By Beatriz Miranda, Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – As everything else in this capital, São Paulo’s culinary scene is enormous and incredibly diverse. There is always a new bar, restaurant, or food market popping up somewhere in the city, and foodies know there is absolutely no space for sameness when the subject is “eating out”.
The cultural blend that has shaped the city of São Paulo is what makes its cuisine so unique: it was influenced by Japanese, Italian, Arabian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Polish flavors, having turned into one new and fascinating thing.
Latin America’s food seems to have gained much greater attention in São Paulo during the last years. With the city becoming a popular destination for immigrants and refugees from places like Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, and Peru, the exponential growth of Latin American food business could hardly go unnoticed.
Hanging around São Paulo without spotting a Latin American food business is quite unlikely these days: whether it’s a modest food station or a top-notch restaurant, several are the venues to appreciate the best dishes from Brazil’s neighboring countries.
We have put together a variety of places — for all budgets — to discover the flavors of Latin America in this capital. From Argentine to Mexican options, pick your favorite and enjoy it!
In Brazil, the “parilla” (barbecue) is known as Uruguay’s most typical dish. If you feel like trying the authentic one — or at least the closest to it — head to Fuego Celeste, in Vila Mariana, run by the Uruguayan Rodrigo Facal.
Small and cozy, Fuego Celeste serves truly Uruguayan beef cuts, like “vacío”, “ojo de bife ancho”, and “asado de tira” — all of them respecting Uruguay’s barbecue typical degree of doneness. Fuego Celeste’s menu includes classics, like the “chivitos” and typical beer labels like Patricia and Zillertal.
Like Uruguay, Argentina is also the place for traditional “parilla”. For trying the Argentine version, check Parilla Argentina, which works since 1995 in the region of Jabaquara.
Bife chorizo, morcilla, pancetta, and moleja are some of the typical Argentinean parilla options in the menu. The wine menu is a particular attraction at Parilla Argentina, with over 300 labels from diverse South American countries.
But Argentina’s cuisine is much more than parilla, and there is no better place to realize it than La Guapa, a café specialized in “empanadas”. Run by Argentine chef Paolla Carosella, also one of the judges of Brazil’s MasterChef, La Guapa has now six branches in São Paulo, in neighborhoods like Itaim Bibi, Jardins, and Pinheiros.
La Guapa’s artisanal empanadas stand out for combining the Argentinian recipe and the best of Brazil’s regional ingredients. The great prices at La Guapa (R$7,50) are another reason why the branches are always full of clients, especially on weekends. For other Argentinian empanadas, check Empanadas San Telmo, in Pompéia; Moocaires, in Mooca; and Caminito, in Vila Mariana.
When it comes to South American empanadas, the Chilean version is not at all to be put aside. Slightly different from the Argentinian and Uruguayan empanadas – in terms of size, texture, and dough — Chile’s empanadas can be appreciated in the Empanaderia do Seu Zé. One of those must-go bars in Vila Madalena, Empanaderia do Seu Zé serves big, juicy empanadas — always tasting incredibly fresh.
Working until the late hours, Empanaderia Seu Zé attracts both families living nearby and bohemian youngsters who indulge in a Chilean empanada while sharing a cold beer. Like La Guapa, Seu Zé offers quality products with very nice prices (empanadas cost around R$9). Apart from Seu Zé, the Chilean empanadas at Doña Luz, in Ipiranga, are worth the experience.
One of the biggest sensations in São Paulo’s culinary scene is the Peruvian cuisine, present in some of the most sophisticated restaurants in the capital. One of them is the hyped Osaka, in Itaim Bibi. The branch of Lima’s original restaurant serves the finest from the Nikkei cuisine — a blend of Japanese and Peruvian food. Ceviches, “tiraditos” (starters), and sushi are some of the options at Osaka, which also has a spectacular tasting menu option.
Like Osaka, La Mar Cebicheria Peruana, in Itaim Bibi, is the Brazilian branch of an originally Limean restaurant. As the name suggests, the house is specialized in Peru’s most famous dish, the ceviche, with seven different recipes on the menu.
Those looking for more affordable but still good Peruvian food will definitely enjoy Comedoria Gonzalez, also serving Bolivia-inspired recipes, in Pinheiros’ food market; Inkahuasi, in Butantã; and La Peruana, in Jardins.
The Mexican cuisine is also very popular in São Paulo, found both in sophisticated restaurants and fast food chains or food trucks. One of the most traditional is El Mariachi, working in the same venue in Pinheiros for over 20 years.
Apart from El Mariachi’s rich tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, the typical decoration and live Mexican music on the weekends make the experience complete.
As traditional as El Mariachi is Yucatán, in Itaim Bibi. Open in the neighborhood since 1995, Yucatán’s highlight is their fair price and authentic drinks. Among the irreverent and cheaper Mexican food places, La Sabrosa, in Rua Augusta, is a great idea. For further options, check Dedo de la Chica, in Vila Madalena; Habañero, in Santana; and Hecho in Mexico, in Itaim Bibi.
Although the Colombian and Venezuelan cuisines are still a question mark for many people, São Paulo’s got a couple of excellent cafés, restaurants and food trucks serving the typical food from these neighboring countries. The most popular dish from Colombia and Venezuela is the arepa, a griddle-fried cake made of white corn, stuffed with the most creative ingredient combinations one can think of.
To try authentic Venezuelan arepas, but also classics like patacones and tequeños, check Arepas Picatta, a small Venezuelan fast food in Perdizes; Bom Tequenho, in Tatuapé; Cantinho das Arepas, in Butantã; and Boteco do Arepa, in Bixiga.