Foodies Guide to Sao Paulo, Brazil

Editor’s Note:  Special thanks to Marco and Bruno Lucarelli for help compiling this amazing list of the best Sao Paulo restaurants!  Their foodie advice and Brazilian cuisine wisdom is much appreciated.

In 2004, Food and Wine magazine called Sao Paulo the country’s glamour capital, highlighting the fact that foodies were flocking to Brazil to sample the country’s best cuisine in the best ambience.  And yet, I know few people (who aren’t Brazilian) who have done just that.

Brazil isn’t the easiest country to get to and get around in.  Reader Cornelius Aesop recently highlighted your options for food and drink in Brazil on the beach, but living it up in cosmopolitan Sao Paulo is also well worth your time, especially since you’ll no doubt pass through the city at one point, whether on your way to party in Rio or chill out in Buzios.

But where to eat in Sao Paulo?  Here are some of the hottiest, tastiest, and flat out best Sao Paulo restaurants.  Come hungry.

Skye

Sky is the bar/restaurant at the top of Hotel Unique,and while they have great food and terrific cocktails, it’s no secret that you come here for the view.  The building is located next to a park, which isn’t allowed to have any skyscrapers, so you have a clear view over to where the buildings shoot up on Avenue Paulista.  It is, without question, my most memorable experience of Sao Paulo.

Best time to go is before sunset, so you can watch the skyline change; the pool also has red lighting which sets a very interesting mood.  Plus this means you can have some canapés and then stick around for a full meal – the chef is well known for creating one of the best Sao Paulo restaurant experiences.

What to Order: Octopus carpaccio, seafood salad.

Spot

best sao paulo restaurants

They say that Restaurante Spot, right off of Avenida Paulista in the heart of the city, is the place to see and been seen. Somehow this tasty restaurant hasn’t lost its en vogue style and still is the place to be, year after year. Simple but elegant décor, friendly staff, delicious food – perhaps that is exactly the winning combo to be one of the best sao paulo restaurants.

What To Order: Steak gorgonzola, trout filet, fresh tuna, penne al limone, mango tart, and walnut cookies with fresh figs

Capim Santo

best sao paulo restaurants

Capim Santo (Portugese site only) definitely belongs to the ranks of the best Sao Paulo restaurants.  The venue is an old and charming house adapted as a restaurant.  Tables are laid out in the main room as well as throughout the gardens and lovely back yard.  In the glass-wall kitchen, chefs prepare the seafood and Brazilian-inspired menu.  Don’t miss the affordable yet wonderful buffet at lunch time.

What to Order: “Robalo em crosta de castanha de caju guarnecido de vatapa e mandioquinha” (snook (fish) with cashew crust and Brazilian vatapa and root vegetables); “moqueca de frutos do mar com arroz de coco (seafood stew with coconut rice)”

Tordesilhas

best sao paulo restaurants

Tordesilhas is one of the best Sao Paulo restaurants and one of the most elegant.  Mara Salles, the chef, is well known for her steadfast focus at creating innovation and creativity in the kitchen.  Having said all that, I love what Mara says about pairing food with drink, which basically (I paraphrase), she says do what you want.  There aren’t any rules to what tastes good.

What to Order: Feijoada, Combo Brazil, Pato no Tucupi (Amazonian duck)

Mocotó

sao paulo restaurants

Mocto is what the best Sao Paulo restaurants strive to be.  Their focus is Northern Brazilian cuisine, and they deliver outstanding dishes in a very simple, relaxed environment.  They also spend a lot of time thinking about creative ways to delight diners; a particularly popular choice are their soups, which come in different sizes!  It gets really crowded here on weekends, so come early.

What to Order: Carne de sol assada (baked Brazilian sun-dried beef), queijo de coalho com melado (soft white cheese browned in northern Brazilian butter and served with sugar cane molasses.  Great cachaças and caipirinhas.  Dessert: Tapioca pudding, raw brown sugar ice cream.

Mestiço

best sao paulo restaurants

Mestico is one of the best Sao Paulo restaurants and falls into the category of ‘contemporary fusion’ cuisine: here you’ll find a combination of Thai and Bahia (northern Brazil) food.  No doubt that explains the crowds, who are her for the flavours as well as the pleasant ambiance and décor.  This is one of those restaurants where you’ll not see a single thing on the menu you’ve had before (the combinations are surreal), but you just can’t go wrong.

What to Order: Krathong-thong, Paulista (beef with hearts of palm and cheese), Ipanema (grilled fish with roasted hearts of palm, spinach, ginger, and orange sauce)

Filipa

best sao paulo restaurants

The trendy elite of Sao Paulo head to Filipa for healthy portions of tasty goods.  It is owned by the same folks as Mestiço, which explains the top notch menu and the cozy atmosphere.  The cuisine here is also a bit of fusion, featuring highlights from Thailand, Vietnam, France, Italy and Brazil.

What to Order: Fish stew, meat dishes such as green curry filet mignon.

Figueira Rubayat

best sao paulo restaurants

Sometimes, you go somewhere just for the sheer ambience alone, and Figueria Rubaiyat delivers that 150%.  As the picture shows, the dining area is arranged under a huge 130-year old fig tree (50 meters tall, 8 meters in diameter), which is just absolutely stunning!  The food is inspired by Inca cuisine:  dishes are cooked in clay ovens at 600 degrees Celsius, with thermal shocks (quick changes in temperature) and iron weights to flatten meat.  If that wasn’t crazy enough, have a look at the wine list – over 950 kinds of wine.  And there’s an oyster bar.  Oh, and that dessert buffet has 25 options. If this isn’t one of the best Sao Paulo restaurants (or in the world), I don’t know what is.

What To Order: Potato gnocchi with ossobuco (braised veal shank), veal chop, passion fruit mousse from dessert buffet

Fogo de Chão

Depending on where you live, you may recognise the name – Fogo de Chão is a large chain with restaurants in the US and elsewhere.  It’s a  steakhouse, where you can find pretty much every slice, style, cut and machination of meat possible.  It really is a bit overload – this is not a place to take a shy vegetarian!

You might be saying to yourself, why go to a place in Brazil that I could go to in my hometown.  Well, trust me, the experience is very different.  That’s not to say that Fogo has created a false atmosphere in their abroad chains, just that in Brazil you’ll find different types of drinks and little local touches here and there.

What To Order: The “rodizio” style meal (gauchos keep bringing food to your table)

Brasil a Gosto

best sao paulo restaurants

Brasil a Gosto is one of the most beautiful and best Sao Paulo restaurants.  The decor is so charming  – the perfect place to experience traditional Brazilian cuisine made up-to-date.  The venue is striving to help educate both visitors and locals about traditions and classic dishes that seem to be falling out of favour.

Order: Grilled picanha (Brazilian cut of beef) with toasted/grilled heart of palm, sun-dried beef with pumpkin and “cateto” rice, baked shredded coconut with lemon sorbet and sugarcane syrup

Lanchonete da Cidade

best sao paulo restaurants

You know, when you’re on vacation, sometimes you crave just something simple.  Lanchonete De Cidade is exactly the place to do that, with their enormous, super-yummy burgers.  These aren’t your typical burgers though – here you’ll find crazy and outrageous combinations that you just won’t find elsewhere.  Lanchonete has three locations, so be sure to stop in at some point during your visit and enjoy the 60s diner ambience and the filling sandwiches.

What To Order: The burger with sliced sausage, washed down with a cold draft beer.

Arábia

Arabia , as the name implies, focuses on Middle Eastern food, with an emphasis on the mountainous regions of Lebanon.  Great food, which is a testament to the huge Lebanese population of Sao Paulo.  Elegant place, nice décor but not over the top.

What To Order:  The grilled meats such as “michui de file” (filet mignon) or kafta no espeto (kafta kebab), berinjela ao forno (baked eggplant), and the selection of middle eastern sweets (with dates, walnuts, pistachios, and cashews).

Piola

Piola has to be one of the best Sao Paulo restaurants – their pizza is so yummy, I’m ready to fly back for me.  They have three locations in Sao Paulo, and yes, as you can tell from their website, they’re branches of an Italian pizzeria.  You can order a very traditional pizza or go more creative, such as the ones with typical Brazilian ingredients like a “Sao Paulo” or a“Rio de Janeiro” with Brazilian catupiry cheese.

What to Order: pizza capricciosa, rimini (with smoked salmon), and romana (if you like anchovies).  As an appetizer, the crostoni.  For dessert crema di papaya (papaya in blender with vanilla ice cream and crème de cassis)

Speranza

Similar to Piola, Pizzaria is another pizza place, but this one is slightly more traditional and more like what you’d find in Italy.  The venue is huge and it is one of the few pizzerias overseas certified by Italy as authentic – which explains the many awards it has one locally.

What to Order: MUST order as appetizers: tortano (sausage bread), buffalo mozzarella.  Traditional “margherita speciale” pizza is the best (tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, basil).  The “napoletana” is also nice (careful, raw garlic!)  For dessert, the traditional pastiera di grano from Naples (with wheat, candied fruit, and ricotta cheese).

A Word on the Dining Experience in Brazil

If you don’t speak Portuguese, that’s ok, but prepare yourself for an adventure.  Some, but not all, restaurants in Sao paulo have English menus; look for a sign or copy of the English menu outside as a clue.  If you have a tip from your hotel or another traveler on a hot restaurant that doesn’t have an English menu, just go for it – you can ask to see if there is a staff member on duty who speaks English, otherwise just point at the pictures and go for it.

Table etiquette in Brazil is the same as everywhere – but a few things to keep in mind:

  • Never eat with your hands.  It’s considered very unhygienic.  Always use utensils unless you are eating a sandwich or finger food.  Always hold both fork and knife as you eat.  A knife is not only used for cutting, but also for pushing food onto the fork.  When cutting food, cut each individual piece at a time as you work through your meal.
  • It’s polite to say ‘bom apetite’ (pronounced ‘bohng apaytcheetchee‘) before you start the meal. 🙂
  • Tipping is not required or expected at a Brazilian restaurant.  If you enjoy the service, and would like to tip the server, simply round up the check (for instance, R$30 if the check was for $28).
  • Like anywhere else, avoid placing your elbows on the table and keep both hands above the table (never on your lap).
  • Take advantage of the large variety of fresh fruit!  Have some juice with your meal instead of a soda.  Most places will offer orange, papaya, passion fruit, guava, and pineapple…

Have you been to Brazil?  What was your favourite restaurant?

Photo Credits: aforonda, Public Domain, Fabsearch, Venue Photo, Seeking Sustenance, Venue Photo, Venue Photo, Venue Photo, Andre Maceira, Abril, Destemperados, Venue Photo, Ander Vaz, Carlaarena

Foodies Guide to Sao Paulo, Brazil

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