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BEST EATS IN BRAZIL (RIO de JANEIRO) : From Budget to Major Blowout

Best Buffet Restaurants in Rio



Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson

Photo courtesy of Porcao

By Lucy Bryson
Rio de Janeiro Local Expert

Rio de Janeiro restaurants can appear eye-wateringly expensive to the first time visitor, but dining out in the city needn't blow the travel budget through the roof - as long as you avoid the tourist traps and learn to eat like a local. 

At lunch time, this generally means heading to one of the ubiquitous 'por kilo' buffet restaurants in the city, which allow diners to take their pick from a staggering array of salads, pasta dishes, meaty main courses, fruits and vegetables in all manner of guises, cheeses and even sushi. 

These buffet restaurants range from cheap and cheerful to luxurious, and even the most simple offer such a vast range of dishes that they are perfect for everybody, from the staunchest of carnivores to the strictest of vegetarians. 

Some, such as the excellent New Natural in Ipanema, are specialist health food spots, with an emphasis on wholesome, organic ingredients. 

Meanwhile, the legendary meat feasts at Porcao are accompanied by a salads, sides and sushi buffet that would keep even the hungriest vegetarian happy.

Some por kilo restaurants have a meat grill in addition to the buffet, while all have separate dessert buffets- check pricing as these are often more expensive than the main section. 

While the pay-by-weight buffets of upscale Ipanema and Leblon are often expensive (head to an Ipanema por kilo restaurant with a raging hunger only if you have a substantial budget), those of Centro are generally very affordable, and it is worth noting that many of these restaurants are cheaper before 11pm and after 2pm. 

10 Stuzzi

Based on the Italian concept of 'Stuzzichini' - small plates of light bites for sharing over drinks, similar to Spanish Tapas or Greek Mezze - Stuzzi brings together deliciously moreish finger foods and dangerously drinkable cocktails to create one of the most enticing options along the foodie strip that is Leblon's Rua Dias Ferreira. The street has become the must-visit address for gourmands visiting Rio. and acclaimed chef Paula Prandini (formerly of top-end French restaurant Le Pre Catalan) works wonders with imported Italian deli ingredients and native Brazilian fruits and vegetables to create immaculate dishes in a laidback lounge that is as sleek and chic as its fashionable neighborhood demands. (21 2274-4017)

9 Feira Nordestina de Sao Cristovao
It doesn't feature on many tourist itineraries, but foodies in Rio should be sure to pay a visit to this vast market dedicated to all things Northeastern. A huge, purpose built space housing hundreds of food and drinks stalls and restaurants alongside craft and clothing stores, the 'Feira Nordestina' is a great place to sample the often-spicy cuisine from the arid north of the country. Those who find food in Rio to be a little bland may want to sample some of the many colorful chili peppers and pepper sauces here, while seafood fans are well catered for too. Eating opportunities range from quick snacks on the hoof to hearty meals served from heaving buffets, many of which serve food priced by its weight, not its type - meaning that 100 grams of lobster could cost the same as 100 grams of white rice. ((21) 2580-6946)

8 Shopping RioSul
When hunger strikes in Rio, shopping malls make surprisingly good places to relax with a meal and a drink. RioSul is no exception, with a huge range of dining options. A large shopping mall within easy walking distance of Sugar Loaf mountain and a quick bus or cab ride from Copacabana beach, Shopping Rio Sul is packed with affordable high street stores as well as some more upscale boutiques selling treats such as immaculately-cut swimwear and handcrafted jewelry. There's also a multi-screen cinema showing all the major releases, and the food courts offer some surprisingly appealing culinary options. ((21) 2542-8781)

7 Restaurante Aipo e Aipim
The Copacabana branch of this well-established 'comida a kilo' (pay-by-weight buffet) restaurant is handy for post-beach late lunches, and the vast array of meat dishes, sides, salads and desserts will keep even the fussiest of diners happy. The name translates as 'manioc and celery', but this food on offer at this family-friendly spot is a lot more appealing than that may suggest, and diners can load up their plate with everything from simple staples like rice and beans to elaborate, freshly-prepared versions of classic Brazilian stews and fish dishes. The huge range of inventive, colorful and appetizing salads will keep vegetarians happy, and diners can treat themselves to goodies such as palm hearts and stuffed olives. ((21) 2255-6285)

6 Vegetariano Social Clube
Whether you're a staunch vegetarian, a health-food enthusiast or even a carnivore who has tucked into one steak too many, this cosy corner restaurant in Leblon is just the ticket. Healthfood and organic eating is a growing sector of Rio's dining scene, but this Leblon favorite was one of the first to open, and is still unarguably one of the best. At lunch, diners can load their plates high at a wholefood buffet including soups, salads, beans, rice, soya dishes and a range of healthy pies and pastries for a set price, while a-la-carte options are available in the evening. The vegan version of 'feijaoda', the usually-meaty national dish, made here with smoked tofu, is legendary. (0055 21 2294 5200)

5 New Natural
Located a few blocks from Ipanema beach and right next door to the strip of backpacker lodgings dubbed 'Hostel Alley', this health food store, buffet restaurant and snack bar offers a huge range of wholesome ingredients for self caterers as well as a range of eat-in dishes that are every bit as tasty as they are nutritious. While there is plenty of choice here for vegetarians, New Natural is not entirely meat-free, with low-fat chicken and fish putting in a few appearances on the menu. The buffet operates on a pay-by-weight system, and prices here, while on the high side, are reasonable for the neighborhood. There's an air conditioned lounge upstairs and a couple of sidewalk tables and chairs, making New Natural a favourite spot among backpackers looking for a quick, healthy lunch. ((21) 2247-9363)

4 Couve Flor
The name - which translates as 'cauliflower' in English, may not sound hugely appetising for meat lovers, but this upmarket buffet restaurant is a real find for fussy eaters and groups with diverse culinary wants and needs - it offers over 20 different salads daily, along with sushi, freshly-prepared pasta dishes and sizzling steaks at the meat grill. A firm favourite with the well-to-do local residents, it makes a great option for lunch after a visit to the famous botanical gardens that give this attractive neighborhood its name. There's a decent selection of wines by the bottle or glass, too. (21 2239-2191)

3 Churrascaria Pampa Grill-Centro
The down-town branch of Pampa Grill (the original branch, in Barra, has been in business some 30 years) is a popular choice among local business people, who head here for the excellent cuts of meat on offer, along with the vast range of hot and cold side dishes that tempt diners to the heaving buffet bar. Pampa Grill operates two dining systems - you can choose to pay by weight (around R$6 per 100 grams) or you can pay a set price of R$90 for all you can eat feasts. The first option is great for those looking for a light lunch, while those with hearty appetites would be wise to opt for the latter. Whichever you opt for, you are guaranteed a memorable culinary experience, with the opportunity to feast on top quality cuts of meat, fresh fish and seafood, and fresh tropical fruits and vegetables in more variations than one could ever imagine. ((21) 2524-1199)

2 kilograma
Budget travelers can feast on all manner of treats at this downtown lunch restaurant. The self-service buffet includes everything from sushi and rice noodles to hot meat, fish and chicken dishes, alongside staples like rice and beans, fries, and local specialties such as pao de queijo and aipim. 

Priced at less than R$2.60 per 100 grams, the Centro branch of this city-wide chain is cheaper than those in Ipanema and Copacabana, and floods with office workers between noon and 2pm - head here shortly after two or shortly before noon, and the 'per 100 grams' price drops. (021 2512 8220)

1 Porcao Rio's
Brazil is famous for the quality of its meat, and carnivores with a hankering to sink their teeth into as many cuts as possible will be in seventh heaven at Porcao. 

This chain of Brazilian ' churrascarias', or meat grills, works on an all-you-can-eat principle, whereby smartly-dressed waiters bring slab after glistening slab of meat to your table until you can eat no more.

 This 'rodizio' system is in place across many Rio meat restaurants, but few places have as solid a reputation for quality and service as Porcao. 

There are branches in Ipanema and Barra da Tijuca, but the Flamengo branch - known as Porcao Rio's - is the standout thanks to its floor to ceiling windows that take in a jaw-dropping view of Sugar Loaf mountain.

Along with tucking into an endless supply of meat, diners can pay as many visits as they like the the heaving buffet, which offers salads, sushi, seafood, cheeses, olives and all manner of other treats. (21 3461 9020)

About Lucy Bryson

Lucy is a British freelance writer living in Rio de Janeiro since 2007. While there are some things she misses about her home country, the lure of year-round sunshine has proved too powerful to resist.

Read more about Lucy Bryson here.

Connect with Lucy via: Facebook | Twitter | Google+

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