As New Year's Eve and Carnival 2018 quickly approach, more and more people have Rio de Janeiro on their mind. If you're one of those people (and anything like us), that means you're most likely thinking three things:
Where to eat to fuel up when you're not samba'ing down the avenida at the Sambodromo or attending a bloco live music part.
What to eat to stay healthy and in shape for your downtime at the beach and pool. You've already spent a good deal of money on this trip.
How to not break the bank, since most restaurants in Rio are notoriously expensive and you've already spent a lot to get here.
While most "best of" restaurant lists (including our own) mention hotspots like Sushi Leblon and CT Boucherie, there are plenty of lower cost, more casual places we love and are more likely to frequent on a daily basis. And better yet, they all offer delicious yet healthy options. Would you expect anything less from the city that brought you açaí bowls and the string bikini?
Feeling intimidated by the long menu in Portuguese or buffet food that you don't recognize? Fear not: below we'll not only give you our top picks for Rio's cheap eats, we'll also let you in on the dishes you cannot miss!
1. FELICE CAFÉ
On the eastern end of Ipanema, next to the weekly Hippie Fair and just a few blocks away from Arpoador Beach, Felice Café is a local favorite with an always-chic crowd and international flare. Open for lunch and dinner, Felice is perfect for a sandwich, a romantic dinner or a post-meal gelato (okay, not so healthy). Felice is probably the most expensive restaurant on this list but still well-priced considering the quality, menu diversity and overall experience.
WHAT TO ORDER? Their quiches of the day are always served with a salad. We love their grilled salmon or their Thai chicken or shrimp, served with a delicious red curry. If you want to treat yourself, their chocolate desserts rarely disappoint.
Rua Gomes Carneiro 30, Ipanema
2. NEW NATURAL
Like Felice Café, New Natural is also in Ipanema. But unlike the former, New Natural is a totally no-frills, buffet-style, mostly vegetarian hole in the wall (with no proper signage, just a brick wall façade). Perfect for a quick meal after the beach, New Natural may look a bit rough around the edges. But the prices are hard to beat and we've never had a bad meal there. We also love their bakery section and mini health food store.
WHAT TO ORDER? New Natural's dishes are mostly in a buffet and the fresh selections vary daily. We love their veggies (especially their pumpkin) and empadas (stuffed, baked pastries) filled with spinach or chicken. Their falafel is generally on point too. They also have fresh squeezed juices and of course we can't forget that bakery. Their banana tart and key lime pie are yummy and light and won't make you leave feeling as if your otherwise healthy meal has all gone to waste.
Rua Barão da Torre 169, Ipanema
3. GULA GULA
"Gula" translates to gluttony in English, and while it's certainly possible to go overboard at this local favorite, Gula Gula offers plenty of options for all levels of hunger.
WHAT TO ORDER? Gula Gula is famous all things grilled. You can order any piece of grilled meat or fish (or even veggies) with a variety of delcicious sides. We also love their salmon and cous-cous salad and quiche with brie and apricots.
Various locations in Ipanema, Leblon, Barra da Tijuca, Lagoa & elsewhere throughout the city
Frontera is longtime personal favorite of several Craft employees. With various locations around the Southern Zone of Rio, we often refer to it as the best "pound-for-pound" restaurant in the city with one of the best buffets we've ever seen anywhere in the world. While they don't serve meat in the rodizio format of bringing the meat to you, the all-you-can-eat buffet price includes unlimited rounds of your cuts of choice, including world-famous picanha top sirloin. They've also got sushi and a dessert bar that we dare you to try to say no to. The vibe is always relaxed with a mix of locals and tourists with dim lighting perfect for a quiet dinner. If you make it to their Leblon location, don't forget to check out their pizza selection!
WHAT TO ORDER? Like New Natural, Frontera always has a fresh selection at their buffet. There really isn't anything we WOULDN'T try. Seriously. Just go wild and thank us later. And don't forget about the dessert!
Various locations in Ipanema, Leblon & Copacabana
5. BIBI SUCOS
If you frequent your city's juice bars and find yourself liking every smoothie bowl pic on Instagram, Bibi Sucos will be a mainstay of your Rio trip. Widely considered the original juice bar brand of the city, Bibi Sucos went from a simple surfer eatery to a world-known local franchise. Feel free to show up at Bibi in your Havaiana flip flops and board shorts, with shirts optional. This is definitely not indoor dining!
WHAT TO ORDER? You can't go to Bibi Sucos without trying their açaí na tigela com granola batido, which is basically just an açaí bowl with granola. It is simple and it is the best! We also love their tapioca starch-based crepes that can be either sweet (think nutella) or savory (catipury cheese with chicken).
Various locations in Ipanema, Leblon, Copacabana, Barra da Tijuca, Jardim Botánico & elsewhere
6. BALADA MIX
Balada Mix is somewhere in between Bibi Sucos and Gula Gula, perfect for a post-beach meal but with a wide variety of healthy options and hearty plates. With various locations throughout the city, it's a convenient, well-priced option that never disappoints. We particularly like their Ipanema location, right near the Leblon border.
WHAT TO ORDER? We love Balada Mix's juices: try an abacaxí com hortelá, which is pineapple with mint. Delicious and refreshing! If you're feeling hungry and carnivorous, check out their cheeseburger. They're famous for it and it doesn't disappoint.
Various locations in Ipanema, Leblon, Copacabana, Barra da Tijuca & elsewhere