By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Sitting on the same block as iconic late night destination Pizza Guanabara on the far end of the typically quiet and chic Leblon is the new open space “Mexican gourmet” restaurant La Calaca. American expatriate Kristen Caverly Peixoto from California and Carioca husband Marcos Peixoto opened the eatery less than six months ago along with chef Antelmo Faria.
The sleek ambiance consists of darkly-stained modern wood with some low cushioned benches inside, as well as a stylized service bar perched to one side overlooking the intimate dinning area. The feel of the place fits in nicely with Leblon’s upmarket eateries, and being next to other popular destinations should keep the foot-traffic up, although it was quiet on a Wednesday night in post-Carnival February.
Since the soft opening in September, Kristen Caverly Peixoto explains, “We’ve actually been doing better than we expected since our [official] opening in November. It’s not easy to open up a new restaurant in Leblon! Things have picked up during the summer and we had a great turnout during Carnaval! So we are really happy with the results thus far.”
Upon arriving foreign patrons will note that the hostess speaks English a little (not uncommon for this part of Rio), and they offer a complete English-language menu with full descriptions, which is very helpful for those who have not picked up Portuguese yet.
The menu itself ranges from the staples like tacos, enchiladas and burritos, to some more ornate options like “Camerones Ajillo” (large shrimp in special garlic sauce). Everything on the menu looks extraordinary though, each described with a flair for distinction.
Peixoto says “Our best selling item, and house specialty, are our tacos. Personally, I think they are doing well because they are novelty here in Rio and we prepare them in the authentic Mexican way.”
She adds, “We also offer a variety of taco options and in one order you can choose three different flavors to suit your palette. Additionally, on Tuesday nights we have our famous Taco Tuesday where you can get three tacos for the low price of R$15!”
The chicken enchiladas (only R$24) came without the usual rice and beans which made the plate feel a little light, but the price was right. The dish was predictably somewhat mild in flavor (per the Brazilian palate) compared to what one may be used to from Mexican fare in the U.S., but there was enough happening to make one want to try more from the kitchen.
A few house suggestions are to share the Totopos with Pico de Gallo y Guacamole (R$18), which is a typical Mexican starter or try the Shrimp with “Diabinho” sauce (R$33), sautéed with tomato spicy sauce. Also the “Platos Fuertes” choices, like the Grilled Pork Loin (R$37), with eggs, spicy fries and fresh green salad or the La Calaca Shrimp (R$54), served with spicy tomato sauce and rice with sautéed veggies.
“In terms of the future of La Calaca,” Peixoto explains, “we intend to continually update our menu to offer the latest and greatest drinks and food. We will offer delivery starting mid March and our goal is to launch a Food Truck in Rio in June. If all goes well with our endeavors we hope to open more La Calaca restaurants in Zona Sul.”
Avenida Ataulfo de Paiva, 1240, loja B, Leblon, RJ
Mon – Wed: 11:30 AM – Midnight
Thu – Sat: 11:30 AM – 2:00 AM
Sun: 11:30 AM – Midnight