Located to the west of the center of São Paulo, the neighborhood of Vila Madalena goes at a different pace to the rest of the city. With its hilly, tree-lined roads and fantastical street names (Sunflower Road, Harmony Road and Glitter Street, to name a few), it’s a beautiful place to stroll around and has a noticeably artistic and bohemian vibe. It’s also home to some of the city’s most interesting restaurants – here’s a selection of the best.
If you’re looking for some of the best Neapolitan pizza this side of the Mediterranean, come to Carlos. Opened in early 2015, it is housed inside a charming semi-detached home with a gorgeous wood ceiling and tall windows facing onto the street, resulting in a nice balance between classy and cozy. A word to the wise, however, the restaurant is very popular at the weekend and does not take reservations, meaning you may have to face a wait of between 30 minutes to an hour.
The food certainly makes up for the wait, however, as Carlos follows the principles of the Verace Pizza Napoletana Association, serving individual pies with billowy, chewy crusts, fresh tomato sauce and few toppings. The standout pizza is the burrata, served with a light dusting of tulha cheese, fresh basil and four generous scoops of fresh burrata.
Do not, under any circumstances, ignore the starters or desserts. Carlos’ carpaccio is melt-in-the-mouth soft, served with grated tulha cheese and flavourful olive oil, while as far as desserts are concerned, the Apicius, a flourless brownie topped with ice cream, is absolutely delicious.
If you’re looking to try a properly good feijoada – the pork and bean stew which is Brazil’s national dish – there aren’t many better places to visit than Feijoada da Lana. Unsurprisingly, feijoada is the only thing on the menu, but unlike traditional restaurants where the stew will be brought to the table in clay pots along with all of the trimmings, here the feijoada is served as a buffet, with diners being able to choose between the cuts of pork they like best (everyone has their own ideal feijoada composition) and feast on the gorgeous sides.
On Rua Fradique Coutinho, right next door to the excellent Coffee Lab (arguably the best café in São Paulo), is the charming Papila Cozinha, a lovely spot for a filling lunch or a tasty pizza. Open during the week for lunch, Papila serves a delicious array of dishes in an all-you-can-eat setting, mixing Brazilian classics with contemporary offerings from around the world. Keep an eye out for the succulent barbecue pork ribs – you might have to fight off the other diners to get some!
In the evenings, Papila transforms into a pizzeria, cooking up excellent pies using the finest Italian ingredients, but still catering to the favorite Brazilian toppings. The Portuguesa (mozzarella, ham, egg, onion and oregano, R$ 50) is one of the most popular orders.
One of the finest dining experiences on offer in Vila Madalena, Tuju is one of the few Michelin star restaurants in the neighborhood (which it won only eight months after opening) and should not be missed under any circumstances.
The stylish, open-plan interior is reminiscent of much of São Paulo’s stunning modernist architecture. The kitchen is wide open, visitors pass directly by it upon entering, and even on busy nights the atmosphere is very cool and relaxed.
Diners often opt for the tasting menu, either with five or twelve of Tuju’s constantly changing and evolving courses. Vegetarians need not worry, as there also meat-free versions of these tasting menus, making Tuju one of São Paulo’s truly great vegetarian eating spots.
One of the newer restaurants in Vila Madalena is the lovely Hirá Ramen Izakaya, led by chef Daniel Hirata. As the name suggests, it is a rarely-seen combination of a ramen shop and izakaya (traditional Japanese sake bar), meaning patrons can roll up for a drink followed by a hot bowl of ramen, or the other way around.
The selection of otsumami (small dishes typical of an izakaya) is varied and frankly mouth-watering. Besides the more traditional Japanese options of nasu and okonomiyaki, there are several other East Asian dishes, such as kimchi, delicious pork buns and Korean bulgogi wraps.
Where the ramen is concerned, the classic shoyu and miso ramen are popular and well executed, but have a go at the tsukemen, the traditional Japanese dish where cold noodles are dipped into a separate bowl of hot soup. Hirá’s version has a delicious, rich and spicy paitan broth.
Make sure to try one of their specialty cocktails, such as the Shissô Collins – a classic Tom Collins with shiso syrup instead of sugar – and the Wabi Sabi, which combines sake, amaretto, yuzu sour, ginger syrup and wasabi.
São Paulo underwent a bit of a burger frenzy over the last few years, with scores of burger joints opening up all over the city. Many of them turned out to be pretentious, overpriced and nothing new. Bullguer, originally opening nearby Ibirapuera Park and now having five different restaurants across the city, bucked this trend a little.
Inspired by US chain Shake Shack, Bullguer focuses on serving up quality burgers, with no fuss and no extra costs. Creator and chef Thiago Koch calls it “fake fast food”: all of the convenience and affordability of fast food, but with excellent ingredients.
Also going against the prevailing São Paulo burger trend at the time, which almost entirely favored thick, heavy patties with extravagant toppings that made the sandwich a chore to eat, Bullguer opted for smashed burgers, which take smaller patties and smash them thin to maximize a delicious crust on both sides of the meat.
For vegetarians and vegans, Banana Verde is a little paradise in Vila Madalena. Nestled on the corner of Rua Madalena and Harmonia, the restaurant’s entrance is almost hidden by trees and plants, making it feel as if you are deep in the countryside. The cozy dining room has large bay windows to let in plenty of sun, and there is even a pet-friendly outdoor area so you can take your dog along for lunch.
The menu focuses on organic produce, with only vegetarian and vegan dishes being served. At lunch, diners can enjoy an impressive all-you-can-eat salad buffet, while the a la carte options are delicious and exciting in their presentation and combination of flavors and ingredients. A special mention goes to the Tartare de Pupunha, which is a tartar of fermented heart of palm with nigella seeds, topped with mango, pumpkin, Cambuci fruit and cashew cheese.
Brazilians have a complicated relationship with Argentinians, their hermanos to the south. When the two countries clash at any sporting event, the animosity can reach pretty high levels, but for the rest of the year it’s little more than a friendly rivalry. You see, there’s plenty that Brazilians like about Argentina: the food, the… Well, just the food. In the heart of Vila Madalena, Argentinian restaurant Martín Fierro has been a local favorite for decades, serving delicious empanadas and incredible grilled beef.
The restaurant is simple and charming, as it has been since opening in 1980, and over the years it has drawn in a loyal base of regulars. Grab a table, order a few empanadas, some delicious wine and the asado de tira, and you’ll be transported to Buenos Aires.
Doubling up as a restaurant and fishmonger, Peixaria is a wonderful place to spend a Sunday afternoon with family or friends, enjoying a cold beer and some superb seafood. Diners choose their own fish from the counter, either to take home or to have served up on the grill in full view of the dining room, brought to the table with an array of delicious side dishes.
The classic options range from tambaqui, mackerel, anchovies or red snapper, all served with a delicious farofa, beans and a tomato salad. Alternatively, if it’s available, don’t miss the whole grilled squid, which is always cooked to perfection.
Middle Eastern food is a big deal in São Paulo, thanks to the massive wave of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants who came to the city in the first half of the 20th century. Many of the original Middle Eastern recipes have since been adapted to a Brazilian palate, making them even more popular, but there are still many authentic Lebanese and Syrian restaurants around town, often run by second or third-generation Middle Eastern immigrants.
Such is the case with Saj, which, adding to its Jardins and Morumbi addresses, has recently opened up shop on Rua Girassol in Vila Madalena. The name of the restaurant is an allusion to saj, the delicious Lebanese flatbreads which are served with every dish on the menu.