In terms of restaurants, no city on the South American continent, except for maybe Lima, has as much star power as São Paulo, Brazil’s sprawling inland city of 11 million inhabitants (20 million if you include the entire metropolitan area). New restaurants that opened in 2012 and others opening this year are giving reason to explore well beyond Alex Atala’s D.O.M. and Helena Rizzo’s Maní. Here are my recommendations:
Bar Riviera: Two of Brazil’s greatest minds in terms of food and drink, chef Alex Atala and nightlife impresario Facundo Guerra, have come together the restore the Bar Riviera, an ode to art deco concrete and neon signage that originally opened in 1949. The two level space will feature original cocktails and a menu of small plates, including an unusual sandwich made of an omelet called the Royal. Av. Paulista 2584, Consolação.
Attimo: Probably the biggest addition to Sao Paulo’s restaurant scene in 2012, Attimo might be the best Italian restaurant in a city full of great Italian restaurants. They call the style of cooking Italo-Caipira, which is a slangy way of saying country Italian. Brazilian ingredients take form in plates like purple batata gnocchi with a touch of 25 year old Balsamic vinegar. The wine list is stellar and there’s even a lengthy selection of cachaças. It’s in a beautiful space in a 1950s villa originally designed by Modernist architect David Libeskind. Rua Diogo Jácome 341, Moema.
Mocotó Café: Rodrigo Oliveria’s Brazilian comfort cooking in his father’s 30-year-old neighborhood hole in the wall Mocotó should not be missed. It’s in an obscure corner of the city that makes getting to difficult, though with the more sophisticated Mocotó Café opening next door to the original restaurant in late April or early May, you might have to make the trip twice. While the original Mocotó – a rustic, mostly open air spot with a very traditional menu – limited Oliveria’s talent, the new space will be equipped with a modern open kitchen design surrounded by the graffiti of local artist Espeto. Avenida Ns. Senhora do Loreto 1100, Vila Medeiros.
D.O.M.: Obviously. Everything you have heard about Alex Atala’s restaurant, currently #4 on the World’s Best list, is true. No other restaurant in Brazil can compare in what Atala does with strictly Brazilian ingredients. Go once. Then go again and order something else. Also try Dalva e Dito, his more casual spot nearby. Rua Barão de Capanema 541, Jardim Paulista.
Maní: One of the most mesmerizing, most authentically Brazilian dining experiences to have in São Paulo is model chef Helena Rizzo and her Spanish husband Daniel Redondo’s Maní. The pair met while working at Spain’s El Celler de Can Roca and the delicate, creative plates reflect that experience, though with Brazil’s cornucopia of exotic ingredients. Maní opened in 2006 and was most recently #51 on the World’s best list. Rua Joaquim Antunes 210, Pinheiros.
Espice: Gordon Ramsay and Tom Aikens gave promising young chef Alberto Landgraf the skills to make this contemporary Brazilian bistro into probably the biggest opening of 2011. The menu is continuously reinvented. Rua Haddock Lobo 1002, Jardim Paulista.
Writer and photographer Nicholas Gill is the editor/publisher of New World Review. He lives in Lima, Peru and Brooklyn, New York. His work has appeared in publications such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, CondeNast Traveler, National Geographic Traveler, Afar, and Penthouse. Visit his personal website (nicholas-gill.com) for more information.