Finding the Best Thai Food in Rio de Janeiro

Fortunately for the lovers of spicy Thai food, several options have rounded out the culinary scene in the Cidade Maravilhosa.

By George Utley, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Although Rio is an international city, Thai food is not abundant and it can be difficult to find truly authentic Thai dishes, especially at prices foreigners may be used to. Yet in the absence of high immigration from Thailand, some entrepreneurs have tried a fusion of different culinary styles to provide the taste of Thai in Rio.

Finding the Best Thai Food in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Brazil News

Mouth watering menu offered at the Sawasdee Bistro, photo internet recreation.

In New York or London there may be an abundance of mid-tier (yet authentic) Thai cuisine, in Rio the novelty comes with a price in most cases, along with a chic or upmarket decor. Fortunately for the lovers of spicy Thai food, some new options have been opening to round out the culinary scene in the Cidade Maravilhosa.

In regard to traditional Thai spice, “It’s a matter of adapting the taste for the Brazilian culture,” says Marcos Sodré, head chef of Sawasdee in Leblon. “At first I adapted the food for the Brazilian taste, not only reducing the spiciness but also the fragrancy.”

The idea proved so popular at this stylish restaurant, which started life in Búzios in 1997, which nowadays it is essential to book a table in advance, and a new branch is opening in Ipanema in June. Delicious Brazilian fusion food is served at discounted prices for an executive lunch, while entrées start at R$64.

Another institution of Thai food in Rio is Nam Thai just a few blocks away in Leblon. In this elegant, French colonial dining room a cosmopolitan clientele has enjoyed authentic Thai dishes since 2001. Entrées start at R$44, but most are closer to R$60 thus it is not considered inexpensive.

Also in chic Leblon, Mekong produces Indian, Vietnamese and Thai recipes, encouraging skeptical Cariocas to try more exotic dishes in an accessible and informal environment. “I think that Rio is slowly becoming more cosmopolitan and thankfully there are now more options for this type of cuisine,” says owner Mary Byker. “Our standout Thai dishes in my opinion are the Pad Thai and the Massaman Beef Curry.” Entrées start around R$40 here.

When dealing with indecisive taste buds, the Mekong Mix includes a variety of options, photo internet recreation.

Opened in 2003 under Hotel Plaza in Ipanema, Opium offers some excellent Thai cuisine options. The menu also covers a wide variety of Asian culinary styles along with traditional Brazilian fare but the service from the hotel staff is often inattentive unfortunately, still, the Thai entrées start from R$48.

The other area of Zona Sul (South Zone) where Thai cuisine is taking off is Botafogo. Since 2011 My Thai has attracted customers with its friendly staff, casual atmosphere and low prices. Quick, snack-able and with plenty to choose from, the fast food format works so well here that they even offer curb-side delivery. Entrées start at R$26.95, notably less than options around Leblon and Ipanema.

The newest edition is Orienthai, which opened in 2012 also in Botafogo, serving an array of Thai and Indian dishes, from a menu designed by chefs from London’s popular Bombay Bicycle club. With a well researched wine list and enormous menu, entrées start from R$22.

While not as widespread here as in other parts of the world, it is still possible to satisfy one’s craving for Thai food in Rio. “In the past seventeen years I’ve seen a lot of restaurants opening and closing,” says Sodré. Today the majority of Thai restaurants in Rio are located at the high end, mainly tourist hotspots.

9 Responses to "Finding the Best Thai Food in Rio de Janeiro"

  1. American In Rio  May 28, 2014 at 8:42 AM

    I struggle with the first line of this article, “…Rio is an international city”.”
    Thankfully business takes me to Los Angeles once a month. It, and NYC and London, are truly international culinary cities. It’s not just Thai food here in Rio, try and find decent Japanese (not sushi), Chinese, Mexican, Greek, Spanish, French, Indian, Moraccan, Italian, etc., etc.!
    It’s even hard to find good Bahian food here.
    Not surprising, in LA I eat out every night and never “American” food.
    Just discovered a great Afghan restaurant in Pasadena last week.

  2. Robert prehatney  May 28, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    Yes, Rio is more cosmopolitan than most other cities in Brasil (Sao Paulo more so still), but there is a great lack of international food and what does exist is either overpriced and/or adapted to a Brasilian taste that doesn’t even remotely resemble the ethnic origin. Chinese – the worst! Indian? Where? Etc, etc… Most of these cuisines are inexpensive, but in Brasil they are given “novella” prices.

  3. American In Rio  May 28, 2014 at 1:49 PM

    I just re-read the article and noticed this, “In regard to traditional Thai spice, “It’s a matter of adapting the taste for the Brazilian culture,” says Marcos Sodré…”
    I’m sorry, so we have to pay too much for Thai food as Brazilians expect it to taste? That’s part of the problem living/eating in Brazil, the absence of well seasoned food.
    Most Brazilian fare is just so bland.
    And, to Robert’s comment about Chinese and Indian foods, I agree, both are terrible in Rio.

  4. John Miller  May 28, 2014 at 2:44 PM

    Sad, but the comments above voice my feelings pretty much as well.
    The upside, you learn how to cook what you want at home.

    And I am seeing more on facebook where some of the best Asian cuisine is no longer in restaurants, but in private peoples homes. And the price is about 50% of the cost of going to a restaurant!

    I applaud the efforts of Marcos Sodre and the other Thai chefs & owners for taking on this market education of Brasil with Asian cuisine. Not easy. But I am finding paying R$90- R$100+ per head for Thai food (and I like to eat Thai food 2-3 times per week) just a little bit of stretch of my disposable income budget.

  5. Barry  June 1, 2014 at 2:13 PM

    Yes I would agree with most of the above – quality Asian food is very difficult to find in Rio. The Thai for available is not authentic and way too high in price. Try finding Indian food there and it’s even worse

    I found that the pizzas are of a much better quality and would compete with other global cities in that regard – particularly Braz

  6. Robert Prehatney  June 1, 2014 at 7:38 PM

    Pizza is a whole other story in Rio/Brasil. So far the only thing that has blown me away is the price. Braz and Capricciosa are not bad. But $$$ for the most inexpensive meal to be made? Really!
    But this should be another thread.

  7. American In Rio  June 2, 2014 at 10:47 AM

    Pizza’s a good subject. I frequently make it at home and for that reason know the costs to make a good pizza. Not cheap using really good ingredients. Braz is fantastic and I normally take friends visiting Brazil there to eat. Expensive but then so are their ingredients. What I find amazing is the POOR pizzas most places serve. Poor in quality, ingredients, variety. R$30 – $50 for a pizza that you couldn’t give away in the states for 8 dollars!

    Note to the Publisher: Looks like there’s a need for a regular food column!

  8. John  June 2, 2014 at 11:56 PM

    The best Thai food I have had in Brazil is in Paraty, Thai Brasil. this is closest by far..
    hidden away in an alleyway in the Paraty old town.
    Chinese and Japanese food is still much more authentic in Sao Paulo than Rio.

  9. Robert  June 3, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    If you make a pizza at home from massa to oven, the most expensive ingredient is mozzarella de bufala. But if you make it more Italian style with much less cheese it can go for 2 pizzas. True, most Brasilian pizza you can’t give away, at any price – it’s a grilled cheese.

    Agreed, a food column would be delicious!

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