In Brazil, lunch is the biggest and most important meal of the day. With breakfast often being little more than a cup of milky coffee accompanied by a piece of plain cake or a slice of toast, and dinner usually served too late to be anything too heavy, lunch is where Brazilians get their daily fuel.
Normally served between noon and 3pm, Brazilian lunches are hearty, sit-down affairs with huge portion sizes, always featuring large helpings of rice and beans. Try and get away with eating a sandwich or a bowl of soup, and Brazilians will dismiss it as “not lunch”.
In São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest city, lunch takes on an added dimension of importance. In SP‘s countless popular lunch restaurants, there is a set menu of lunch dishes for each day of the week, often followed to the letter by the locals.
Feijoada, Brazil’s iconic pork and black bean stew, is served on Wednesdays and Saturdays, while pasta – a nod to São Paulo’s sizable Italian community – is eaten on Thursdays and Sundays. Fridays are for fish; Tuesday is the day for either dobradinha (a Portuguese stew made from tripe and white beans) or bife à rolê (a Brazilian beef roulade), and Monday is reserved for the most São Paulo dish of all – the virado à paulista.
Dating back to the 14th century, the virado à paulista is a culinary monster. The typical version comprises tutu de feijão (refried beans thickened with manioc flour), a pork chop, sausage, a deep-fried banana, fried egg, sauteed kale, pork crackling and a generous portion of white rice.
While this may seem like enough food to feed a small family, Paulistanos will typically tackle these massive portions alone, every day of the week. You may wonder how people can afford to eat so heartily on such a regular basis, but a typical virado à paulista, though more expensive in central areas, costs an approximate average of R$20 across the city – just over £4. Not bad for the most important meal of the day.
Unsurpisingly, there is no shortage of popular lunch restaurants across São Paulo. Almost every street will have its own traditional lunch spot, especially in more peripheral neighborhoods. However, the search for an honestly-priced and classic lunch in the more upmarket central areas can be a bit trickier. Here are some of the best places to visit for a genuine taste of São Paulo.
Widely renowned as the place to go in São Paulo for a truly excellent virado à paulista, Salada Record is a superb option for any visitors wanting to experience a properly Paulistano lunch. Located downtown, alongside the famous crossroads of Avenidas São João and Ipiranga and immortalized in legendary Brazilian musician Caetano Veloso’s “Sampa”, Salada Record serves up excellent, no-nonsense food at fair prices. Visit on a Monday to try their virado, you won’t be disappointed.
Also downtown is Restaurante Ita, a stone’s throw away from Largo do Paissandu. Working out of the same address since 1953, Ita is unashamedly old-school, from its M-shaped marble counter to the wooden stools dotted around it. Ita has barely changed its decor over the last 60 years. The menu is huge, so big in fact that they don’t hand out physical copies. Everything offered by the kitchen is posted on the walls, on dozens of whiteboards. All the classic São Paulo lunch options are available, but the star of the show comes on Fridays when it serves up several different versions of bacalhau, Portuguese dried and salted cod.
When reading about São Paulo, you may have encountered a few mentions of Estadão already, being home to their unbelievably delicious roasted pork shoulder sandwich – a Paulistano institution for decades. However, besides the bustling pork sandwich trade that serves hundreds of hungry clubbers at five in the morning, Estadão is also one of the best lunch spots in the entire city. Diners can order the pernil à brasileira, which is essentially a bumper serving of their delicious pork sandwich filling, accompanied by rice, fried manioc flour, fries and homemade chili sauce.
Another excellent lunch option in downtown São Paulo, Pasv is a superb place for Sunday afternoons, not least because that’s when the restaurant serves its famous cozido à espanhola, a hearty stew similar to the cocidos and pucheros found in Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries.
With three addresses (affectionately known as Jhony’s 1, Jhony’s 2 and, wait for it, Jhony’s 3), all in the neighborhood of Vila Buarque, Jhony’s is a safe bet at any time of the day, whether you’re looking for breakfast, lunch or dinner, or even a nice spot to have a drink with friends. The food is good, well-served and fairly priced. Have a go at their beef parmesan (filé mignon à parmigiana), which comes as a huge helping of breaded filet mignon, covered in red sauce and melted cheese. Jhony’s has the nerve to claim this dish serves two people, but it would satisfy three with enough left over for a doggy bag.
Somewhat hidden away on a busy street in the neighborhood of Higienópolis, Ugue’s is a bit of a local secret. There are no signs out front, rarely are there any tables on the pavement, and the restaurant itself is fronted by a fairly uninviting green metal gate. Inside, however, the atmosphere is lively and the tables are almost always packed at lunchtime. The food is superb and honestly priced, and while they do have the classic São Paulo daily specials, even simple dishes, such as the sirloin steak or chicken breast, are beautifully cooked and flavorful.
With the trendy new fast food chains that have popped up all around the neighborhood of Consolação, it can be difficult to find somewhere simple and classic in the area. The best lunch spot can be found at Linda Frei Caneca, a somewhat unimpressive looking diner which serves surprisingly good food. On Tuesdays, they serve galinha caipira (stewed country chicken) accompanied by a delicious baião de dois, which is a classic Brazilian rice dish, made with sausage, jerked beef, fried cheese and black-eyed peas.
While the traditional São Paulo lunch menu is very meat-based (even the pasta dishes on Thursdays and Sundays will be served with roast chicken or beef), Boteco do Gois proves that you can still get the authentic flavor without the meat. As well as serving the traditional Paulistano fare, vegetarians and vegans will find plenty to eat here, with Boteco do Gois adapting its usual lunch options to include soy protein, quinoa burgers and lentils. There is even a vegan feijoada on offer on Wednesdays and Saturdays.