Served in different shapes, flavors and colors, vegetarian food has made a name for itself in São Paulo as something diverse and delicious, no longer just a menu afterthought.
There was once a time in São Paulo when vegetarian food was available as little more than a single option on a regular restaurant menu. These would be simple dishes, made from soybeans or chickpeas, which didn’t often have much effort put into them. Nowadays, the tables have turned. This groundbreaking niche has grown at such a rate that the huge availability of veggie food has been a breath of fresh air even for meat eaters.
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One of the few gourmet vegetarian restaurants in São Paulo, Banana Verde lies on a tree-lined area in the heart of Vila Madalena. During lunch hour, the line at the door usually invades the sidewalk, and with good reason. The palm spaghetti with chestnuts and tomatoes and the roasted pumpkin risotto, prepared with black rice, mushrooms and brie cheese, are favorites among the crowd who order à la carte. If your hunger is greater, however, go for the lunch buffet, which usually includes several types of salad, soup and tofu-prepared ‘meat’.
Housed in a charming old warehouse, Moinho de Pedra (literally, the Stone Mill) has become a reference for fantastic vegetarian food in São Paulo. Located in the southern neighborhood of Chácara Santo Antônio, its focus is on healthy eating and organic ingredients. There are two set-menu options throughout the week: one rice-based, and one pasta-based. A different soup or salad is served as a starter, and do not – under any circumstances – leave without trying the desserts, especially the banana pie. Moinho de Pedra also has a cute shop at the front of the restaurant, selling beauty products and organic food. After your meal, why not indulge in a spot of shopping?
Of the world’s most famous cuisines, Indian food, is perhaps the one that has yet to really take off in São Paulo. However, located just off the bustle of Rua Augusta is Gulab Hari, a lunchtime favorite that serves a Brazilian take on Indian cuisine. Not only catering to vegetarians, there are also lactovegetarian and vegan options, all of which are full of flavor and are ideal choices for a delicious, healthy lunch. Known for its first-class service, every day the restaurant provides a delicious salad, two different main courses and tasty desserts. If you have trouble trying to pick between the mains, Gulab Hari offers a combo with both options on the one dish. When visiting, make sure to arrive sharpish, as lunchtime at Gulab Hari inevitably results in significant queues, a sign of just how tasty and well-liked the restaurant is.
A restaurant-cum-coffee shop-cum-emporium, Casa Jaya is something of a vegan paradise in São Paulo. Found in a charming house in Pinheiros, filled with plants and plenty of peace of mind, it’s a great spot for a delicious lunch in a cozy atmosphere. Lunch is served with two options of main courses and a complete and organic salad buffet. One of the main highlights is the plantain moqueca – a vegan variant of the popular fish stew served up and down Brazil’s coast. For something sweet, there are gluten-free cheesecakes and brownies.
Nambu is the place to go for light, healthy and delicious Brazilian food. A relatively new addition to the São Paulo veggie scene, dishes are devised to be organic and balanced, while still possessing excellent flavor. With its rustic and pleasant environment, it almost feels like you are having lunch in the park. The restaurant opens for lunch and dinner, serving snacks during the afternoon in between. Though the menu is not 100 percent vegetarian, the vast majority of options are meat-free, and those that aren’t have their own veggie alternatives. Don’t miss out on the manioc chapatis, served warm alongside a variety of antipasti.
Maní Manioca, set up by acclaimed chefs Helena Rizzo and Daniel Redondo, has become something of a sensation in Latin American gastronomy. Nowadays led by Helena Rizzo herself, Maní serves up a groundbreaking menu which has seen the restaurant become a regular feature on Latin America’s ’50 Best’ lists. Arguably the star of the show on Maní’s menu is the cashew fruit ceviche, a delightfully delicate and vegan take on the Peruvian classic. With its superb texture and acidity, cashew fruit almost seems like it was made for ceviche, and it will certainly win over fans of the fish-based original. Make sure to try the ice cream as well, with some unique Brazilian fruit flavors including açai, bacuri and cumaru.
With two addresses – one in the old center and one in the swanky neighborhood of Jardins – Apfel opened its doors in 2002 and has been led by Chilean chef Mylenne Signé ever since. Chef Signé learned her craft from “Tia Lucia”, the Swiss immigrant who opened São Paulo’s first vegetarian restaurant. Armed with craft and a recipe book, for years Signé has been making excellent vegetarian food renowned all over São Paulo. Perfect for lunch during a tour of São Paulo’s historic center, Apfel’s downtown location is situated beside the Theatro Municipal and Praça da República. Lunch works with a “weigh and pay” system, where you only pay for what you serve yourself from Apfel’s wide range of buffet options.
If you find yourself exploring the surroundings of São Paulo, Madruguinha Vegan is the right choice for you. In São Caetano, part of the greater metropolitan region, Madruguinha is the newest 100% vegan restaurant in the region and is already gaining loyal fans among vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters alike. With a rotating menu, featuring vegan takes on traditional lunches alongside creative inventions, Madruguinha visitors can order their main meal alongside all-you-can-eat from the salad buffet and free refills of fresh juice. Even though the restaurant is less than a year old, its vegan feijoada (Brazil’s national dish) is already a local favorite. Its selection of sweets and cakes are also a highlight, particularly the bolo de paçoca, a cake inspired by the traditional peanut candy loved by Brazilians nationwide.
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