Rio de Janeiro is a city with countless food options spread throughout its neighborhoods, featuring both the touristy spots that are worth a visit and the hidden gems where Cariocas (locals) usually go. Thankfully, the Olympic Center, where most of the main-attraction events (including gymnastics, swimming, and track and field) will take place, is in the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood — one of the most beautiful regions in a city with plenty of them. So why leave the area to grab a post-event meal? (After all, the city will be crowded and traffic will be jammed.)
With that in mind, we've compiled the best bets in Barra da Tijuca, from quick meals to outstanding dinners, where one can eat well without going very far. Elsewhere, we've selected other must-visit restaurants in two other tourist-friendly neighborhoods playing host to Olympic venues — Maracanã (whose namesake stadium will host several football matches, as well as the opening and closing ceremonies), and South Zone (whose famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches will be the site of beach volleyball, the triathlon, and more). Here now, the best places to eat and drink near Rio's Olympic sites:
Barra da Tijuca
Barra Olympic Park hosts nine separate venues — including the Rio Olympic Arena (gymnastics), Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre (diving, water polo), the Olympic Aquatics Stadium (swimming), Tennis Centre (tennis), and arenas for basketball, martial arts, wrestling, and cycling.
On Pepê Beach, Argentinian bartender Tato Giovannoni, partner of Buenos Aires's Florería Atlántico (the best bar in Latin America according to the 50 Best Bars list), opened this cocktail kiosk where he serves the same signature cocktails as the original bar in Argentina. But more than great drinks, it also serves fresh food that pairs well with the tropical cocktails, creating a breezy toes-in-the-sand mood. The recipes vary according to what's best in fishermen's catch of the day, such as cod salad with baked pumpkin and zucchini or the classic grilled octopus with baked potato gratin.
Avenida do Pepê (around number 530) Quiosque QB 4A / $
This is the third restaurant in town by chef Pedro Artagão, and at Cozinha Artagão, his food has a more casual approach, with snack food to kill the afternoon munchies (the restaurant is open all day long) or plates for a proper meal, lunch or dinner. Here, Artagão gathered his personal recipes, like oxtail rice and shrimp risotto with Catupiry cheese. But he also serves grilled meats to pair with salads and classic Brazilian side dishes, such as picadinho (diced meat, rice, farofa, fried egg, and banana) and tropeiro rice (with jerked beef) with an egg on it. For dessert, do not miss his cakes, including the chocolate hotcake with brigadeiro filling (a Brazilian delicacy, it's made with condensed milk, butter, and cocoa powder).
Avenida das Américas, 4666 (in the BarraShopping center) / cozinhaartagao.com.br / $
After a huge success in Leblon, famous chef Claude Troisgros — along with his son and daughter — decided to open one more branch of their restaurant in Barra da Tijuca. The main star here is, of course, the meat. From a menu of 17 different cut options, with everything from prime rib to duck magret, you can order whatever you fancy, and the side dishes are served in a rodízio style, where waiters zip between tables to serve Brazilian rice and beans, deep-fried manioc, French fries, farofa and more.
Avenida das Américas, 7777 (in the Rio Design Barra) / ctboucherie.com.br / $
Chez l'Ami Martin
It's kind of like a Parisian bistro: The Chez l'Ami menu is handwritten daily on a blackboard and encompasses French bistronomie dishes made by chef Pascal Jolly, such as the ratatouille with poached eggs and the steak tartare. For dessert, he prepares the iconic pain perdu with cream, raspberry sorbet, and red sauce.
Estrada da Gávea, 899 (Shopping Fashion Mall)/ $
The second branch of this Rio restaurant maintains the spirit of great hospitality that became a trademark of the Fasano Group (which also owns the Hotel Fasano, in the Ipanema neighborhood, in addition to many places in São Paulo). Gero Bar is a fancy place to try Italian classics with a contemporary twist. The homemade pasta is prepared in a glass-panelled room, where you can watch the cooks working from your table. Try the lamb ribs with rosemary sauce and the veal ravioli with funghi sauce. During the weekdays, they also serve a prix-fixe menu for lunch.
Avenida Erico Veríssimo, 190 / fasano.com.br / $$
Located on a Barra da Tijuca avenue that's home to many good restaurants, this is a great place for well-made Italian classics, served in an airy and light room. Do not skip the couvert (with fresh focaccia and ciabatta) or the grouper carpaccio with salmon roe or the tuna tartare. The recipes are irreverent like Rio de Janeiro's mood. The seafood risotto and the gnocchi with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, and basil have already became house classics.
Avenida Érico Veríssimo, 690 / duorestaurante.com.br / $
After decades in São Paulo, Naga finally arrived in Rio to serve oysters, sashimi, and glasses of sake. With a contemporary decor and a view of the Lagoa da Tijuca neighborhood from its location in Shopping VillageMall, Naga is one of the best Japanese restaurants in town. In this city by the sea, ask for fresh seafood, such as the belly tuna carpaccio and the white fish usuzukuri with ponzu sauce. But the highlight is the sashimi and sushi, all cut in perfect pieces.
Avenida das Américas, 3900 (in the Village Mall) / $$
Rio's famous beaches will provide the site for several outdoor events, including beach volleyball (setting up shop on the sands of the Copacabana), marathon swimming and triathlon (taking place at Fort Copacabana), and rowing (at nearby Lagoa Stadium, near Leblon beach).
With a large dining room, Giuseppe Grill is a locally beloved restaurant specializing in charcoal-grilled meat, fish, and seafood. But the latter impresses most with its freshness and quality. Ask the waiters for the fresh fish of the day, and do not leave without tasting the oysters or the grilled Brazilian slipper lobster.
Avenida Bartolomeu Mitre, 370, Leblon / $
This recently-opened bar pays homage to Rio de Janeiro's bohemian bar style (botecos). Botecagem, as locals say, is the art of hopping from boteco to boteco in search of cold beer and good food. Here, in a room adorned with vintage tiles, enjoy food made with care, from petiscos to good sandwiches. Riba also crafts two beers in-house: a lager and an IPA.
Rua General Urquiza, 188-A, Leblon / ribabotecagem.com.br / $
Bazzar is a casual and elegant restaurant with a beautiful and spacious-but-cozy dining room for a meal at any time (they open at 12 p.m. daily). The menu with light recipes (mostly with fresh seafood) and comfort food embraces the season of each local ingredient. The restaurant also has a bubble bar for a good glass of sparkling or still wine.
Rua Barão da Torre, 538, Ipanema / bazzar.com.br / $
A seafood restaurant with an Italian accent, the menu here ranges from mollusks that rest on ice cubes to seafood: a fish tank holds oysters, scallops, and langoustines for the patron to pick. Side dishes, like creamed spinach and lemon risotto, are served separately. But the restaurant also serve some a la carte options, such as spaghetti vongole and snapper baked in a salt crust.
Rua Barão da Torre, 192, Ipanema / satyricon.com.br / $$
This recently opened tapas bar serves casual-but-good Spanish food, such as the piruletas de gambas (shrimp skewers) and different kinds of paellas. In Spain, chiringuitos are kiosks by the beach, which says much about the spot's concept. The seafood and fish come daily from the catch of local fishermen.
Avenida Atlântica, 3880, Copacabana / $
Alloro serves some of the best risottos in town, the specialty of Italian chef Luciano Boseggia. But there's more to this classic restaurant in Leme neighborhood: everything from pasta (like the pumpkin tortelli with shrimp ragout and almonds) to meat (try the lamb in an herb crust) is a hit. Alloro also offers one of the most affordable wine menus in Rio.
Avenida Atlântica, 1020 (in the Windsor Atlantica Hotel), Leme / $
Home to the Maracanã Stadium, a famous football (soccer) stadium that's the largest in Brazil, this neighborhood will host several football matches — including the gold-medal games for both men's and women's teams — as well as the Olympics' opening and closing ceremonies.
Bar da Frente
Close to Maracanã, Praça da Bandeira (Bandeira Square) became one of the hottest food neighborhoods in Rio thanks to Aconchego Carioca, a spot serving iconic dishes like the bolinho de feijoada. Bar da Frente, a bar run by a mother-and-daughter team, is located just in front of Aconchego, and serves great petiscos as well. Try the bolinho de arroz de puta, a rice dumpling with sausage and a caramelized mustard sauce, or the stroganoff croquette accompanied by potato sticks. It also has a craft beer list that is as good as the food.
Rua Barão de Iguatemi, 388, Praça da Bandeira / bardafrente.com.br / $
Botto Bar is a tap beer heaven. Run by brewmaster Leo Botto, this bar boasts more than 20 taps to serve local draft beers — some of them created by Botto himself. Treat your stomach well, too, by asking for the "L'Àuberge de Poteaupré," a croquette made with a mix of five different cheeses and covered with angel hair, or the carbonnade flamande, a comforting Belgian beef stew cooked with onions and beer (here, this recipe is accompanied by a homemade malt bread). On some Sundays, Botto also serves his version of breakfast: beer filtered with fruits, hops, and citrus peels. If there's fruit, it can still be called a breakfast of champions, right?
Rua Barão de Iguatemi, 205, Praça da Bandeira / bottobar.com.br / $
Rafael Tonon is a Brazilian journalist and food writer based in São Paulo.
Editor: Erin DeJesus