Budget Guide to Rio de Janeiro for Foodies

Colorful, modern restaurant in Rio

Photo © Michael Sommers.

I was not at all surprised to learn that Rio de Janeiro was recently voted the “happiest” city in the world in a survey conducted by GfK Custom Research North America, and published by Forbes.com. Although I’m not quite sure how such things are measured scientifically, the city has always had a euphoric impact upon me as well as most of the people I know (both Brazilians and foreigners) who have had the privilege of flying down to Rio.

Without a doubt, a contributing factor to Cariocas’ happiness is the variety of eating options the city offers which, depending on your priorities, can be either hearty or healthy as hell (and sometimes even both) – but rarely lacking in taste. Although Rio’s gourmet restaurant scene is not quite as extensive or as vanguard as São Paulo’s (Cariocas admittedly have a lot more to distract them), those in search of high-quality eating experiences won’t lack for options.

Like Sampa, many of Rio’s most acclaimed restaurants happily offer 3-course, prix fixe menus executivos during weekday lunch, allowing you to sample top chef’s creations – albeit more modest versions – at a fraction of the price, in settings that will only add to your felicidade. Here are a handful of the best (hours and addresses are included in links):

66 Bistro – Since arriving from Paris 30 years ago, Claude Troisgros has become one of the country’s top chefs by marrying French cooking techniques with Brazil’s distinctive flavors, textures, and colors. The menu executivo at Olympe, his flagship Jardim Botânico restaurant – considered by many to be the best French restaurant in Brazil – is pricy (R$92) and available only on Fridays. For those on a tight budget, his nearby 66 Bistrô, whose kitchen is presided over by son Thomas, features much more affordable options, with R$34 giving you access to an all-you-can-eat salad table, R$43 tossing in a grilled entrée du jour, and R$52 scoring you a tarte de la maison.

Fasano Al Mare – While it’s a cliché that only tourists eat at Rio’s often lackluster beachfront restaurants, all bets are off when the restaurant is lodged within the beautiful Philippe Starck-designed Hotel Fasano Rio, the beachfront is Ipanema, and the chef is Italy’s Luca Gozzani who has a trio of Michelin stars under his belt. The R$78 menu may seem a bit steep, but it’s an amazing deal for a 3-course feast where fresh seafood is the star.

Quadrifoglio – Tucked away in bucolic Jardim Botânico, for 20 years this Italian restaurant has been considered one of the best in town – and now it’s even better due to a 2009 take-over that resulted in a much-needed makeover and a new chef pâtissier. The R$49 menu allows you to sample dishes from the regular menu, masterfully executed by chef Kiko Faria, featuring pastas and risottos, followed by a main course and, yes, a scrumptious dessert.

Roberta Sudbrack – Considered one of Brazil’s most inventive chefs, Roberta Sudbrack went from operating a hot dog stand in Brasília to becoming presidential chef during the tenure of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. The contemporary creations served at her Jardim Botânico restaurant are a feast for the senses; in order to take advantage of freshest ingredients, the R$39 menu – available only on Friday – changes daily.

Zuka – Although chef Ludmila Soeiro pulls out all the creative stops at dinner, the R$55 lunch menu at her intimate Leblon restaurant gives you a sense of her flair for innovation not to mention her fondness for grilling over an old-fashioned charcoal grill.

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