The city center of Rio de Janeiro is moving away from its once grimy, crime-riddled image to a more vibrant, cultural hub. This transformation has put the spotlight on Centro’s varied gastronomical scene that embraces both traditional and contemporary across a broad range of local and international cuisines. Culture Trip explores some of the city center’s best restaurants.
Restaurant, French, Brazilian, Contemporary, $$$
The exposed brickwork supporting fully-stocked wine racks and vintage photos of Parisian streets elegantly captures this restaurant’s French roots. The dimly-lit restaurant is spread across two floors, with details such as jars filled with corks adding a cosy, country house feel. The food sticks to French classics yet boldly experiments with Brazilian flavors and ingredients, creating a wonderful balance between traditional and modern. Highlights on the menu include the duck main course, and more unusual options such as boar and ostrich.
The privileged location of Laguiole next to the Museum of Modern Art (MAM) and bordering the immaculate grounds of Flamengo Park add to the sophistication and elegance of this upscale restaurant. The menu represents classic French dishes yet is elevated with daring creative flair that sees main courses decorated with flowers and other eye-catching adornments. The dishes are constantly changing to reflect the new inspiration of the venue’s talented chef, and are served by attentive, thoughtful waiters.
A local haunt that rarely sees a tourist go inside, Escondidinho serves up traditional Brazilian food that builds upon tried and tested recipes that have worked for decades. It’s been in business the last 50 years, winning over regular customers who come back for their famous slow-cooked ribs with watercress and cassava, and the hearty feijoada on Fridays. The venue only opens during the week, catering for business people during the lunch hour.
It may seem a simple, nonchalant venue on the outside, but the inside is rich in Brazilian tradition and spirit. This friendly restaurant serves classic Brazilian foods that are popular among locals and influenced by food sold at the street stands. It’s unapologetically simple, yet that’s where its charm lies – in honest, accomplished food. The most famous dish on the menu is angu, a typical Brazilian cuisine made from corn flour mixed with water and salt. The chopped sausages with onions is also a popular dish.
Nova Capela creates a homely feel with patterned walls that evoke a traditional Portuguese family home from decades ago. The generous portions add to the familial vibe and the food reflects classic Portuguese dishes made from well-practiced recipes. The broccoli rice served with a hefty sprinkling of fried garlic is one of the most talked about items on the menu, and comes with a selection of protein-based foods such as lamb, wild boar, cod, or octopus.
The surrounding historic architecture creates a pretty and relaxing setting for Antigamente, a classic Brazilian restaurant in the heart of Rio’s downtown. The large, open archways give the venue a breezy, homely feel and the simple tables and chairs spill out onto the cobbled streets. The menu presents some of Brazil’s most trusted dishes such as carne seca (dried meat) pastels, and a hearty feijoada on Fridays.
The grand wooden door of L’atelier du Cuisinier leads into a charmingly simple and cosy restaurant. The stark white walls are broken up with photos and newspaper clippings, and the tables are nonchalantly decorated with simple table mats. Friendly and attentive waiters serve the menu that works around a three-course option at a reasonable price. The food is simple yet flavorful, representing the best of French and Brazilian cuisine in each dish.
A rare gem in Rio’s city center, Tempeh is one of the few truly vegetarian and organic restaurants in the region. The obscured entrance has no name indication, opting for a simple number casually perched above the doorway that leads to an uninviting, dark staircase. Although it may not be an enticing start, the restaurant more than makes up for it with its cosy, clean dining area and range of delicious, healthy food options presented as a buffet.