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

São Paulo Secrets: Where Paulistanos Play

If there was ever a city that could intimidate even the most seasoned globetrotter, it’s São Paulo, the South American capital of everything, home to a metro area of 21 million people and enough skyscrapers to build five Manhattans. It’s very easy to get carried away with superlatives here. Traffic jams here can sometimes back up 200 kilometers (no lie)! There are 12,500 restaurants and 15,000 bars! The city is home to the world’s largest public transportation system, the world’s largest Japanese population outside Japan, the world’s biggest …well, you get the idea. Sampa, as locals affectionately refer to the largest city in the Southern Hemisphere and the beating heart of Brazil, is a monster. But you can certainly tame the beast. Escape the madness and get down with the locals in the following tucked-away hotspots.
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Braz Pizzaria Pinheiros

Avenida Brigadeiro Faria Lima, 134, Sao Paulo, 05426-200, Brazil

São Paulo doesn’t usually roll off the tongue when thinking of the world’s great pizza cities (Naples, New York, Chicago, New Haven …) but pizza paulistana indeed holds its own – there are, after all, more Italians in the city than the entire population of NYC! Of the 6000 or so pizzarias, Bráz consistently hogs the best-of awards and pizza in the city is taken very seriously. Paulistanos don’t do pizza for lunch, and not often by the slice, and most traditionally on Sunday evenings. It’s a knife and fork affair as well. That all said, the wares at Bráz do outshine the competition. Do as locals do and order a chope (Brazilian draft beer), an appetizer of Pão de Lingüiça (warm sausage bread, dipped in spiced olive oil), followed by the pie of your choice. That’s amore!

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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.

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Casa da Vila

Avenida Conselheiro Rodrigues Alves, 367, Sao Paulo - SP, Brazil

One nice thing about visiting São Paulo as a tourist is that it has never traditionally drawn a lot of tourism, despite a long list of museums, cultural attractions, nightlife and restaurants. It’s a business town. So, instead of feeling trapped in a tourism bubble, you can really plant yourself in a living, breathing city that isn’t alive solely thanks to your visit. There also aren’t a lot of annoying souvenir shops trying to sell you factory-produced, “artisanally-made” trinkets you didn’t know you needed. Inside this fiercely-preserved 1929 mansion hidden away on a residential street in Vila Mariana, you’ll find the city’s best selection of Fair Trade handicrafts and homewares – over 3000 items from all 27 of Brazilians states. It’s not cheap, but quality is top notch and adorable Vanessa – the face of this family-run secret – is an absolute pleasure to buy from.

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Pastel da Maria

Praça Charles Miller, s/n (feira do Pacaembu) - Pacaembú, SP, Brasil

Brazil is not world-renown for its street food, but the most famous of what it does do is undoubtedly pastel, a stuffed fried pastry said to originate when Japanese immigrants tweaked Chinese wontons into a more substantial snack. The street-fried fun comes in both savory flavors (pizza, chicken and cream cheese, hearts of palm, four cheese) and sweet (doce de leite, chocolate, guava and cheese) and are fried up in soybean oil on the spot in large, drum-like fryers at small street stands and in fast-food shops known as pastelarias. Pastel da Maria, most easily found at the local fair at Praça Charles Miller on Tuesdays and Fridays, are the city’s best.

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O do Borogodo

Rua Horácio Lane, 21, SP, Brasil

São Paulo cannot compete with Rio in the samba bar wars, but the city has a few hidden gems to sneak away and be mesmerized by Brazil’s most famous rhythm and sound. The tongue-twisting Ó do Borogodo is one of the best. There are no bells and whistles here – it’s all exposed brick, uneven floors and plastic cups of caipirinhas; instead, the focus is on musicianship. Serious musicians work this former home into a frenzy with their live samba, chorinho and pagode, which is eaten up by sweat-soaked aficionados who no doubt waited in considerable lines to gain entry into this discreet Vila Madalena club. Expect a full house most nights of the week, a nominal cover and a hot and humid environment once it fills up.

Fundação Maria Luísa e Oscar Americano

Avenida Morumbi, 4077, Morumbi São Paulo, SP, Brazil ‎

Sampa is chock-full of museums and cultural centers, but few outside the know are familiar with this lovely retreat in the upscale residential neighborhood of Morumbi, hosting a fine collection of sculptures, paintings, objets d’art from the 18th to 20th centuries in a private 1950’s Modernist masterpeice with extensive gardens. The traditional high tea at the on-site café is pricy, but few urban experiences feel this far removed without traveling beyond the borders of the city. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous: Paulistano version!

Aska

Galvao Bueno, 466 | Liberdade, Japanese district, Sao Paulo, State of Sao Paulo 01506-000, Brazil

The Japanese neighborhood of Liberdade isn’t as flashy as some Asiantowns around the world, but it’s long on authenticity. Considering there is no shortage of restaurants where little or no Portuguese is spoken, it can be an issue finding a great spot to eat if your Kanji is weak. Look no further than this classic noodle bar, which draws the far and wide for its steaming hot bowls of pork ramen priced surprisingly fair in a city where that’s as rare as snow in the Sahara. You’ll be slurping it back here with all manner of Japazillians, many of whom put in no small effort to maintain the culture of the old country in this dizzying Latin megalopolis. Tasty and cheap!

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Coffee Lab

Rua Fradique Coutinho, 1340 | Vila Madalena, Sao Paulo, State of Sao Paulo, Brazil

It’s easy to complain about Brazilian coffee – the world’s largest coffee exporter does just that with the majority of its top quality beans and the amount of locals who actually understand the in’s and out’s of working an espresso machine with what little of quality stays behind for the domestic market are few and far between. Enter the adorable Isabela Raposeiras. A coffee fiend, Raposerias roasts her own beans at this unassuming Vila Madalena café/barista school. There’s no warm and fuzzy vibe here – the industrial-theme is a bit jolting for a café – but the coffee and the numerous methods of preparation are where locals in the know go for their fix.

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Mercearia Sao Pedro

R. Rodesia, 34 - Vila Madalena, São Paulo - SP, 05435-020, Brazil

Being tucked away just beyond the most trampled streets of Vila Madalena, São Paulo’s biggest and rowdiest nightlife neighborhoods, means this traditional boteco (traditional bar) draws a more local crowd, especially students and others seeking to escape the city’s normally outrageous prices. This bohemian space – all art film and Beatnik novel décor – knows a thing about properly chilling beer, which waiters dance about with along with fresh pastels (fried pastries) and other down-to-earth bar food. Despite being just a five-minute walk from the metro, it somehow feels hidden away on this residential-heavy street.

Galeria dos Paes

R. Estados Unidos, 1645 - Jardim America, São Paulo - SP, 01427-002, Brazil

The Brazilian padaria (bakery) culture was brought over by the Portuguese and still to this day most are owned and operated by Portuguese families who have run the show for decades and generations. Padarias wildly neighborhood-centric, which is why this one – in the funky, GLS-friendly alternative nightlife neighborhood of Baixo Augusta – is a particular good time. It’s a little pricier than most, but its packed with locals at all hours, fueling up either for a night out or after a night out on baked goods, full meals, decadent sweets, savory snacks, entirely too big sandwiches, pizzas – you name it, it’s here being wolfed down by eccentric packs of alterna-paulistanos.

Karaoke Chopperia Liberdade

Rua da Glória, 523 - Liberdade, Sao Paulo - SP, Brazil

The name is simple enough; it means Liberdade Beer Bar, named such for the Japanese neighborhood of São Paulo (Liberdade) and does little to prepare you for the assault on your senses as you enter. Flashing neon lights, backlit aquariums, electric paintings and Christmas lights dominate the visuals here while serious karaoke dominates your ears. A night here is not for drunken songsters – you won’t make it onto the stage if you are tone deaf. But the gaggles of karaoke fans, bachelorette parties and twentysomething hipsters drinking to the amateur tunes means it’s a guaranteed good time with a funky bunch of locals.

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Museu da Língua Portuguesa -- CLOSED

Praça da Luz, s/n°, São Paulo, 01120-010, Brasil

A museum about a language doesn't exactly sound titillating, but this fascinating gallery inside the reformed Estação da Luz train station in Centro features a wealth of interesting permanent exhibits documenting the Portuguese language and its rise as a separate but equal tongue to that of European Portuguese. Almost everyone who visits walks out not only more educated as to why Brazilians speak the way they do, but a little bit surprised about how well done the whole museum actually is. It's not as high-profile as more famous spaces like MASP or Pinocoteca do Estado, but well-worth a few hours of your time.

Museu Afro-Brasilero

Largo do Terreiro de Jesus s/n, Prédio da Faculdade de Medicina da Bahia, 40026-010 Centro Histórico Salvador, Bahia, Brasil

This incredible museum has a lot going for it: First of all, it's free! Secondly, it's inside Parque Ibirapuera, one of the largest green spaces in all of Latin America and a favorite play space itself for Paulistanos; thirdly, its importance cannot be understated. Over three fascinating floors, centuries of African immigration are chronicled via a hugely interesting permanent exhibit and a rotating list of contemporary Afro-centric exhibitions.

Last updated at Dec 03, 2015