While traveling to Brazil, many end up with short layovers in São Paulo when, in reality, the bustling and vibrant city should be the main attraction for food-loving travelers.
São Paulo is a culinary mecca where most street corners offer a destination of delicious smells and tastes. Like New York and Mexico City, there’s a plethora of places to stay and hundreds of restaurants to eat and imbibe in this gargantuan city. The following is a list highlighting a few neighborhoods and what to do in their surrounding areas.
While traveling to Brazil, many end up with short layovers in São Paulo when, in reality, the bustling and vibrant city should be the main attraction for food-loving travelers. São Paulo is the largest city in the Americas, and although plagued with traffic, it also has some of the country’s best restaurants, museums, and culture. So ignore the traffic and find an incredible tour guide company like Go Aura (ask for Aurelio) to help determine which neighborhoods offer the best places to stay, eat, drink, explore, and shop. Indeed, a must is the São Paulo Museum of Art, which boasts Brazilian artists like Tarsila do Almaral and classic artists like Renoir and Monet. And when you’ve had your fill of great art, pick an exciting neighborhood like Jardins to go shopping (Brazilians love shopping malls) and hit up many of the eateries along the way and immerse yourself like a true Paulista at one of the best culinary epicenters of the country.
WHERE TO STAY
The Renaissance Hotel chain previously catered to business travelers, but its cadence has changed to a cooler and hipper brand. Its high ceilings and sleek design exude warmth like the Brazilian people who work there. Check in and receive a glass of bubbly on the house, and if you’re lucky, live music will be playing in the lobby, which connects to a beautiful bar and sushi lounge. Ask for a room on one of the top floors to get a true panoramic view of the city through your oversized windows. You’ll find a top-of-the-line fitness center open 24 hours a day, or get a massage at the spa, where you can head to the sauna, an expansive pool, and a jacuzzi. They offer plenty of standout food options here, but I’ll dive into those later.
Renaissance São Paulo is in a prime location in the Jardins neighborhood. It’s located near the main Avenida Paulista, where you’re about a 12-minute walk to the Museum of Art of São Paulo. This museum is internationally acclaimed and contains art from around the world, including modern art from famous Brazilian painters to well-known European artists like Picasso, Monet, and Renoir. Afterward, head outside and walk to one of the many small parks nestled along the city to take a break from burgeoning city life and get lost in a micro jungle with birds squawking in the distance. The parks in São Paulo are a wild contrast to the buzzing metropolis surrounding them. Ibirapuera Park, less than 2 miles from the hotel, must not be missed.
For a chic and modern hotel that opened last year in a quieter part of town, you’ll definitely want to check out JW Marriott São Paulo. This hotel emanates luxury. The black and white marble throughout the lobby frames the fresh flowers placed strategically to complement the Brazilian art that abounds throughout the property. Walk by the breathtaking red and gold spiral staircase while you pass the eye-catching Bar Caju before taking the elevator to your room. With 258 rooms, there’s something for everyone. Whether you stay in a deluxe guest room, the extraordinary presidential suite, or one of the apartment suites, the famous Estaiada Bridge and skyline views are fantastic. The rooms are bright and contemporary, with wood accents everywhere. The apartment suites feature a spacious standalone bathtub, perfect for relaxing after a busy day. Or, if you prefer, find your way to the spa on the bottom floor and take advantage of all the amenities, including facials, massages, or simply the tranquility of the heated indoor and outdoor pool. Each choice is a wonderful way to end a travel day.
WHERE TO EAT
Whether you’re staying at the Renaissance São Pauloor or not, Terraço Jardins is a stunning restaurant that guests and locals reserve for its garden-like ambiance with plants at every corner. Chef Raul Vieira helms the restaurant with a menu highlighting elevated and beautifully presented Brazilian food consisting of fresh ingredients from local purveyors. Start with fresh tuna with avocado, and then enjoy the crispy bolinho de arroz, which reminded me of arancini, the Italian rice ball. There are many meat options everywhere, but if you’re feeling pescatarian, try the fish of the day with grilled shrimp in a moqueca sauce reminiscent of a Thai yellow curry with coconut milk. Pace yourselves because dessert is a must here. Order the brigadeiro tart, less dense than a chocolate fudge cake. You’ll find brigadeiro at every pastry shop in Brazil. It is the quintessential dessert at all birthday parties, whether you’re turning one or eighty-one. Another popular Brazilian dessert is arroz doce— rice pudding. And it’s not your classic rice pudding. At Terraço Jardins, it’s coconutty and torched like creme brûlée with condensed milk, making everything creamier and more decadent. Terraço Jardins is also open for breakfast, and you’ll find an incredible breakfast buffet with omelets made to order.
For another memorable meal, Vista Ibirapuera by Pedro Oliveira boasts a Michelin nod. Located on the Museum of Contemporary Art’s roof, it offers expansive views of Ibirapuera Park and the rest of the city. If you’re a cocktail lover, the cocktails are some of the best in town. Ready to elevate your beverage game away from caipirinhas? Vista is the place. Using the fruit juice from the caju (the fruit that produces the cashew nut), the Caju Amigo combines cashew fruit jam with vodka for a refreshing twist on the classic cocktail. For a drink reminiscent of a piña colada but better, try the Triple Coco with cachaça, coconut milk, condensed milk, dehydrated coconut, and coconut foam. In terms of food, the popular choice is Carne-De-Sol, salt-cured steak usually from the Northeast of Brazil, which is like dry-aged beef but saltier yet texturally smooth, served with an addicting piece of the fluffiest cassava bread. Try the gnocchi with taleggio cheese and truffle butter if you want something decadent. With so many options, it’s tough to choose, but luckily, you can work it off by walking the sweeping Ibirapuera Park afterward.
What’s better than an international collaboration with Italian and Brazilian flavors combined? There’s no need to answer because you’ll know once you eat at Restaurante Neto at JW Marriott. Inspired by the Italian immigrants who immigrated to Brazil, the menu is an ode to the marriage of nationalities by serving Italian dishes with local Brazilian products. Do not miss out on the homemade bread with the most luscious butter, smoked salt, and garlic confit. The star of the show is the cured cheese raviolini swimming in a delectable broth with black truffle. You can’t go wrong with either beef or tuna carpaccio, but I’d commit to beef to keep it traditional with the Italian theme. Whether you choose gnocchi, orecchiette, or my favorite, the braised tender lamb shoulder with handmade tonarelli, a square-shaped spaghetti, you’ll be perfectly content. Sip it down with a photogenic Spritz flight for a complete meal.
When you walk inside JW Marriott, it’s no surprise that the property radiates a high-quality hospitality experience. Once checked in, you’ll gravitate toward the glistening bar, Bar Caju. The menu is unique, with unforgettable craft cocktails by bartender extraordinaire Gustavo Rômulo. Their signature drink is Meu Caju, which features Brazilian gin, cachaça, cashew soda, falernum, and citrus. It reminded me of a clarified milk punch but packed a fruity yet balanced profile. One I would love to attempt at home is the Tomate. It’s Bar Caju’s take on a savory martini. It contains vodka, dry vermouth, tomato water, spices, basil, and olive oil. This martini tastes like a caprese salad and is a delightful way to cleanse your palate before the meal.
An excellent culinary neighborhood is Pinheiros. If you miss your hipster coffee shop back home, Futuro Refeitório is for you. It’s more than just a coffee shop; it’s a full-blown eatery where floppy disks can hold your place in line with a QR code attached to it. You can sit at the counter for a coffee and a pastry, or there’s a full bar where you can order breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Go in the morning to get a sense of the place and start with Brazilian coffee and a mouth-watering pastry like a salted caramel donut covered in sugar. Like New York, this neighborhood has hip and inviting restaurants at every corner. If you’re looking for a snack, Try Real Padaría for one of the most popular coxinhas in this neighborhood. The bakery specializes in homemade bread, but the famous Brazilian croquette is one of the best here because it’s not extremely heavy or greasy. The potato filling with the shredded chicken inside is delicious, and if you’re a cheese fan, order one with catupiry, similar to crème fraîche or a lighter cream cheese.
Another great area to check out is Beco Do Batman in the Vila Madalena neighborhood. It’s called Beco Do Batman because the DC character, Batman, was graffitied back in the 80s. Now, Brazilian art students and famous street artists display graffiti art in every crevice of the neighborhood. It’s the perfect place to take pictures, and it’s also a great place to shop. Discover artisanal jewelry, home goods, and gifts to take home. If you’re looking for a pick-me-up and need coffee, check out Coffee Lab, a 12-minute walk from Beco Do Batman. Here, the coffee shop looks like a house, and you order inside a quaint kitchen like you’d find at grandma’s house. This place is also home to a coffee school by coffee expert Isabela Raposeiras. The coffee is some of the best in São Paulo, all sourced in-house.
If you’re staying at JW Marriott and looking for a restaurant that locals love nearby, be prepared to be wowed by Quintal deBetti. With a couple of locations, choose the one that’s attached to a butcher shop. They specialize in dry-aged meat, but you can uncover anything your carnivorous appetite desires. The unassuming restaurant has a dramatic walkway filled with plants as if you were walking into a massive greenhouse. You’ll come across this gorgeous outdoor eatery with twinkling lights, picnic tables, and churrasco grilled on spits. Quintal deBetti is perfect for big groups, so the place is constantly filled with families and friends enjoying a meal together.
An ice-cold Brazilian beer is the move here, but cocktails are also available. If you’re curious, try a sparkling wine from Brazil for a crisp and light wine option. For food, start with their popular garlic bread and pair that with cheese served similar to Mexican queso fundido but bite-sized called queijo coalho. For beef, you can’t go wrong with any option with all types of cuts available. I ordered a ribeye because who can say no to a decadent marbled steak? Try the arroz biro biro, comparable to fried rice, with scrambled egg, bacon, and crispy potato sticks on top to accompany it. If you have room, the burger is out of this world and is drenched in cheddar cheese reminiscent of nacho cheese or like an elevated Arby’s Beef N’ Cheddar but with a dry-aged patty. Quintal deBetti is a must if you’re in São Paulo, and if you can make it early on Sunday, that’s the best choice for landing a table.
Keyla Vasconcellos is a passionate, freelance writer regarding all things food, lifestyle, and travel. She is usually searching the streets of Los Angeles for the next great bite, or she is shooting food photography for restaurant clients, or daydreaming about her next travel destination.