The Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo is poised to become one of the world's great restaurant cities. It already boasts the number-four establishment on the San Pellegrino/Restaurant magazine list, the elegant D.O.M., the province of Alex Atala, one of South America's most famous chefs — with another local place, Mani, at number 51.
São Paulo has some of the world's best steakhouses, a wide assortment of traditional Brazilian restaurants serving hearty comfort food, a number of first-class Italian places (and terrific pizzerias), and extraordinary sushi and other Japanese fare (the largest Japanese community outside Japan is concentrated in city's Liberdade district). In fact, as the largest city not just in Brazil but in the Southern Hemisphere, with a population of more than 11 million within the city limits and a total of almost 20 million in the whole metropolitan area, Saõ Paulo offers just about any kind of food you can imagine, at levels from the dirt-cheap basic to the gilt-edged and ethereal.
Deciding where to spend your dining hours in Saõ Paulo isn't an easy task, then. But here are a few places no visitor to the city should miss:
Breakfast: Paõ de queijo is the most unavoidable of Brazilian specialties, found everywhere from hotel breakfast buffets to street stands to fancy-restaurant bread baskets. If you eat in Brazil, it is difficult to avoid. Paõ de queijo, literally "cheese bread," is a relative of the Gruyère cheese puffs the French call gougères, but is denser and made with manioc (cassava) flour instead of choux pastry dough and typically with white cheese from Brazil's major cheese-producing state, Minas Gerais. Paõ de queijo can be leaden and nearly flavorless or supple and delicious — but none is better than that produced by Paõ de Queijo Haddock Lobo (on the street of the same name), a little open-front storefront bakery, which dispenses good coffee, several varieties of sweet breakfast pastry, the chicken-filled fritters called cozinha… and paõ de queijo that you will quite possible dream about. While some interpretations are neatly rounded and the size of golf or Ping Pong balls, the paõ de queijo here is free-form, crisp on the outside, and full of cheese and moist dough within. You tell yourself you're just going to have one and then wonder why you've eaten four. Because you've got good taste, that's why.
Lunch: Restaurante Emiliano, in the handsomely appointed boutique hotel of the same name, is a modestly sized, bright and airy dining room with luminous hardwood floors, one side of which is defined by floor-to-ceiling windows giving onto lush flowered hedges. Illuminated by sunlight, it's a warm room with a cool vibe. Here, chef José Barattino serves clean-lined, well-crafted food based on organic and sustainably produced ingredients, with slight Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese accents and the fresh surprise of ingredients from the Amazon and elsewhere in the vast Brazilian countryside. Try the elegant salad of cured scallops and fresh hearts of pupunha palm, roasted squares of sweet yellow manioc with a silky Brazil nut emulsion, ravioli filled with shredded guinea fowl meat in a smoked game broth speckled with chives, roasted rack of goat with red rice, and toasted almond brioche with mascarpone, peaches, and oranges.
Stop by Restaurante Emiliano, one of The Daily Meal's 101 Best Hotel Restaurants Around the World. Photo credit: Emiliano Hotel
Afternoon Snack: Named for a town (now better-known as Sterzing) in Italy's German-speaking South Tyrol, Vipiteno is a colorful Italian-style gelato and dessert outlet, offering ice-cream-filled fruit pastries, profiteroles, parfaits and sundaes served in tall glasses, and just terrific gelato and sorbet, from chocolate to green corn. For an afternoon pickup, order an affogato — rich, creamy vanilla ice cream anointed with dark, full-flavored espresso — or a bowl of Vipiteno's superlative pistachio gelato.