Hot tips to eat and drink out of mainstream in São Paulo

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by Marcelo Pedro

In the spirit of the World Cup, we will give you guys some tips from locals to where to eat and drink in São Paulo. These places are not in the touristic guides, and Letícia and I are regular customers. So, here they are:

1. Mercearia São Pedro, Rua Rodésia, 34, Vila Madalena

Two brothers, Pedrão and Marquinhos, are responsible for the unexpected atmosphere of Mercearia. A mix of Bar, Restaurant, neighborhood grocery store, book store and video rental, it has the best cozy and homy food in São Paulo at lunch time. A self service and salad bar, with the best out of home rice and beans (the national dish), and variable specials each day, such as the feijoada on wednesdays and saturdays, beef or chicken pancakes on tuesdays. For you mad about brazilian beef, they have good charbroilled picanha and steaks every day! At night, it is an intelectual joint where many authors have their autograph sessions, and you can drink and eat typical buteco’s food (butecos are small bars, where drinking is the main objective), as cheese and ground meat pastel (brazilian  version of chinese won tons) freshly fried, or pork sandwiches.

2. Rota do Acarajé, Rua Martim Francisco, 529/530, Santa Cecília

Now occupying two adresses facing each other on the same street, the waiting time is reduced if you get there on saturdays from noon to 2 PM, and it is worthy! We have friends from Bahia who recognized that Rota’s acarajés (typical bean cakes deepfried in palm oil) are as good as those from Salvador. Order a portion of mini acarajés and stuff them with vatapá, dry shrimp, ocra caruru, and salad, meant chopped onions and tomatoes. They are perfectly crispy and dry, while moisty inside, combining the flavors of all the stuffings. It is Bahia’s version of Falafel. They also have many other Bahia dishes, as fish and sea food moquecas, quiabada (pork and beef cured meats, sausages, dry srimp with ocra), Shrimp Bobó (stewed manioc, cilantro and jumbo size shrimp), Vatapá (cream of manioc flour, coconut milk, cashew nuts, peanuts, dry shrimp, palm oil)  and many others. Also there are delicious desserts, as milk and ginger flan, coconut flan, baked cocada (coconut and condensed milk). And to drink very good caipirinhas from brazilian northeastern fruits.

3. Restaurante Ita, Rua do Boticário, 31, Largo do Paissandu, Centro

A very popular and simple working class restaurant, it has been serving comfort homy food since 1953. It has a long W shaped counter, where everybody seat side by side. Fresh juices are squeezed at order, and served in 1 liter jars for R$ 6.00. Orange, Lime, Pineapple and Passion fruit are favorites. Every day they serve whole meals in one dish (prato feito, or PF) with rice and beans, fries, lettuce and tomato salad from R$ 8.00 (if the protein chosen is a perfectly fried egg). But there are also today’s specials, for example, cod fish with potatoes on fridays, or feijoada (it is everywhere!) on wednesdays and saturdays. Don’t miss the caramel flan, which they serve by huge slices, covered with caramel from a watering can, probaly in use since 1953! And if you can’t resist, you can buy the whole flan and take it home in the aluminum baking pan, which you bring back when finished. After eating, take a walk to the nearby Rock Gallery at Largo do Paissandu, a 5 story commercial gallery where you can find hip-hop and skateboard street wear, vinyl LP stores, tatoo studios, afro hairstylists, and all that is related to rock, punk and black music.

4. Restaurante Royal, Rua Lopes Chaves, 116, Barra Funda

In the mezzanine of a commercial 2 story building, this simple restaurant gets packed with workers from the neighboorhood, once a railroad storage and maintenance garages area. They prepare excellent stakes, but we love their Parmegiana stake. A huge tenderloin stake, breaded and fried, then covered with tomato sauce and mozzarela, then finished on the oven to arrive at your table fuming and bubbling! An italian friend told me he has never eaten a parmegiana in Parma. So, it must be a typical paulista recipe. Nevertheless, he and we love a good parmegiana steak!

5. Restaurante PASV, Av. São João, 1145, Centro

PASV is that kind of family restaurant back from the 60’s, where you can either seat by the counter or in one of its many tables. The food is simple and well cooked, with many spanish cuisine specials as paella (call and order in advance, or wait up to 1 hour while drinking with your friends), octopus in olive oil and paprika, spanish stews on sundays, and of course, feijoada on wednesdays and saturdays! But our favorite is the grilled lamb, with perfectly spanish fried potatoes and broccoli. And most dishes serve 2 persons!

6. Frevinho, Rua Oscar Freire, 603, Jardins and Rua Augusta, 1563, Cerqueira César

This diner is a classic. They invented a typical paulista sandwich, present in every other diner in town, called beiruth. The only middle eastern ingredient is the pita bread, and at Frevinho the best is the salad beiruth, with roastbeef, bacon, lettuce, tomato and homemade mayo, topped with grilled cheese. It comes perfectly crispy and hot. Also they serve one of the best papaya cream with cassis for dessert!

7. Restaurante Sujinho, Rua da Consolação, 2063, Consolação

Once called Whore’s Bar, because it was open till late hours and sexual professionals from Rua Augusta came after work to eat good food, side by side with taxi drivers, and bohemians, now it has been renovated and is always packed with all kind of people, big families at lunch and eccletical public at night. Famous for the charcoal grilled beef chops, served with portuguese fried potatoes and special egg farofa, that is our certain choice. It works nonstop from lunch till late hours, so it is a good stop for that too late lunch or dinner. They also have a nice Burger diner, next to the restaurant at rua Maceió, 64. Only one detail, they do not accept any credit card, so bring cash.

8. Liberdade street fair, Praça da Liberdade, Liberdade

At the heart of São Paulo Japanese/asiatic neighborhood, on sundays the plaza where you come from the subway is crowded with people who come for craftwork and other recuerdos, but mainly for good street food. Shrimp skewers, vegetable tempura and our favorite, big guioza stuffed with vegetables and pork! Other typical brazilian snacks, such as chicken coxinha and pastel are also present. To drink look for the fresh squeezed fruit juice stand and the interesting bilingual menu. Imagine translating regional fruits into English!

9. Liberdade has many of our favorites restaurants

Just to name some of them, Sushi Lika (Rua dos Estudants, 152) is one of our favorite sushi bars in town. Seat over the counter and ask for the freshest fish of the day. Other favorites: Deigo (Praça Almeida Jr, 25) for Okinawa specialties, manily pork chops, pork knee and Sobas. Kidoairaku (Rua São Joaquim, 394) is a family restaurant, yet the food is sophisticatedly simple. For those who wish to go beyond sushi. Chi Fu (Praça Carlos Gomes, 200) is a huge chinese restaurant, with over 200 plates on the menu. We love the peking duck, sweet and sour pork, and of course, shrimp from big to enormous, probably the less expensive shrimp in São Paulo. No credit cards accepted, except for Sushi Lika.

10. A Queijaria, Rua Aspicuelta, 35, Vila Madalena

Engaged in the movement for legalization of artisanal raw milk cheese from Minas Gerais, Fernando and his wife have started over 1 year ago this cheese shop. They sell cheese from many Brazilian regions, all made with the traditional artisanal, non-industrialized methods, many with raw milk and either cow or goat milk. Go for a tasting session, and feel all sharpness of Canastra cheese, from different producers and with different cure times. Also, they have salami and other charcuterie, whole grain breads, microbrewery beer, wine, cachaça and honey from indigenous bees. Perfect for a picnic at Praça do pôr-do-sol or Praça das corujas nearby. Also, take a walk on the grafitti alley (called the Bat Cave) just by the side of the store.