heart and yogurt) and a mini-store stocked with a range of pastas, biscuits and other goodies to take away. In addition, Cultivar Brazil serves unarguably the best Pao de Queijo (little cheese breads made with manioc flour), here made with organic ingredients.
There’s no sign above the cafe, but Cultivar Brazil opens right onto Santa Teresa’s main drinking and dining strip.
Recommended for Santa Teresa’s Best Restaurants because: Delicious organic goodies attract long lines at this friendly little spot.
Lucy’s expert tip: Wait until a fresh batch of pao de queijo comes fresh out of the oven, as these little lovelies are at their best when hot.
Occupying a corner building on Santa Teresa’s liveliest square – Largo do Guimaraes – Cafe do Alto has carved out a reputation for serving delicious dishes at fair prices, in a wonderfully colorful setting. The emphasis is on food from Brazil’s Northeast, but but avoids the stodginess that sometimes weighs down Nordestino cooking. Light dishes include tapioca panckaes filled with everything from tomato and marinated tomatoes or shredded jerk beef, to sweet versions filled with fruit and curd cheese; while recommended mains include moqueca – a typical seafood stew, here adapted to include veggie friendly versions made with palm heart or yucca.
There are abundant breakfast options, and the weekend breakfast buffet – which runs until 1pm – is the ideal hangover cure for anybody who partied hard in nearby Lapa the night before.
Service is attentive, the decor is cheery and the cafe scores major parental brownie points for its kid-friendly menu and drawing materials.
Recommended for Santa Teresa’s Best Restaurants because: Cafe do Alto serves great food at very fair prices, in one of Santa Teresa’s liveliest locations.
Lucy’s expert tip: There’s a good – if pricey – range of wines, along with an extensive craft beer selection and yummy batidas (mixture of fruit, condensed milk and sugar cane rum).
Fine international food and equally fine views are the order of the day at this upscale restaurant in the plush confines of 5-star Hotel Santa Teresa. It’s not necessary to fork out for a room here in order to dine here (in fact there’s a separate entrance) and it’s a major destination restaurant in its own right. The location, high on a Santa Teresa hillside, means that seats near the windows offer gorgeous views down to Guanabara Bay, and the creative menu has a French touch, while embracing local ingredients (fish dishes are a strong suit) and pan-continental flavors.
Recommended for Santa Teresa’s Best Restaurants because: This highly-regarded restaurant attracts foodies from across Rio with its strong menu, excellent wine list and gorgeous view.
Lucy’s expert tip: Steep cobbled streets mean cab drivers can be reluctant to drive up to Santa Teresa, so call one in advance rather than hailing on the street.