From time to time I’m reminded of how different my experience of Rio would have been if I’d come here alone, without the guidance, recommendations and explanations of a local (a Carioca da Gema, no less). I’m especially struck by this feeling when I meet someone who’s been living in Rio for years but still insists that “there’s nowhere good to eat here” and “all the bars suck”. While trying to suppress my indignation, I rattle off a few of my favourite places and feel somewhat relieved to see a blank look on their faces.
Actually there are great places to eat in Rio
With a little bit of effort and research you’ll find all kinds of hidden gems dotted around neighbourhoods across the city. There are the old stalwarts that have been doing things right for generations – Nova Capela (more on this place in a coming post), Galeto Sats and Botequim do Joia are great examples. Then there are the places giving traditional Brazilian food a light touch and/or modern twist – Café do Alto, Noo Cachaçaria and Puro are firm favourites. For those looking for a cheaper option there are low-cost restaurants all over the city – try Restaurante Adriano in Botafogo, Esquimó in Centro and Lilia in Lapa.
In short, we foreign residents need to make a bit of an effort and, if you haven’t already, try exploring the less affluent neighbourhoods – confining yourself to Leblon and Ipanema means missing out on some of the best places in the city. It seems that some people get so stuck on complaining about what Rio isn’t that they never embrace the things that the city does really well. So, Rio residents who complain there’s nowhere good to eat: Up your game – your efforts will be repaid with delicious dividends!
Helping visitors find the best
But people visiting the city for a few days can hardly be expected to have the time or the language skills required to dig out the best. I’ve had countless guests book my food tours out of desperation because they felt that they’d been overcharged for distinctly mediocre food and drinks. One woman’s comment stuck in my mind: “I’ve wasted too much money and too many calories on bad food here – please tell me there’s something good to eat!”. It was just this kind of comment that led me to start my culinary walking tours back in 2013 and I’m happy to report that the results have been great – a succession of happy, satisfied customers who leave Rio with some understanding of, and a lot of enthusiasm for, Brazilian cuisine.
But what about the nightlife, the bar culture and the samba clubs? Of course a couple of feisty caipirinhas, a few beers and some good company can make even the drabbest of bars seem fun, but I can’t help feeling that people are missing out on the real magic of Rio. And so my team and I have started Eat Rio Bar Food Tours!
Over a year in the making
Over the years, my hobby has become my job – writing here on my website, writing a travel guide and now writing for Lonely Planet – it’s become more important than ever to know about the exciting new bars and restaurants as they open, and to discover the hidden gems in some of the more far-flung neighbourhoods. But, believe it or not, putting together a fun, varied and affordable bar tour in Rio has been quite a challenge. Over the past 18 months I’ve travelled all over the city, eating and drinking my way through bars, botecos, pé sujos, restaurants and clubs, looking for excellent places that I can string together into one night of delicious, boozy fun (tough gig I know). Finding a route that that doesn’t involve tediously long journey times or impossibly high prices but does include a great selection of eating and drinking options wasn’t easy, but I’m really happy with the result.
The Bar Food Tour experience
We’ll meet meet around 7pm in an excellent new place in Lapa and get the night started with a few drinks and some delicious bar food. From there we’ll make our way north (an area rarely visited by tourists) and over the course of the next 4+ hours we’ll visit a selection of awesome bars. Along the way there’ll be locally brewed beers, perfectly mixed caipirinhas, cachaça tastings and more. And at every stop there’ll be delicious food to accompany the drinks. We’ll finish up the night back in the heart of Lapa with free entry to one of my favourite live samba clubs in the city.
No drinking games!
While the the experience promises to be a brilliant night of food, booze and fun, this is not going to be a ‘drink-till-you-drop’ night of drinking games and barfing! It’ll be about getting off the tourist-trail, getting to know some of the best bars and nightlife options in Rio and meeting like-minded people for a fun night out. If you have guests coming to visit, or are coming to Rio as a visitor yourself, get in touch – I’ll take care of the rest.