In South America, São Paulo is the mecca for LATAM foodies. Why? I’ll count the ways…first, there are endless array of amazing places to sample dishes from seemingly every corner of the world. Second, they’re in every part of town so a great meal is never far away. Third, dining well in Sao Paulo does not have to burn a hole in your wallet. Sure, you’ll see high-end places that are Worlds 50 Best or sport Michelin stars, so if money is no object, you’re in luck. But in this city of 12 million people, good restaurants for every palate and budget are everywhere. So after three years of hunting around for the best in this chaotic city, I’ll share some of my favorites, hope they’re yours too!
A CASA DO PORCO: I’ll start with the best there is, at least to me. In fact, it’s not merely tops in this city but in practically any city and I’ve been to quite a few already. A Casa do Porco means “House of the Pork” in Portuguese, but what it really means is you’re about to see, smell, and taste pork as never before no matter where you’re from. To say that I feel at home here is an understatement. Crunchy chunks of pancetta crackling with guava jelly, pork tartare (WHAT?!), mind blowing pork jowl sushi…yes, you read right, bet you never thought you see pork jowl paired with sushi but they pulled it off masterfully. And if you think that’s insane, try their Porco Zan Ze: 6-8 hours slowly roasted pork paired with couve (kale salad), red beans, and banana tartare…my mouth waters just writing this sentence. It’s an homage to the hog, 100% Brazilian, farm raised, and hormone-free. Even their vegetarian options are terrific! Unique and tasty cocktails round out the menu. They work on a first come first serve atmosphere, so pop in around 3 for lunch or 6 for dinner. Chef Jeffim Rueda also owns two other nearby gems: Hot Pork, A Sorveteria (ice cream), and also serves as a consultant for his wife’s Casa de Dona Onca, another exceptional restaurant.
Rua Araujo 124 | +55 (11) 3258-2578
MANI: I love when kick ass women do kick ass stuff. Helena Rizzo is such an asskicker and her Mani sits on the list of the worlds 50 best. She was also awarded Latams and Worlds best female chef honors. Maní is a great representation of modern Brazilian cuisine and arguably Sampa’s best Brazilian restaurant. Her contemporary delicacies are best sampled as part of a tasting menu but alas, it’s pricey. So if you’re more budget conscious, try Rizzo’s potato chips topped with filet mignon, Pupunha (hearts of palm) taglierini with creamed Tulha cheese, or my favorite: Foie gras ‘bonbons’ with Brazilian guava paste. Allow yourself time as it gets very busy and they don’t take reservations.
Rua Joaquim Antunes 210 |+55 (11) 3085-4148
MERCADO MUNICIPAL: To me, few things in life can compare with the colorful sights, smells, and bustle of a thriving, old school, big city market. Mercado Municipal or Mercadão as the locals call it, is a perfect example: you’ll find the best meats, fruits, olives, and bulk items in the city. Fruit vendors will offer you samples in a friendly way without being pushy. Try local strawberries with dates, jabuticaba (a classic Brazilian type of berry…or grape…hard to say, but you can’t leave without trying it! ) and caquis (Brazilian perisimmon). When you’ve sampled enough small bites on the first floor, head upstairs for the main event: their mortadella sandwich. When I first heard about this specialty, I wasn’t sure what to think since I never cared for mortadella. But it’s lightly grilled, smothered with cheese, and served on great bread (arguably the key to any great sandwich) so it’s a crime to leave Mercado with trying one. Another Mercado staple is the pastel de bacalhau, a fried pastry stuffed with imported dried cod, green olives, and onions. I’ve sensed that tourists overlook Mercado because of the neighborhood’s sketchy reputation but don’t sweat it, come any day of the week during lunch time and you’ll have no problem.
Rua da Cantareira 306
PASTEL DA MARIA: Pastel is a staple of Brazilian street food, These fried pastries are filled with various savory fillings like cheese, chicken, shrimp, hearts of palm, or ground beef. Think empanada but crispier. Japanese native Kuniko Yohana is the mastermind behind Pastel de Maria, an award-winning example of the genre, offers one variation on this classic that’s a best seller and a must-try: the camarão com requeijão (shrimp with Brazilian cream cheese). Pair it with a cold sugar cane juice and enjoy.
Avenida Paulista, 392
TAN TAN NOODLE BAR: Tan Tan is my favorite ramen joint in the city. The milky tonkotsu and housemade noodles are divine. The broth has a spicy kick, the eggs are runny, and it’s just flat out good s**t. Yet I always have to split a bowl with my hubs because this place tempts you with other mouth-watering delicacies that will fill your tummy and please your taste buds. Check out their Katsu Sando (pork sandwich) and especially their Aka Teba (fried sweet chili chicken)…my first time visiting this place I saw so many people licking their fingers I thought, “what? no napkins??”…little did I know that Aka Teba is so good you’ve got to lick every last bit of that bad boy off your fingers first. Rinse it all down with delicious signature cocktails or if booze isn’t your thing, try their house-made tangerine and basil soda. If there’s a wait when you get there, hang in there…it’ll be worth it.
R. Fradique Coutinho, 153
KOMAH: Chef Paulo Shin (a D.O.M. alum) serves up authentic Korean comfort food at Komah. Their Steak Tartare is on another level! After you come down to earth from their heavenly tartare, try their kimchi bokumbap (creamy omelet on a bed of kimchi-sautéed rice) and perfectly textured samgyeopsal (crispy spiced pork belly served with lettuce leaves, chili and rice) and you’ll see why I keep coming back for more.
Rua Conego Vicente Miguel Marino 382
Z DELI: In São Paulo, burger joints are literally on every corner. Finding a good one is not hard. Having said that, I’ll go ahead and say that nobody beats the foie gras burger from Z Deli. And a heavenly burger is just the beginning: gourmet pastrami and roast-beef sandwiches, bagels and lox, and authentic cheesecake. Wait, am I in Sao Paulo…or Brooklyn?! They even have pastrami fries that are sensational and coming from a fry connoisseur like myself, I just can’t imagine higher praise 🙂
Rua Haddock Lobo, 1386
CONSULADO DA BAHIA: You won’t have to travel to historic Salvador de Bahia, Brazil’s first capital, to try authentic afro-brazilian cuisine (though everyone should travel to Salvador at least once because it’s such an amazing place). This restaurant honors the architecture and history of the pelouriho (Bahia’s historic centre), with colorful and vibrant varandinhas (verandas). Acaraje (bean paste fried in dende oil) stuffed with shrimp, salsa and vatapa (manioc flour), and their signature Moqueca, (fish stew with a coconut milk base) are highly recommended and one bite of any of these dishes will prove you don’t need to leave Sao Paulo to eat like a Nordestino. Portions are huge so come hungry or with a crowd.
Rua dos Pinheiros, 534
BOLINHA RESTAURANTE: Feijoada, Brazils iconic black bean and meat stew is beloved by all, regardless of background or class. It’s a feast that evolved from slaves that had to cook with whatever was available. The BEST, and I mean THE BEST is from Bolinha. And you’ll hear the same from the man on the street all the way to the Master of the Universe in the C-Suite. Kitchen staff add ten different cuts of pork to the dish, including ribs, ears, trotter, sausage, tongue, and belly. The various cuts are slowly cooked over a wood-burning stove and served with rice, greens, farofa, a bit of pimenta (Brazilian hot sauce), and, of course, black beans. This dish is a recipe for a food coma so the traditional post-feijoada activity is to take a two-hour nap so best not to try before that afternoon presentation and do like the locals and wait until the weekend.
Avenida Cidade Jardim, 53
IZAKAYA ISSA: Although lots of U.S. cities have their own “Little Tokyo”, that designation wouldn’t do justice to Liberdade. It’s basically a Japanese city but don’t worry…leave the passport at home and just bring your appetite! I’d start at Izakaya Issa. It’s owned by the sweetest woman, Dona Margarida Haraguchi, and she’s served the Japanese community here authentic dishes for years. Forget what you may have tried at a “westernized” restaurant. Start out with the otoshi, a selection of four sumptuous appetizers that change daily. Follow up with some Okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake. And if you can’t make up your mind, Dona Margarida will gladly assist and accommodate allergies too.
Rua Barao de Iguape 89, Sao Paulo