One of the world’s most picturesque big cities, Rio de Janeiro combines natural and urban beauty in a hybrid unlike any other. In the same way the hot spot packs the beaches, mountains, businesses, attractions, and diversity of Brazil’s other major cities into one destination, it captures every facet of Brazilian cuisine in offerings that are as appealing as the ambiance.
Brunch: Head downtown to do as the locals do, that is, if you’ve made a reservation. Confeitaria Colombo is packed with diners holding business lunches during the week, crowding the all-you-can-eat buffet upstairs in Cristóvão with droves of suited professionals. Regardless, the vibe is quite refined and relaxed, possibly imposed by the exquisite historic interior. Regulars assure us the wide variety of buffet options is constantly changing, but regional staples like hearts of palm, meat and vegetable croquettes, and an array of international offerings are always available, and feijoada (a beef, pork, and bean stew) is served on Saturdays. The buffet guarantees something for any palate — you won’t leave here hungry, but you will be surrounded by landmarks to marvel at while you walk it off.
Lunch: For a taste of contemporary cuisine and a feel for Ipanema, make your way to Zazá Bistro Tropical. The eclectic bright blue building painted with doodles and script, a simple veranda, and a homey interior stocked with bric-a-brac will pique most passersby’s curiosity. Chef Pablo Vidal’s menu is organic, healthy, modern, and internationally inspired. Kick your shoes off upstairs, lounge about, and enjoy dishes like white fish ceviche with barôa potato crisps marinated in orange juice with tropical fruit, and grilled namorado with caramelized plantain, hearts of palm, and sautéed asparagus before shopping, viewing art, or embarking on the beach, which is just blocks away.
Snack: After ascending Sugarloaf Mountain for your must-see aerial view of the city, walk to nearby Terra Brasilis in Praça General Tibúrcio. Known by locals as the military club, the venue hosts a buffet but also offers an à la carte option right on Red Beach. Snack on a plate of manjoca (a popular deep-fried side dish similar to french fries) or one of 20 Brazilian pizza flavors (options include oregano chips, beef carpaccio, and arugula and leeks topped on thin-crust brick oven pizzas) on offer while listening to live music, and soaking up the views of the sea and Sugarloaf Mountain.
Dinner: Head to Restaurante Joaquina Cobal in Botafogo, a beachfront neighborhood, for dinner. Inspired by a popular Brazilian story of a slave who earned her freedom through her cooking, the home-style, traditional Brazilian fare here is the authentic meal you’re looking for. Try caponata (seafood salad), polenta fries, churrasco (meat skewers), pizza, and coxinha (pretty much anything you want in a fried, breaded ball: cod, rice, chicken, beef, cheese, and veggies.
Drinks: Whether you’re kicking off the trip or wrapping it up, the Lapa district, Rio’s nightlife center, is the place to go for a night on the town (locals will remind you of it every day). Amid the streets of dive bars, look for Rio Scenarium, a three-story fun house given away by its rainbow exterior lights. Inside, the décor is a collection of trinkets and oddities, the crowd is ready to party, and there’s a bar in every direction. Toast to your Brazilian adventure with a caipirinha, a concoction of cachaça (sugar cane rum), sugar, and lime, and samba dancing. The venue hosts constant live music — plus separate rooms with a DJ — inspiring spontaneous dancing both on the floor and around the sporadically placed tables.
Ashley Day is the New York Travel City Editor at The Daily Meal.