When you talk about Brazilian food – much like India, Italy or China – there is no single overarching “Brazilian cuisine.” The country is so vast and geographically diverse, that such a generalisation would be impossible. One of the best things about the cosmopolitan megacity of São Paulo is that you can find all these different styles in one city. Here are some of the best Brazilian restaurants SP has to offer.
Today’s hottest restaurant in São Paulo is Casa do Porco, in the revitalized city center. Literally translating as “House of the Pig,” it offers diners a true journey to the countryside of Brazil’s southeast and its delicious and hearty cuisine which, as the name suggests, involves quite a lot of pork.
Head chef Jefferson Rueda, one of the rising stars on the Brazilian food scene, seeks to bring all of the flavors of the classic home cooking of his birthplace of São José do Rio Pardo, a small town deep into the countryside of São Paulo state and close to the border with Minas Gerais. However, while on the one hand focusing on tradition and authenticity, Rueda has also managed to create some incredibly innovative dishes which would not look out of place on the tables of the swankiest restaurants around the world.The best way to get the full Casa do Porco experience is by ordering the tasting menu (“De Tudo Um Porco”), which includes an incredible ten starters, followed by Rueda’s signature main course, the Porco San Zé – slow-roasted pork with a number of delicious sides. While the main is delicious, it is the selection of starters that really steals the show. With fascinating combinations such as a pork tartar with bone marrow served on a homemade crisp bread, pork jowl sushi with black tucupi (pictured above), and pork belly crackling with guava jam, each as curious and delicious as the last, the tasting menu is an absolute must-order at this absolute must-visit restaurant.
The mission of Jiquitaia, a charming spot one block from the hustle and bustle of Rua Augusta, is to value Brazilian ingredients and recipes from all over the country. Instead of focusing on one region in particular, head chef Marcelo Corrêa Bastos opts for a grand variety of dishes from north to south, and even some European classics which incorporate traditional Brazilian ingredients.
The lunch menu changes every day, always including at least one vegetarian option and (except on Mondays) a fish course. Diners can go for the set menu, which includes a starter, main and dessert, coming in at R$ 55 ($17), very reasonable indeed for the quality of food on offer.At dinner, the menu is fixed, but includes all of Jiquitaia’s lunch favorites from throughout the week. For starters, the Dobradinha, a traditional northeastern Brazilian stew with tripe and pork sausage, is one of the best examples of this dish you will find south of Bahia. Among the main courses, the undoubted diners’ favorite is the Arroz de Pato no Tucupi e Magret (seen above) – taking a Portuguese classic and giving it an Amazonian twist with the addition of tucupi, a sauce extracted from cassava root which has a unique, acidic flavor.
Among the desserts, there is the superb Brigadeiro com Farofa de Pé de Moleque, which is a thick Brazilian sweet made from condensed milk, butter and chocolate, served alongside a peanut brittle crumble. The portion may look small on arrival, but the richness of the brigadeiro is guaranteed to leave you satisfied.
One of the most often overlooked cuisines in Brazil is that of the northern Amazonian region, from the vast states of Pará and Amazonas in particular. Many of the ingredients used in the local cooking are specific to the region, very rarely appearing in concoctions from other regions of the country.
While it also has some excellent options from other parts of Brazil, Tordesilhas, in the swanky neighborhood of Jardins, is the best place to go in São Paulo for some proper Amazonian food.
Tordesilhas’ flagship dish is the Tacacá starter, a truly unique hot seafood broth from Pará made with jambu leaf, a plant found in the Amazon which has a distinct tingling sensation when eaten. Every two months, head chef Mara Salles puts up a stall outside the restaurant and sells bowls of tacacá on the street as the sun goes down, which is the tradition in Pará’s state capital of Belém. Fisherman returning to shore for the day queue up for a refreshing meal after hours of work in the beating sun, and while tacacá is served hot, its unique flavor combination gives it a cooling and refreshing feel, coming from the tingle of the jambu and the acidity of the tucupi.
For your main course, go for the grilled pirarucu, a huge freshwater fish native to the Amazon river.
Another of the best restaurants in the center of São Paulo is the local’s favorite Bar da Dona Onça, located on the ground floor of the iconic Copan Building. Led by Janaina Rueda (who is married to Jefferson Rueda, of the aforementioned Casa do Porco), the restaurant serves up classic home-style São Paulo food with wonderful ingredients and a modern twist.
Dona Onça doubles up as a bar, as the name suggests, with a large selection of delicious finger food, such as the excellent Croc Milanesa, which is a breaded beef cutlet (alla milanese), cut into bite-sized cubes and served with a spicy tomato sauce.However, it is with sit-down meals that Dona Onça really excels. The house favorite is the Galinhada Moderna, which is an absolutely delicious rice and chicken stew, topped with a cured egg yolk. The daily specials are also worth a look, such as Monday’s Virado à Paulista, or Thursday’s braised lamb shank with polenta.
One of the most widely lauded forms of Brazilian cuisine comes from the south-east state of Minas Gerais. Massive, hearty portions full of pork, beans, cheese and vegetables, it is essentially an entire culinary tradition based on the idea of comfort food. Many of the most popular Mineiro dishes can be found all over Brazil, but for some true Minas Gerais food in São Paulo an excellent option is Sagrado Mineiro, in the central neighborhood of Vila Buarque.
The cozy dining room, decorated with landscapes of Minas Gerais and complete with a log fire, transports you to the Mineiro heartlands. The food, with a focus on large dishes to share among groups and families, is to die for. The Costelinha Mineira – pork ribs and sausage – is a good option, served with tutu (Brazilian refried beans), sautéed kale and rice, while the feijoada is also one of the best in the city.
The suburbs and outskirts of São Paulo are rarely visited by tourists or even locals. Largely working-class and residential, one could say there is not much to see, though each region does have its own unique charms. The northern neighborhood of Vila Medeiros however, attracts Paulistanos and tourists alike, seven days a week. The reason? One of the city’s best restaurants, Mocotó.
Founded in 1973 by José de Almeida and now run by his son, Rodrigo Oliveira, one of Brazil’s top chefs, Mocotó is a true gem and one should not pass up the opportunity to visit. The menu is traditional northeastern Brazilian food, but not from the coastal cities of Salvador, Fortaleza and Recife, instead it is from the sertão, the arid hinterlands of the northeast.Life is hard in the sertão and travelling from one place to another can be difficult, meaning the local food is rich and filling, enough to sustain a sertanejo for an entire day. At Mocotó, these recipes are recreated with incredible flair.
The food is so good that at any time of the week there will be an impressive queue outside the restaurant, meaning you should go early to avoid disappointment.
In the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul, which shares a border with Argentina and Uruguay, the local cuisine is based on one thing and one thing alone – barbecue. Barbecued meat has become such an integral part of Gaúcho (as people from Rio Grande do Sul are called) culture, and traditional southern steakhouses have popped up all over Brazil.
In São Paulo, Vento Haragano is arguably the best option for a Gaúcho feast. The restaurant works on the traditional all-you-can-eat basis, with a huge buffet filled with salads and hot dishes, and waiters in traditional dress circulating the dining room with massive cuts of barbecued meat skewered on swords.
This is a true paradise for meat lovers, right from the moment you step in through the front door and are met with the marvelous sight of half a dozen slabs of beef ribs cooking slowly around a log fire.
On the trendy street of Rua dos Pinheiros, which over the last few years has become full of new hip restaurants, one corner in particular never fails to catch the eye. With a colorful front of house that makes it look straight out of Pelourinho and a healthy crowd of patrons outside, Consulado da Bahia is one of the best northeastern restaurants in São Paulo.
Unlike the sertanejo cuisine of the brilliant Mocotó, Consulado da Bahia is all about the seafood of the coastal region, with its vibrant colors and flavors. For starters, order a portion of acarajé, the traditional bean fritters fried in red palm oil, and some pastel de carne seca, delicious deep-fried pies filled with salted, dried beef and creamy cheese.
For the main course, you can’t look past a moqueca, the classic northeastern fish stew made with red palm oil and coconut milk.
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