Budget Guide to Brazilian Capitals for Foodies

Scenic view of the town of Olinda

Photo © Michael Sommers.

While menus executivos – fixed price, weekday lunch menus that allow gourmets with low funds to eat out in high style at top restaurants – are rampant in São Paulo, and fairly common in Rio de Janeiro, in other Brazilian cities, they’re pretty far and in-between. Fortunately, there are a few exceptions, and with any luck the trend will continue to spread. In the meantime, here are a few worthy options in major cities scattered throughout the land (hours and addresses are included in links):

Belo Horizonte:

While Minas Gerais is renowned for its robust regional cuisine – frango com quiabo (chicken with okra); tutu ao mineiro (a thick bean paste); costelas de porco (spare ribs) – the state capital of “BH” is home to a thriving restaurant culture with a selection that is extremely varied.

Vecchio Sogno – This elegant restaurant located on the ground floor of the state Legislative Assembly (in the bairro of Santo Agostinho) is widely considered to be one of the best restaurants in the city. Although the menu is primarily Italian, chef Ivo Faria’s French leanings, coupled with his own flights of fancy, yield some daring dishes. The R$57 menu, consisting of a starter and entree, doesn’t include dessert.

Brasília:

With so many politicos and diplomats in residence and/or passing through, it’s not surprising that Brazil’s space-age capital boasts the nation’s most sophisticated and dynamic gourmet dining scene after São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Oscar Restaurante – Lodged on the main floor of the landmark Brasília Palace Hotel – Brasília’s very first hotel – this restaurant, named in honor of the architect who designed both the hotel and Brasília, is presided over by Adilson Batista who revisits culinary classics from the hotel’s original menu with contemporary flair. The R$55, 3-course menu changes weekly and is available on Saturdays as well as during the week.

Florianópolis:

“Floripa” may be one of Brazil’s smaller capitals, but its relatively high standard of living coupled with the island of Santa Catarina’s increasing hipness as a travel destination has led to the emergence of some cutting-edge eating options.

Café Riso & Etc – Considered one of Floripa’s top chefs, Catarinense native Vitor Gomes has been cooking ever since he became the designated sandwich maker for his scout troop at age 11. At his fetchingly, low-key restaurant, the specialty is rice (and risottos), innovative versions of which can be savored up on the R$45, 3-course menu.

Fortaleza:

Ceará’s booming seaside capital is widely associated with fish and seafood – in fact, it’s known as Brazil’s crustacean capital due to the fact that lobster is cheaper and more abundant here than anywhere else). However, amidst the classic fisherman’s peixada and the infinite beach-side barracas serving carangueijo (crab), the city has some interesting fine dining as well.

Vojnilô – Chef Lúcio Figueiredo is famous for cooking up the freshest and most succulent specimens of daily caught fish and seafood with great flair (usually on his charcoal grill) at this attractive restaurant in the upscale Varjota neighborhood. The nicely priced $R30 menu includes a salad and dessert along with an entrée.

Olinda:

These days it’s practically a suburb of Pernambuco’s sprawling capital of Recife, but the state’s mesmerizingly beautiful original capital of Olinda (pictured above) is a baroque treasure that, fittingly, possesses quite a remarkable gastronomic scene, featuring a variety of eateries lodged in beautiful historic houses.

Maison do Bomfim – Raised in France, and living in Brazil since 1974, chef Jean François Colas’ charming restaurant focuses on unpretentious French cooking made with fresh local ingredients. Instead of offering a classic menu executivo, you can choose an entree – along with two side accompaniments – for R$17.90 (Tues.-Fri.). Even with the addition of a starter, dessert, and/or even a decent bottle of wine, it still winds up being a delicious bargain.

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