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The Nine Best Cheap Eats in Rio de Janeiro

Where to find espetinhos, bolinhos, and more in Brazil's "Snack Capital"

A skewer from Steak Me in Rio
A skewer from Steak Me in Rio
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Brazil is known worldwide for its friendliness, for its party spirit — something that translates into its food. Around the table, Brazilians celebrate social relationships, and everything is an excuse to meet friends and family in a bar or around a restaurant table. And there's nothing more social in Brazilian food than snacks — food we can hold with fingers and eat in one bite. In times when the international gastronomy scene seems to follow this "sharing behavior," Brazilian food has been ahead of the trend. And Rio de Janeiro, actually, could easily be called the "snack capital" of Brazil.

The city holds a traditional bar culture, holding close at heart botecos (as we call bars with good food), where we can drink a tap beer and enjoy lots of tira-gostos (a local way to refer to snacks). The best food in Rio is not necessarily found in fancy restaurants, but hidden in bars on every corner, on shelves of bakeries, and at beach vendors' carts.

Here, a hot list of cost-effective snacks one can't miss while visiting the city: from coxinha to empadas, from bolinhos to caldinho de feijão, there are wallet-friendly options to fit all tastes — and are perhaps the best way to eat like a Carioca (how locals are known).

Empadas / Empadinhas

Empadas (also known as empadinhas) are very popular all around Brazil but mostly in Rio de Janeiro, thanks to its strong Portuguese heritage: It was the capital of the Portuguese empire in the beginning of the 19th century. The empada has its origins from pastelões (Portuguese pies) and spread through the cities of Portugal and its colonies. It's a shortcrust pastry that resembles mini pot pies stuffed with different ingredients — the most common takes being chicken, shrimp, cod fish, and palm heart. It’s the perfect snack for your hungry stomach. 

Where to get it:

Belmonte, Rua Dias Ferreira, 521 – Leblon. This very popular bar has eight branches in town. Among the many tira-gostos that servers carry in trays around the room, the empadinhas are a hit. They can be found in many versions, from jerky beef to crab meat.

Restaurante Salete, Rua Afonso Pena, 189, Tijuca. Founded in 1957, Restaurante Salete became famous for its shrimp risotto and, of course, its empadinhas. The most popular are made of chicken and shrimp.

Academia da Cachaça, Av. Armando Lombardi, 800, Barra da Tijuca. This is a great place to taste singular empadas stuffed with cheese curds and rosemary and, the best of all, shredded rib meat.

Image credit: Boteco Belmonte/Facebook


Cheese Filé

Also known as churrasquinho, this is a sandwich made with meat and cheese stuffed in a fresh roll (in Brazil, we call it French bread). There are variations, of course, from salad to eggs and bacon, but the more basic the better: It’s not easy to get the exact doneness of a filet and combine it with the perfect melted cheese.

Where to get it: Jobi, Avenida Ataulfo da Paiva 1166, Leblon. Jobi is maybe Rio's quintessential boteco, a classic and popular bar beloved by cariocas and tourists alike. Besides the cold beer, the cheese filé served here comes in slices to be eaten in one bite.

Image credit: Jobi/Facebook

Caldinho de Feijão

Brazilians are crazy about all kinds of beans. And not only about the beans themselves, but also their broths. Caldinho de feijão, as the broth is called, is eaten to start a meal, as a very comforting appetizer. It is mainly served with torresmo (pork rinds) and herbs on top, such as parsley or cilantro. Locals say that is a great medicine for a hangover, as well.

Where to get it:

Bazaar Lado B, Rua Visconde de Pirajá - 572, Ipanema. Bazaar Lado B is situated inside of a bookstore and serves a caldinho de feijoada, which means a black bean broth with bacon, orange, collard greens, and peperoncino pepper coulis.

Academia da Cachaça, Av. Armando Lombardi, 800, Barra da Tijuca. At Academia da Cachaça, caldinho de feijão is served with a portion of pork crisps and chopped parsley.

Image credit: Academia da Cachaca/Facebook

Escondidinho

Escondidinho is a very famous, Shepard's pie-like recipe made of a layer of meat (such as jerk beef or cod) covered with another layer of yucca-root purée and topped with a crispy crust of parmesan. It gets its name from its construction: The meat is hidden under the yucca purée ("escondidinho" means "hidden" in Portuguese).

Where to get it:

Chico e Alaíde, Rua Dias Ferreira, 679 – Leblon. Alaíde’s version of escondidinho is made upside down: the purée layer comes first, the layer of meat second. There are two options on the menu: pumpkin purée with shrimp and yuca purée with jerked beef. Here, the meat is not so hidden, but just as good. 

Bar do Adão, Rua Dona Mariana, 81, Botafogo. This spot offers great versions of escondidinho: cod fish, shredded chicken, shrimp, and jerked beef. The bar is also known for its variety of pastels, for which there are more than 60 filling options.

Image credit: Bar do Adão/Facebook

Bolinho de Bacalhau

Cod cakes or cod fritters are another legacy from Brazil’s Portuguese heritage that became just as popular in Rio de Janeiro as they are in Lisbon. The dish consists of shredded cod mixed with flour and egg yolks, shaped like a dumpling and deep fried. Bolinhos should be crunchy on the outside and not greasy inside, providing the best pairing for a chopp or a caipirinha. They’re proof that mixing cultures can really bear tasty results.

Where to get it:

Adegão Português, Campo de São Cristóvão, 212 - São Cristovao. This very typical Portuguese restaurant is one of the best in town. There are two more branches in town, too: one in Barra da Tijuca and another in Ipanema.

O Botequim, Rua Visconde de Caravelas, 184, Botafogo. Also commonly known as Botequim 184 because of its address number, the bolinho de bacalhau here is as it should be: not greasy and tasteful.

Pavão Azul, Rua Hilário de Gouveia, 71, Copacabana Pavão Azul serves another kind of cod fish delicacy, called pataniscas de bacalhau. The difference here is that they use a piece of cod which is just breaded and fried. But they’re just as tasty as the bolinhos — so you should try both.

Image credit: Adegão Português/Facebook

Bolinho de Feijoada

The cariocas’ passion for bolinhos can push some cooks’ creativity to the limit. Chef Kátia Barbosa from Aconchego Carioca created a version of a feijoada one can eat in one (or two, at most) bites: The dumplings are made of black beans (from a feijoada stew) and manioc flour and filled with collard greens. She serves more than 10,000 feijoada dumplings per month and many bars have tried to create their own versions — but go for the original one.

Where to get it:

Aconchego Carioca, R. Barão de Iguatemi, 379 - Praca da Bandeira. This restaurant recently opened a branch in São Paulo, so Paulistanos can enjoy the bolinhos as well.

Image credit: Aconchego Carioca/Facebook


Pork and Pineapple Sandwich

The original recipe was created at Cervantes, a classic bar from 1959 in the Copacabana neighborhood, and it is still considered the best sandwich in town: It features pork leg, cheese, and a slice of fresh pineapple on a bun — the latter fits in perfectly in a city that is always looking for a bit of freshness.

Where to get it:

Cervantes, Avenida Prado Júnior, 335 - loja B – Copacabana. This classic restaurant now how two more branches at Barra da Tijuca, closer to the Olympic Center — one on the famous Avenida das Américas and another in Vila Parque mall.

Riba, Rua General Urquiza, 188-A – Leblon. This new trendy bar pays tribute to Cervantes in this pork leg sandwich with Gouda cheese, black roll, and a mustard sauce with pineapple. They also have many other great sandwiches to try.

Image credit: Cervantes/Facebook

Espetinho

Meat skewers are a mania in Brazil, mostly in Rio. They can be found in different versions (from chicken to steak, seafood, and sausages) and in many bars and even in the streets, from vendors on every corner. Since cariocas love to stand up on the sidewalk hanging out with friends and drinking beers, this is a great snack food to eat that doesn’t require tables, forks, or knives.

Where to get it:

Sabor D.O.C., Rua Dias Ferreira, 605 – Leblon. Snag some skewers at this mixture of a butcher shop and a bar, in the Leblon neighborhood.

Steak Me, Rua Tubira, 8 - loja E – Leblon. Inspired by NYC’s Meatpacking District, Steak Me specializes in grilled skewers on open flame. The skewers are made with Angus beef and are also available with meatballs, fish, chicken hearts, and sausage.

Image credit: Steak Me/Facebook

Biscoito Globo

More than a kind of breadstick made with tapioca powder (polvilho), the packaged Biscoito Globo, made here in town, is a trademark of Rio de Janeiro’s beaches. The packages are sold by vendors walking on the sand, and the breadstick pairs perfectly with another carioca classic: yerba mate cold tea. They're extremely crumbly and crunchy.

Where to get it: At every beach. More on that here: Welcome to Rio, the Beach Food Capital of the World

Image credit: Hernán Maglione/Flickr

Read More: Rio 2016: Eater's Guide to Eating and Drinking at the Olympics [E]

Rafael Tonon is a Brazilian journalist and food writer based in São Paulo.
Editor: Hillary Dixler

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