The Rio Olympics take place Aug. 5-21 and many folks will be packing up their athletic cups and heading to the beach to watch the Games, participate in the Games or just hang out on the beach and drink caipirinhas. If you need some help navigating the wealth of food and drink offerings, listen up: I spent a week in Rio last month to sort out the best options to recommend to all you sporty travelers.


Enjoy an expertly crafted cocktail on the beach at Atlantico in Barra di Tijuca.

Atlántico Rio De Janeiro

All along the beaches of Rio there are little kiosks at regular intervals, selling tall cans of cheap beer, fried snacks and fresh coconuts. The fancier of the kiosks offer maybe an Aperol Spritz, and there ain’t nothing wrong with any of that. Then there’s Atlántico, run by Argentinian bartender Tato Giovanonni in Barra di Tijuca, a long stretch of mostly pristine beach that at times is reminiscent of Miami’s South Beach and in other parts is more like the trendier parts of New York’s Rockaway Beach. When I arrived, Giovanonni’s crew was trussing whole ducks and grilling a crispy-skinned, fresh fish (who cares what kind) on a tiny flat top. And the cocktails! One would think that a riff on a martini from a ramshackle bar would not be a drink you’d want to drink on the beach. But one would be dead wrong. Giovanonni’s version is made with Apostoles gin (his own brand), sherry and something they called “whiskey defumado” (your guess is as good as mine), prepared with jiggers and bar spoons. The most perfect cocktails and the most delicious food in the most idyllic setting. Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro; +55 21 99586-0453;


The cocktail scene in Brazil is a thriving one, and there are many places to get a very well-made drink. One of the very newest is an offshoot of a popular Sao Paulo “speakeasy” called Subastor, which is hidden behind the popular Ipanema beachside bistro Astor Café. It might take a little sweet-talking for the bouncer to let you in, but don’t worry, that’s part of the show. Be cool, baby, and patient, and pretty soon he’ll slide the door back for you to come in and enjoy the elegant service and excellent cocktails. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a country that produces a particular spirit, I want to drink a lot of that particular spirit, and believe it or not it’s a little harder than you’d expect to find good cachaça cocktails in Brazil. Oddly enough, Brazilians prefer their caipirinhas with vodka or sake. That said, one of the best cachaça cocktails I had in my time in Brazil was the Ordem & Prosecco at Subastor, a bubbly and playful cachaça cocktail with Yaguara cachaça, Calvados and prosecco, created by beverage director Fabio la Pietra, a young, Italian transplant at the helm of both bars in Sao Paulo and Rio. And head bartender Plinio Silva provided some of the most thoughtful hospitality I’ve seen in any bar anywhere. Av. Vieira Souto, 100 – Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro; +55 21 2523-0085;


Craft beer is big deal in Brazil at the moment. And Caverna is a rock-and-roll-themed brew pub in Botafogo where you can grab not only a great beer, but a great burger, too. Bar chief Miguel Paes and Caverna partner Pedro Paulo Aliperti divide up responsibility: Paes is in charge of the cocktails, Aliperti brews the beer, and they do both really well. The music is classic rock; the vibes are chill; the crowd is lively and unpretentious. Tucked away from the main drag on a quiet street across the way from a late-night pizza delivery service, this is a great place to spend a few late-night hours, singing along to Bon Jovi, drinking Rabo de Galos (a classic Brazilian drink, stirred and boozy, with aged cachaça and Cynar), and eating bar snacks. The staff has a clever sense of humor as well: A chalk sign on the wall boldly states that the place has been “Making People Fat Since 2014.” And if hot dogs appeal to you, ask the guys to point you to their brand-new hot dog joint in the neighborhood. R. Assis Bueno, 26 Loja Botafogo – Rio de Janeiro; +55 21 3507-5600;

Paris Bar

Paris Bar is a bit of a mystery in Rio. Many people I asked hadn’t heard of it, but then as soon as I described it would say, “Oh, that place — I’ve been there, it’s cool!” Located on the parlor floor of a historic mansion that now houses the Casa de Arte e Cultura Julieta de Serpa, the spot proves a transporting experience. Head bartender Alex Mesquita may also work for Leblon Cachaça, so he knows his way around the local spirit, and by night, he’s barrel-aging aquavit cocktails, adding fresh tangerine juice to his menu and compiling an extensive diary of cocktail recipes. It’s a lovely, grand bar to enjoy a drink in a civilized setting and feel a little pampered. Praia do Flamengo, 340 – Flamengo, Rio de Janeiro; +55 21 2551-1278;

Bar Food — Late-Night Eats

The excellent hamburger at Bar Do Momo comes with a giant knife stuck through it.

Bar Do Momo

Have we mentioned that Brazilians love beef? Yeah, they really do. And recently they’ve started using some of that excellent beef to make excellent burgers. There is a veritable burger craze all over Brazil. One of the best versions I had in Rio was from a little “buteco” in the north part of Rio where tons of restaurant and bar staff go for late-night eats, and at Bar do Momo the food is anything but ordinary. In this popular little greasy spoon, the kind of place my Brazilian friend called a “pe sujo” — literally “dirty feet,” meaning a super-casual place you can arrive at from the beach with actual dirt on your feet — the food is inventive, ambitious and entirely unexpected. The place is owned by a father-son team, but the talent behind the flat top is all the son, known as Toninho Momo (his real name is Antonio Laffargue). He’s cranking out things like juicy burgers topped with watercress pesto, bacon marmalade and an oozing blanket of mozzarella, all brought to the table with a giant knife stuck through it. Don’t neglect anything on the menu — it was all good. And lots of well-selected cachaça and Brazilian craft beer. All served out of a nondescript storefront that spills out onto the sidewalk and up the block on wobbly plastic tables and equally wobbly plastic chairs. It’s worth a ride from Ipanema to the end of the subway line to check it out. R. Gen. Espírito Santo Cardoso, 50 – Loja A; +55 21 2570-9389;

Galeto Sat’s

This is the only place to go in the middle of the night in Rio, when you’re pretty drunk and pretty hungry. Well, there are other places to go, but this is the only one you need to remember. It’s another buteco, but this one is a little more centrally located in Copacabana. Galeto Sat’s, which opened back in 1962, stays open until 5 a.m., serving juicy, grilled chicken out of a fire pit and 400 kinds of cachaça. The owner of Sat’s is the godfather of Rio nightlife, and more than likely he will be at the bar enjoying the night with you. What do you order? Well, the chicken for sure, but in addition to the regular chicken legs and thighs and breasts you’re used to, get an order of the grilled chicken hearts. This is a classic Brazilian snack to go alongside your beer and cachaça. At Sat’s, the hearts are served covered in chunky garlic that is piled on so thick it looks like crumbled Parmesan. It is not. Next to them will be a basket full of garlic bread, and that is similarly generous with the garlic. You might not want to kiss anyone who wasn’t with you at the bar, but at least you know you’re safe from vampires. R. Barata Ribeiro, 7 – D – Copacabana; +55 21 2275-6197;

Bar Void/House of Food

If there is one universal rule of gentrification, it’s that hipsters make good food, and they make it cool. You will see this on display all over the hip neighborhood of Botafogo, but I felt right at home in the bosom of Bushwick or Echo Park at Bar Void and its House of Food rotating pop-up kitchen. It’s a sneaker/surf store on one side and a craft beer bar on the other, and next to that is a sliver of a kitchen that is a sandwich shop by day, and at night it is taken over by a rotating cast of different chefs and people with culinary inclinations. Chef Elia Schramm from Laguiole had taken over the kitchen for his birthday the night I went, along with his buddy Pedro Benoliel, who was described to me as the Guy Fieri of Brazil — if Guy Fieri were young and handsome and made food people actually want to eat. Lots of trendy spring rolls with unexpected fillings and Asian influences, and lots of young, creative people enjoying another night eating and drinking on the sidewalk. But the consistent (as in always there in the revolving door of pop-ups) and do-not-miss thing I found here was a local, Rio-made IPA called 3 Cariocas IPA-nema, a fruity, light-on-the-hops beer redolent of passion fruit. Enjoy it when you can find it —I didn’t see it anywhere else, and it was exceptionally good. R. Voluntários da Pátria, 31 – Lojas C e D; +55 11 4172-9675;

Proper Grown-Up Restaurants

Seared tuna with heart of palm tagliatelle in horseradish milk infusion sauce at Zuka


The most memorable bite I had in Rio was from this lovely restaurant in Leblon, Rio’s most exclusive neighborhood. With restaurant after restaurant, bar after bar, the choices in the area are overwhelming. Let me help you with that — just pick Zuka.  If “American contemporary” is a unique category of food, then chef Ludmilla Soeiro is serving “Brazilian contemporary” cuisine, all prepared on open flames in an open kitchen. It’s a welcoming combo of traditional and unexpected. If you want the best experience, let chef Soeiro send out what she wants you to eat; she likes it that way. “I pick and you eat. That’s it!” is how she advised me to approach dinner, and she knows best. What about that memorable bite? Hearts of palm are everywhere in Brazil, and here chef Soeiro makes them into tagliatelle and serves them with a wasabi cream sauce and barely seared tuna, and it’s spectacular. Her food is influenced by her travels all over the world, and she brings it all to the table, like her local, honey-glazed duck served next to couscous any Moroccan would be proud to serve. And for dessert, please get the tapioca ice cream served with coconut candy she buys from a local grandmother that reminded me of candy my grandmother always had in her candy dish, with a texture something like crystallized cotton candy. R. Dias Ferreira, 233B – Leblon; +55 21 3205-7154;


There is no shortage of young, ambitious chefs in Rio serving exciting food, even though Sao Paulo gets most of the culinary attention. Laguiole, with Elia Schramm in the kitchen, is a short walk from Lapa, and found inside the mostly out of use, out of fashion and largely deserted Modern Art Museum. But the reason to go check out the space is for Schramm, who is turning out dainty plates of decidedly French food made with decidedly Brazilian ingredients. And the tasting menu, even though it is pricey, is the way to go here. The restaurant is only open for lunch, but honestly skip the museum, enjoy the contemporary architecture, and just head straight to the restaurant to try dishes like Ostras, a creamy oyster veloutée made with oysters from the state of Santa Catarina, with hearts of palm (what did I say, they are everywhere, order them whenever you see them) and mujol caviar and lime. And this is the place where all the politicians go to schmooze, so watch the much-talked-about government of Brazil up close where they eat! Avenida Infante Dom Henrique, 85 – Parque do Flamengo; +55 21 2517-3129;

Weekend Brunch — Giving In To Your Inner Tourist

Churrascaria Palace offers a well-curated cachaça collection, including many hard-to-find varieties from craft producers.

Parque Lage

Sometimes you have to give in to your inner tourist. Thankfully in Rio you can put your tourist goggles on and go where the locals go. Nestled inside a giant, tropical public park in the Jardim Botanico at the foot of the Corcovado is a colonial mansion turned art school where on the weekend you can stop for brunch and lounge around a reflecting pool in the center of a grand courtyard and stare up at Christ the Redeemer. The food is almost inconsequential — there are better and more fashionable places to eat — but the view is hard to beat. When you’re done with your coffee and eggs and have had had your fill of pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread), go for a wander in the art fair inside the palace and pick up some unusual gifts from the local artists who made them. R. Jardim Botânico, 414 – Jardim Botânico; +55 21 3257-1800;

Churrascaria Palace

Beef is a big thing in Brazil. So is pork, and so is meat in general. So when in Brazil, most people want to check out a giant, all-you-can-eat meat emporium, also known as a churrrascaria, and the choices can be overwhelming and expensive — like picking the best Irish pub in Dublin. Churrascaria Palace, steps away from Copacabana and across the street from the famous Copacabana Palace Hotel, is a good move. The selection of meats is massive, and everything is well grilled and well seasoned, including the giant hunks of Brazilian fish on swords. The waitstaff are friendly and solicitous (not always a given in Rio) and come by frequently, especially if you tell them you like something. There’s also a salad bar of sides and other dishes that are very traditional Brazilian fare. Look out for hearts of palm; as I may have mentioned, they are everywhere and in everything in Brazil, and that’s a good thing. If you’re looking for an introduction to a well-curated cachaça collection, Churrascaria Palace has an excellent list of hard-to-find varieties from craft producers. I fell in love with the Santa Terezhinha aged in sassafras wood, paired with salty, melted Brazilian farmer’s cheese off the grill with a drizzle of Amazonian honey, and an “ice cream” made from Brazilian super fruit cupuaçu, which is so high in pectin it was basically frozen-fruit puree that is impossibly creamy all by itself. You’ll be reaching for the cachaça for your cheese courses afterward as well. R. Rodolfo Dantas 16, Copacabana; +55 21 2541-5898;