By Bryan Gregory Sanders, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Those away from home, even for just a few days, know the familiar cravings, and often enough the void can only be filled by a really great hamburger. Rio is an international city but still catching up with some foreign tastes, and although not yet known for its burgers, luckily there are a few restaurants that do it right.
Sam Flowers, American expatriate and owner of the Gringo Café explains that it’s not always that easy to find a great burger in Rio, “Brazilians in general prefer their burgers on the well done side and often [at burger places] this can lead to overcooking” which might disappoint a traveler looking for a medium rare burger.
“It is important to speak up and tell the waiter how you want your burger.” Customers are asked “how they like it” when ordering burgers like their popular ‘Gringo Burger’ which wins the prize for size and would fill any traveler’s needs or wants.
Mariana Guichard, a Carioca chef who has traveled extensively in the U.S. admits that Rio does not have hamburgers as part of the culinary culture yet. “The lettuce is always soggy, the tomatoes aren’t fresh and the meat is not all that good either… but the American-style restaurants like Costello in Gávea have excellent American burgers.”
The restaurant Joe & Leo’s has won Veja Rio’s best burger award nine times. If one is looking for a standard chain burger (five locations in Rio) this is the right place. The meat has no seasoning, and the prices are high, but has great service, and décor reminiscent of an American TGI Friday’s.
Rio local, Argentinean, and hamburger connoisseur Silvina Ana Ramal explains that quality places that value flavor and ingredients exist, like Zuka in Leblon, where she can be found weekly at the counter indulging herself in their well crafted traditional cheeseburger.
Zuka chef Ronaldo Barroso makes the case for their no nonsense burger, “our picanha meat is grounded down twice and seasoned with olive oil, rock salt, and a dash of pepper- then grilled naturally over a coal fire.” This paired with a liberal portion of fries and a salad delivers the tastes of home right here in Leblon.
Taking it even further are gourmet burgers like Botafogo’s Restaurant Irajá Gastrô’s ‘Iraja Burger’ which is a dry-aged black angus beef rib-eye ground down, perfectly grilled, topped with bacon jam, glazed onion, a light cheese from Minas Gerais, homemade bun, and paired with seasoned potato fries and a creamy butter mayonnaise for dipping – all made in – house.
Iraja has recently won best new restaurant and seems deservedly so when even their burgers are given so much thought. Chef Pedro de Artagão explains of Rio, “Here the burgers are not seen as a real meal, it is considered more as a snack. You barely see it in restaurants menus, and when you do, it is treated with special care, because of some passionate chefs.”
Some travelers might feel a sense of guilt for not solely dining on the local cuisine, which of course should be explored, but there is no need to feel that guilt if the choice of burger is the right kind.