Sao Paulo Restaurant Winners
Tony and I have been living in Sao Paulo for the last year and a half, and we have really enjoyed it as a city. Having grown up in the DF, it feels like home in many ways— a great urban sprawl, hazy and colorful skies, a buzzing latin vibe, and endless possibilities of neighborhoods to navigate and secrets to uncover.
One of our favorite activities continues to be eating and drinking, and we have turned our constant restaurant search into what can almost be likened to a job. We both do a lot of reading on the subject, are constantly checking the latest blogs and write ups about new and exciting places, and we share our information with each other and create various lists with the locales we plan to try in varying orders of importance.
When friends come to visit, we have our established list of “favorites”, and since more and more friends and acquaintances seem to be on their way down south to explore this mecca, I have decided to write a blog post on our current top spots, which have also stood the test of time. We have tried each of these places at least several times, and in a city where the best places come and go at lightning speed, I can confirm that the quality at these doesn’t seem to waiver.
Tordesilhas:This is one of the first restaurants we ever went to, and continues to be one of my faves. It is located in Jardins, a fashionable and centrally located neighborhood that is teeming with bars, restaurants and nightlife. Tordesilhas serves classic Brazilian food in an interesting and elevated way. And this doesn’t mean that it has tiny portions at exorbitant prices. One thing I have learned living here is to avoid “contemporary” restaurants. I like when chefs experiment with unusual techniques and presentation, but I also just want to eat well and not spend a fortune. For me, Tordesilhas finds a perfect balance between extremes: old-school and modern, casual and fancy, traditional and unusual. The food is fresh, brilliant and vibrant. Start with a caipirinha (the classic Brazilian cocktail made with cachaca or sugarcane alcohol), choosing from one of the many flavors of fresh fruit combined with herbs, ginger and other exotic ingredients. Since all the appetizers are delicious, try the combination platter to get a taste of each, including fresh cheese with sugarcane honey and piping hot mini shrimp pastries (pasteis).
For mains, I love the bobo de camarao (shrimp in manioc cream, coconut milk, and bright orange dende oil, served with farofa, a cassava-based side that soaks up all the liquid goodness!). All of the options we have tried have been delicious, so you really have to see what interests you on the menu, which also often changes. A group of American friends fell in love with the salads, which are unbelievably crisp, and contain ingredients like fresh palm hearts and brazilian fruit compote. The menu suggests wine pairings with each dish, and unlike many places in SP, the wines are moderately priced. The last time we were there I tried to order the chocolate dessert since I’m obsessed with chocolate. But the waiter convinced me to try two others instead: a dense flat coconut cake with tapioca ice cream and tamarind sauce, and a tapioca pudding with coconut custard. WOW. Lesson learned— listen to the waiters. If you are too full for dessert and would like to drink it instead (as we often do), order a batida de coco or ask what other flavors of batidas are available. A batida is a strong alcoholic cocktail made with coconut milk, condensed milk and usually cachaca. In the end, we have always received excellent service at Tordesilhas, and the food and drinks leave us more that satisfied. It’s a great way to explore Brazilian cuisine (the menu even contains detailed explanations of various ingredients and cooking techniques).
Adega Santiago: Like many restaurants in SP, this one has two locations, one in Jardin Paulistano and the other in Shopping Cidade Jardim. I had never really been excited about eating in malls before, but after living here for a while, you come to realize that some of the best restaurants really are located in malls, and you can combine a meal with other activities, especially on a rainy day or if you have small children! That being said, my favorite branch of this place is the one at the mall. It’s located on the 4th floor, which is open-air and boasts an incredible view of the city and the surrounding parks and elegant apartment complexes. The word “adega” means cellar in Portuguese, so right away you know this is going to be a good place to drink. The focus is on wine (they have a selection of more than 250 bottles, some of which are reasonably priced), but I always start with an Aperol Spritz or a caipirinha. It’s fun to sit at the outside wooden stools which face in onto the oyster and seafood bar.
Or cozy up at one of the wooden tables on either the first or second level. All of the “entradas” or appetizers we have tried have been delicious, from the wood fired sardines, to the shrimp soaked in olive oil and lots of garlic, to the bread smothered in fresh tomato and serrano ham. It’s also worth trying a dish that involves bacalhau, the famous Portuguese cod-fish that is usually dried and salted. I have always been fascinated by bacalhau, simply because it has spread around the world (mostly to former Portuguese colonies like Brazil), but is rarely served fresh, even at home. But it happens to be delicious and is used inventively at Adega. For dessert, it’s absolutely essential to try the churros. They arrive piping hot next to a large bowl of creamy doce de leite (burnt goat's milk caramel) dipping sauce. Divine. After your meal, stop by Food Hall, a new gastronomic emporium located one level down.
Mangiare: This Italian restaurant is an absolute gem that we have discovered while living in Vila Leopoldina, an up and coming neighborhood in the northwest region of the city. We live here primarily so that Tony can walk to the club where he trains (SESI) and have really enjoyed exploring places most tourists never see. The first thing I love about Mangiare is the atmosphere— it boasts a huge open kitchen with wood fire pizza ovens, an island bar in the center, lofty ceilings complemented by warm wood furnishings and a lounge area with oversized white comfy couches. The cocktails are great (my favorite Aperol-Prosseco in the city), although I would have to say their one downfall is a weak wine list. They bake delicious foccacia and other breads daily on the premise, and these arrive piping hot to your table along with homemade olive oil. Start with the salad composed of arugula and other greens (depending on what’s fresh that day), pecorino cheese, a unique type of toasted Brazilian nut, all brought together by a delicious balsamic truffle vinaigrette. All of their pastas are also homemade and really tasty, as is their signature shrimp risotto. I am also a sucker for their ‘fish of the day’, which comes with a tangy tartar sauce and beautiful vegetables cooked to perfection including asparagus, pumpkin and zucchini. After your meal, order coffee (pressed and filtered on the spot) and an after-dinner drink, and head over to the couches to lounge and take in the buzzing atmosphere. I have to say that this restaurant is probably my single favorite location in SP. The service is top-notch, the food is delicious, the atmosphere a perfect mix of comfort and elegance, and overall it’s just great every time we go. Highly recommended!
Peixaria: This fun local is half restaurant half fish market. The decor is kitschy and quirky— the outside tables are composed of wooden crates and beach chairs, and the indoor section is filled with fishing nets, hanging maritime accessories, and barrels loaded with fresh fruits, spices and other unusual cooking materials. The fun menu lists all sorts of delicious appetizers, like white fish ceviche, paella “balls” and acaraje (round patties of black-eyed pea paste fried in dende oil) served with vatapa (a spicy paste made of dried shrimp and cashews), which are all recommended. For your main, just walk up to the counter and choose which fresh seafood items you would like them to roast on the large old-school wood fire grill. My faves include the giant shrimp and a whole fish, which will arrive at your table accompanied by savory beans and banana farofa (the typical cassava-based side dish).
One of the highlights of this place are the stellar caipirinhas, which come served in mason jars. Try one of the interesting combinations such as fresh ginger, red pepper and tangerine, or sweet peanut. It’s also essential to order a beer, even if it’s just to have them bring it to you in a styrofoam cooler that they place next to your table. Of course the cooler is loaded with several big Originals (the best Brazilian beer) so you never even have to order a refill. The desserts are also surprisingly well done—try the crystalized pumpkin puree served with homemade fresh cream.
Arturito: This restaurant was right down the street from our first apartment in Sao Paulo, in a neighborhood calledPinheiros. You would almost pass it walking by, but once you enter, you follow a hallway lined with a beautiful bar into an airy and light dining room, which has the feeling of an open courtyard. The food is simple but delicious, and the menu changes on a regular basis.The chef, PaolaCarosella, gained fame on the Brazilian version ofMasterChef, and her plates are based on fresh and local produce. The cocktails are also unique and tasty— thenegroni I tried last time was strong and tangy. Standout appetizers for me on past trips have been the oysters from Santa Catalina and theburrata with figs. And for mains, her vegetarian selections are always fantastic.
Last time I had a lentil and vegetable medley, topped with fresh tahini and a perfectly cooked egg. As a meat lover, Tony has really enjoyed the lamb chop accompanied by mandioquinha (sweet potato-like legumes) and a dijon mustard sauce. For dessert, try the chocolate pot de creme with sea salt pecan biscuits…yum. After your meal, take the time to walk around and explore the neighborhood. Nearby you’ll find Placa Benedita Calixta, which hosts funky boutiques and cafes. You can also combine your trip to hit up one of the plaza’s market days: Tuesday is fresh produce, Saturday is antiques, and Sunday is a food emporium with stands selling everything from Arabian to Columbian delicacies.
Suri Ceviche Bar:You could easily pass by this unassuming gem, located on a quiet street in the Pinheiros neighborhood, but then you would be missing the best ceviche in the city! Start with a pisco sour (a Peruvian cocktail made with pisco alcohol, an egg white, lime juice and Angostura bitters) and the arepas (thick cornmeal patties) topped with moist shredded pork, fried corn kernels and guacamole. Next up of course is one of their unique and delicious ceviches- my favorites are the “house recipe”, made with shrimp, squid and salmon in an avocado, coconut milk and cilantro emulsion, and the “chifa”, composed of shrimp, squid and corvina fish in a tamarind sauce laced with sweet potato tempura. If you are planning on having a long lunch on a lazy afternoon, we recently came up with a great idea. A few months ago, the owners of Suri opened up another little place directly next door called Maiz. It’s a very informal place that serves Latin street food- you order at the counter and then sit down at one of the wooden tables or benches, some opening directly onto the street. Last time we visited, we decided to have cocktails and ceviche at Suri, and then move over to Maiz for beers, tacos and chicarrones (fried pig skin). It’s the perfect combination between fresh appetizers and warm, tasty street cooking. Tip: arrive early because they don’t take reservations and the lines get long.
Taberna 474:This is another Portuguese restaurant in the Pinheiros neighborhood and definitely worth a visit. The concept was inspired by informal portuguese taverns, with rustic wooden tables, brightly colored walls and countless wine bottles as decor. But the floor to ceiling bar presiding over the main room lends an air of sophistication. The caipirinhas are delicious, but I would also recommend a light Portuguese white wine to help wash down the delicious starters. The crudo plate is absolutely spectacular— super thin slices of salmon, white fish and shrimp, just lightly sprayed with fresh lemon juice that melt in your mouth. The grilled octopus appetizer seems deceivingly simple but delivers bright bursts of flavor and texture. For entrees, I am a big fan of the fresh bacalhau (yes, fresh!) served in a crust of black olives along with asparagus, potatoes, palm hearts and cherry tomatoes. Meat lovers should opt for the delectable rib “rice”, which consists of carolino rice (a famous Portuguese variety) cooked slowly in beef broth, and mixed with the tender pieces of rib meat, cubed tomatoes and watercress. I should mention that this restaurant pertains to the same group as Adega Santiago, and the food has very similar qualities…..and also means that the churros are a delicious way to end your feast!
Esquina Mocoto: Mocoto is an iconic Brazilian restaurant in a lesser known northern neighborhood called Vila Medeiros. The chef, Rodrigo Oliveira, was voted ‘best chef in Brazil’ last year. A few years ago he opened another restaurant right next door called Esquina Mocoto, which slightly elevates the cuisine from his first place. The focus is still on Northeastern Brazilian food, and is super inventive and interesting. Everything is worth trying! Definitely start with one of the unusual caipirinhas or cocktails to accompany a typical Brazilian snack like tapioca (not at all how we think about it in the states!). Starters draw you in with their unusual descriptions such as pacoca duck with redneck egg and marinated mushrooms or the roasted bone marrow with calf’s tongue vinaigrette and arugula. A favorite main is the grilled pork chop, palm heart millefeuille, Brazil nuts and beetchup. Finish it all off with their homemade cachaca ice creams and you will probably have had one of your best meals in Brazil. Tip: try to go during the week since they don’t take reservations and you’ll have to wait hours on the weekend.
Consulado do Bahia: As the name says, this place focuses on cuisine from the region of Bahia. The atmosphere is colorful, vibrant, casual, fun and always buzzing. They don’t take reservations, but they are open all day long from lunch through dinner, so it’s a good place to go early for good drinks and a fun meal to share with friends. Start with a caipirinha of course, along with the acaraje and vatape (the round patties of black-eyed pea paste fried in dende oil served with a spicy paste made of dried shrimp and cashews— also mentioned under Peixaria). For your main, try one of the moquecas (fish or seafood stew with coconut milk and dende oil) or the bobo de camerao (basically a moqueca made only with shrimp— my fave). This is in the Pinheiros neighborhood as well (right on one of the main streets also called Pinheiros) and there are tons of cool places to explore nearby.
Consulado de Mineiro: This place is similar to Consulado do Bahia, except the focus is on food from the Minas region of Brazil. My father in law (who is Brazilian) was in love with this place when he visited because he said it served Brazilian food as he remembered it. He suggests trying the feigao tropeiro (brown beans mixed with minced onion/garlic, parsley, mandioca flour, bacon and eggs). I also like the appetizers such as the lightly fried balls filled with carne seca and mandioca (a sun-dried meat and the cassava root). They are primarily famous for their feijoada, served only on the weekends. Feijoada is one of the most typical Brazilian dishes that is a ‘must try’. There are many versions of this dish, but it is basically a bean stew with all kinds of meat (and I mean ALL kinds— from different animals and different parts of the animals). It is usually served with sautéed couve (kale), rice, farofa, chicarrones (fried pig skin) and orange slices and must be washed down with a lime caipirinha! My favorite branch of this restaurant is located directly on the Benedita Calixta Plaza in Pinheiros, a good place for exploring afterward.
Sabia: I like this bar in Vila Madalena because it’s a good people watching spot and serves interesting and yummy cocktails and bar food from chef Graziela Tavares. For example, one of my favorite refreshing caipirinhas is made with persian lime, cashew and a ginger reduction. The bar’s huge windows open onto Pupurina, a happening and central street, and inside, black and white floor to ceiling murals by local artist Sergio Fabris give the place an urban and artsy vibe. The pasteis (fried savory pastries with different fillings) are the best I have ever had in SP, especially the shrimp with catupiry cheese! Also worth trying are the bolinhos do luiz (basically raw tartare meatballs served with a fresh dipping sauce). All the food is tasty and fresh though, so this is a great place to go for a quick meal when other more traditional restaurants are closed (it’s open all day without a break between lunch and dinner which is usually the case). On cooler days, I am a big fan of the pumpkin, coconut milk and curry soup, or the feijoada, which is served as a lighter version than usual and very delicious.