Kevin Raub
Kevin Raub
São Paulo, Brazil
Brazil-based travel journalist and Lonely Planet Author. ‘Brazil Insider’ for LAN airlines’ Only in South America blog. 78 countries. Nearly 30 Lonely Planet guides. Twitter: @RaubontheRoad. Instagram: kevinraub

Eat Your Heart Out: São Paulo

It took a sudden about-face by Brazil’s most famous chefs, led by the poster boy of nova cozinha brasileira cuisine, Alex Atala, to finally lure foodies to the Southern Hemisphere’s capital of cuisine. Long a cradle of culinary multi-ethnic delights, it wasn’t until Atala began leading top chefs away from the bad Brazilian habit of assuming all things French and Italian were more palette pleasing and began relying on homegrown resources to produce a New World Brazilian Culinary Order with São Paulo as its capital. Atala’s D.O.M. now sits at No. 6 on San Pellegrino’s World's 50 Best Restaurants list and contemporary Brazilian cuisine is the foodie flavor of the month.
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D.O.M.

R. Barão de Capanema, 549 - Jardins, São Paulo - SP, 01411-011, Brazil

Chef Alex Atala’s now world-coveted foodie destination single-handedly resurrected and reinvented contemporary Brazilian cuisine from within, bucking the traditional trend that gourmet dining in Brazil means French or Italian and instead looking in the mirror for inspiration. The four-course ($145) or eight-course ($202) tasting menus are a journey through Brazil’s various ecosystems: Edible saúva ants, pupunha hearts of palm, cupuaçu fruit and priprioca root from the Amazon; pequi from Brazil’s tropical savannah – if it lives or grows in Brazil, Atala is turning it into new flavor experience for those seeking Brazil’s ultimate tasting menu.

Mani

Rua Joaquim Antunes, 210, Sao Paulo, State of Sao Paulo, Brazil

Chef Helena Rizzo and her Spanish hubby, Daniel Redondo, bring an impressive resume to the table (namely Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca, among others). Second only to D.O.M. in fame, Rizzo’s contemporary Brazilian cuisine is just as good, but served up for half the price in a distinctly more casual and inviting atmosphere. The slow-cooked egg (90 minutes at 63 °C), deconstructed Waldorf salad and beef cheeks with taioba puree are definitive highlights, but everything is a tastebud trip through Brazil’s culinary backwaters.

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Bráz Pizzaria

R. Vupabussu, 271 - Pinheiros, São Paulo - SP, Brazil

Brazil is home to the largest population of Italian descendants anywhere outside Italy and its pizza culture follows suit. You’ll find the city to be on par with the world’s great pie destinations (New York, Chicago, Naples) and Bráz is repeatedly voted the city’s best. It’s cheesier than some might like, but there’s little denying the pizza paulistana served here bucks traditional pizzaiolo rules and regulations to produce a uniquely Brazilian style. Try the Fosca (smoked ham, creamy catipury cheese, mozzarella and tomato sauce), eaten with knife and fork, chased with ice-cold chope (Brazilian draft beer).

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Mercado Municipal Paulistano

R. Cantareira, 306 - Centro, São Paulo - SP, 01103-200, Brazil

The city’s gorgeous municipal market, set in an iconic block-long Belle Époque beauty of stained glass and skyward domes, is first and foremost a food-centric market where chefs, foodies, restaurateurs and hungry mouths converge over exotic fruit samples, traditional street food (pastels, stuffed and fried pastries of dubious Japanese descent), herbs and spices the world over and one of Sampa’s most symbolic sandwiches, the mortadella monster at Bar do Mané. On the ground floor, stall after stall of gourmet wares mixed in with quick eats and fresh juice stands; on the always lively mezzanine level, a people watching potpourri amid a line of sit-down Arab, Portuguese and Brazilian restaurants. A must.

Tenda do Nilo

Rua Coronel Oscar Porto, 638 | Vila Mariana, Sao Paulo, State of Sao Paulo, Brazil

Most visitors to Brazil’s biggest city don’t realize that a massively-strong and vibrant Arab population resides here, mainly of Syrian and Lebanese descent. Like Italian and Japanese, the Arab food in the city is both legit and hopelessly good. At the tiny Tenda do Nilo, a hard-working Lebanese family slaves over the city’s best Arab comfort food: the hummus, baba ghanoush, stuffed grape leaves, fatte (a Levantine dish of crumbled toasted pita bits covered in warm shredded beef and garlic-flavored yogurt and pine nuts), falafel and raw kibe are all worth the wait (if you don’t show up right at opening, saddle in for a considerable wait).

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Luiz Fernandes Bar

Rua Augusto Tolle, 610 - Mandaqui, São Paulo - SP, 02405-001, Brazil

This dead-authentic North Zone boteco (traditional bar) is no frills when it comes to ambiance – plastic tables and chairs, nothing but football scarves on the wall – but the good-time atmosphere has been attracting down-to-earth Brazilians for nearly 50 years. It’s all about the bar snacks: The house-specialty bolinho do carne (meatloaf croquettes), deep-fried and doused in spiced vinaigrette and fiery malagueta pepper sauce, are an absolute knockout, made all the more satisfying when chased with near-frozen Original and Serra Malte beer. One of the city’s most efficient and friendly waitstaffs works the open-air space with poise and precision, making it all very hard to tear yourself away from.

Kinoshita Restaurante - Kappo Cuisine

Vila Nova Conceição, R. Jacques Félix, 405 - Moema, Sao Paulo - São Paulo, 04509-000, Brazil

São Paulo is home to Jiro Dreams of Sushi-level spots where menus are in Japanese only and sushi chefs barely know fish names in Portuguese to innovative high-end Japanese cuisine served in atmospheres that will have checking your passport for customs stamps from Narita you forgot you received. Both worlds collide at Kinoshita, where Latin America’s best Japanese chef, Tsuyoshi Murakami, does both exquisite sushi and Kappo cuisine. Everything here, from Wagyu Nigiri (beef raised by Japanese in Brazil and lightly seared by blowtorch, served sushi style) to temaki Nattō (soybeans fermented with Bacillus subtilis) to his signature martini glass oyster shot with quail egg, salmon row, okra and a drop of Tabasco, is an unexpected journey to the ultimate food high.

Bar Lanches Estadão

Rua Major Quedinho, 112 - Sao Paulo, Brazil

The lanchonete is a Brazilian institution. Best described as working-class corner diners, it’s a place for quick, set meals; fresh juices and cold beer; and sandwiches, which Brazilians consider a snack, not a meal, at all hours of the day and night. You won’t be thinking that when you try this downtown Sampa institution’s pernil (pork loin) sandwich. A marriage of perfectly-cooked pork with just the right amount of juice, fat and crispy skin, slathered with sautéed onions and a slab of provolone, stuffed between two simple wedges of typical pão Francês, Brazil’s go-to bread roll. A São Paulo classic.

Mocoto

Av. Nossa Senhora Do Loreto 1.100 | Vila Medeiros, Sao Paulo, State of Sao Paulo 02219-001, Brazil

Once the original owner’s upstart son stepped into the kitchen at this once unsophisticated Northeastern restaurant, it became the destination dining spot on São Paulo’s gourmand map practically overnight. Chef Rodrigo Oliveira is now Brazil’s youngest and brightest, churning out steadfastly Northeastern comfort cuisine – think baião-de-dois (a kitchen sink mix of rice, beans, sundried beef and herbs and spices) and refusing to play the game: No reservations are accepted and Oliveira rejects those who wish he would move to more friendly culinary landscapes closer to the city center. Those who want to eat his food must put it in the effort – and are justly rewarded.

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Tordesilhas

Alameda Tietê, 489 - Jardins, São Paulo - SP, 01417-020, Brazil

Sitting at the top of most people’s list for casual regional Brazilian, Chef Mara Salles offers a meaty menu of specialties from around Brazil, such as pato no tucupi (duck in tucupi manioc broth from the Amazon), barreado (a beef stew served in a clay pot from Paraná), moqueca (seafood stew) in both Bahia and Espírito Santo styles, jerked beef from the Sertão – on and on it goes. Once a month, she churns out tacacá, a soup made from jambu (an mouth-numbing indigenous herb), tucupi and dried shrimp, on the sidewalk in an event known as Tacacá no Tiete. Save room for dessert! She does a delectable tapioca pudding served with coconut milk custard and exotic Amazonian ice creams (açaí, cupuaçu and tapioca).

Feijoada da Lana

Rua Aspicuelta, 421 | Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, State of Sao Paulo, Brazil

Brazil’s national dish, known as feijoada, traces its roots back to slavery, when slaves had to scrounge whatever discarded bits of meat they could and make the best of it. Some say this traditional pork stew, made with various types of pork and black beans and served alongside rice, sautéed kale, farofa (toasted manioc flour) and orange slices, is Brazil’s culinary masterpiece. Though touristy restaurants might serve it all week, the real deal is usually only available on Wednesdays or Saturdays, coming in all shapes and prices ranges. Lana’s version (weekends only) falls in the middle for price, but blows away the completion in value, hearty goodness and down-to-earth atmosphere. Anthony Bourdain couldn’t shut his mouth about it – and neither will you.

bar da dona onca

av. ipiranga sao paulo brazil, Sao Paulo, State of Sao Paulo, Brazil

Inside São Paulo’s iconic Copan building, this Centro gastro-bar was the catalyst that sparked a food and drink revival in a downtown neighborhood that most folks would have considered too dangerous for post-sunset revelry. Times have changed. Chef Janina Rueda (wife of São Paulo chef of the year, Attimo’s Jefferson Rueda) does extraordinary Brazilian heartland fare in a dynamic bar atmosphere. Whether you go with dishes like chicken with okra or the fabulous pork calf, expect hearty, full-bodied recipes that forgo contemporary bells and whistles in favor of the kind of back-to-basics dishes your Brazilian grandmother would fill your belly with over the holidays.

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Patuá da Baiana

Rua Luis Barreto 74A

This one is a doozy. Though expensive, the experience of dining in this “secret” (read: unlicensed) underground restaurant in the basement of the home of Bahia transplant Helia Bispo Bá is priceless. Helia and her big personality dodes over her tightly-controlled (you must be referred by a former guest), select number of diners each evening before juicing them with caipirinhas and presenting Bahian specialty dishes (she chooses, not you, depending on her market run) in a feast fit for a tropical king. Possibilities include acarajé (black-eyed pea fritters stuffed with vatapá, a creamy paste of shrimp, peanuts, coconut milk and dendê oil), moqueca (seafood stew) and bobó de camarão (shrimp in manioc sauce). It’s a festive experience like no other in the city.

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Aconchego Carioca - SP

Alameda Jau, 1372, Sao Paulo, State of Sao Paulo, Brazil

Though Aconchego was birthed in Rio de Janeiro’s far less interesting food scene, Paulistanos don’t hold that against this lively boteco (traditional bar) that takes both food and beer very seriously. Inventive bolinhos (fried bar snacks), like feijoada (a black bean dough stuffed with kale and bacon) and virado à paulista (stuffed with kale, sausage, beef and egg) are the ultimate gourmet accompaniments to one of the city’s best selection of homegrown craft brews. Main courses include the best bobó de camarão (shrimp in manioc sauce) to ever cross these lips and perfectly sweet and succulent guava pork ribs. Top spot for food and fun.

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Feirinha Gastronômica

Praça Benedito Calixto, 85 - Jardim Paulista, Sao Paulo - SP, Brazil

As a result of stalled food truck legislation, this gourmet foodie fair was started by foodie and event coordinator Mauricio Schuartz and his partner, Daniela Narciso, to give Paulistanos a taste of what it’s missing: Every Sunday, revolving stalls of closely-curated gourmet wares are dished out at Praça Benedito Calixto in Vila Madelena, serving up some of the city’s best sweets, ethnic treats, and regional Brazilian specialties to a hip, in-the-know crowd of food-loving hipsters hell bent on reaching the ultimate São Paulo foodgasm. Get there early – it opens at noon and runs until 8pm – or face long lines rubbing elbows with grumpy and starved groups of culinary adventurers who, instead of chasing food trucks around town via Twitter, have found the spot where it’s as if 40 trucks parked in one place.

Last updated at May 23, 2017