Everyone told us Brazil was terrible for vegetarians and, on the whole, they’re not wrong. Expect to see a lot of cheese, bread and deep fried everything. However, there are a number of saving graces, such as per-kilo restaurants, excellent fruit and palmito. We were also delighted to find some excellent options in Rio. They’re not that cheap, but everything is expensive in Brazil and we were happy to spend some cash in-between eating in. So what is the best vegetarian food in Rio de Janeiro?
Our pick of the best vegetarian food in Rio de Janeiro
1. Anywhere that sells acai
Oh my, we love this. Mega healthy acai berries turned into a delicious frozen paste, most often served with banana, strawberries and granola. One of the most tasty and healthy breakfasts, we’ve ever come across and perfect for sunny days. Yum! This is, in our opinion, the best vegetarian food in Rio.
Cost: 2.50 – 6 reias depending on where you are
2. Per-kilo restaurants
Per kilo restaurants are all the rage in Brazil. You take a plate, fill it from the buffet, have it weighed and pay. It’s particularly excellent for fans of light food, and most per kilo restaurants have a good salad and vegetable selection. Our favourite was Papa Fina in Ipanema, which had palm pie, pastas and a fabulous array of salad.
Cost: Papa Fina cost 46.90 per kilo and was very good quality. You can find cheaper. Steve and I generally ate about 0.3 kilo each.
3. All you can eat buffet restaurants
If you’re not massive eaters, these aren’t as good value as the per kilo restaurants, but they do come with the added bonus of being able to eat as much as you like.
Time your visit strategically and it could fill you for most of the day. Best of all, there are a number of exclusively vegetarian buffet restaurants and it was at these that we ate some of our favourite dishes.
The best one was Refeitorio Organico, a two-storey affair with a huge buffet including a sushi selection and a vegetarian grill with tasty tofu, burgers and seitan. Other dishes included a vegetarian version of the traditional feijoada, vegetables we’d never seen before, and more than ten salads, such as quinoa, couscous and stewed Aubergine.
Cost: 20 reias for the buffet
Our second choice buffet was Restaurante Tempeh. This was very similar to Refugio Organico, only not in such an attractive setting. The food was great but dimmed slightly in comparison to the former. Nevertheless, the selection is good and it’s worth a stop if you’re in the Centro area.
Cost: 20 reias for the buffet
4. The Vegetarian Social Club
The Vegetarian Social Club is a great place to try vegetarian versions of traditional Brazillian dishes. We tried a heart of palm and shiimeji mushroom stroganoff with crispy yam and rice; and manioc cream with coconut milk, shiitake, broccoli, carrots and rice. Both were delicious and made better by the novelty of trying something new. It’s one if the things we often miss out on as vegetarians abroad.
The tiny restaurant, with some outside seating, is on a popular corner in Leblon, full of bars and restaurants. It also has the added benefit of being a few doors down from the brilliant Academia da Cachaça, a bar with more than 500 varieties of cachaca.
Cost: averages at about 28 reias for a main.
5. Universo Organico
Raw food in Rio! We could barely believe it! Could it be anything like London’s Saf? Hmmm, the truthful answer is not really, but it was very good. Our visit was slightly marred by hundreds of screaming children who were lining up to see Peter Pan at the theatre next door. This was cute for a while, but soon wore thin. So the location in a covered shopping/food arcade gets a thumbs down, but the food was tasty and inventive. It wasn’t all raw and our Portugeuse is awful so it was a bit of a blind man’s buff but we managed to come up trumps and tried some delicious food. We shared a raw bruschetta to start with some incredible tasting mushrooms; Steve had a mushroom burger with macademia nut paste as his main, and I ate a raw lasagne with layered vegetables. Yum.
Cost: averaged at about 35 reias for a main
We tried a few pizza places in Rio. None of them were excellent but some were very good (we’re pretty particular when it comes to pizza!). Our favourites were , a small restaurant without a name at Largo das Neves in Santa Teresa, and Simplesmente also in Santa Teresa.
Cost: averages at about 30 reias for a pizza for two.
We don’t like to eat fried food all the time but sometimes it’s perfect and there’s no shortage of it in Rio. Pasteis is on nearly every menu and is essentially a little pocket of pastry filled with something and deep fried. There are nearly always cheese ones, but we preferred heart of palm – at least you then have a slight illusion of health!
Cost: 5-10 reias