Budget visitors to Rio de Janeiro often find cash flow-based panic setting in once they clock the steep prices of restaurants in Rio de Janeiro. Those at the top end of the scale would be enough to blow the healthiest of travel budgets, while even mid-range restaurants can easily come in at around R$250 (roughly US$115) for a meal for two, with one bottle of wine.
But before you start calling your bank manager to arrange crisis talks, here’s some good news: Rio de Janeiro can be a very cheap place to eat if you just know where to look.
It is possible to fill up on burgers, hotdogs and grilled cheese sandwiches from street sellers for as little as R$1, but if you’re looking for a sit-down meal there are still plenty of budget friendly options out there. Firstly, forget the upscale neighborhoods of Ipanema and Leblon, where prices tend to reflect the high earnings of the locals. Instead, head further downtown, and look for restaurants serving food ‘a kilo’ (per kilo). These pay-by-weight spots are generally open for lunch only, and the price per 100 grams is boldly displayed in their windows. While in Ipanema it is common for pay by weight restaurants to charge upwards of R$4-5 per 100 grams, in Centro this can be as little as R$1.80. For this set price you can load your plate up with everything from grilled meat, pasta dishes, savoury tarts and hot sides to sushi and more varieties of salad than you could ever have thought possible. For this reason, pay by weight restaurants are excellent options for groups, as they cater to everyone from the most hard-core carnivore to the staunchest vegetarian.
It pays to be sensible as the sheer array of foods means it’s easy to spend far more than you intended – avoid cheap, heavy staples like the ubiquitous rice and beans, and go for a variety of less weighty dishes instead if you want to avoid a nasty surprise at the till.
Time your visit well and you could be saving even more money – pay by weight restaurants are often cheaper before 11.30am and after 2pm. Although bear in mind that, as most close by 4pm, if you arrive at 3.30pm you won’t be getting very fresh food.
There are scores of cheap pay by weight restaurants to be found on and around Rua Buenos Aires, in Centro, but my personal favourite is Amerelinho, in Gloria. Handy for Gloria metro station and a pleasant place to stop for lunch after a stroll around Gloria Marina, this expansive bar-restaurant features a buffet that groans under the weight of fresh vegetables, salads, cheeses, olives and other cold snacks, while the hot food side features some 15-20 choices each day, and a meat grill sees freshly cooked slabs of meat served up to hungry carnivores. At around R$1.80 per 100 grams (slightly more at weekends) you can afford to pile your plate high.
Should you have a little left over, don’t miss a visit to the ice-cream buffet.where you can take your pick from a selection of ice creams before topping the bowl with nuts, marshmallow sauce, caramel and – my favorite – a hot chocolate sauce that freezes on top of the ice cream to make a crunchy topping. Dieters, don’t panic – the price of R$3.90 per 100 grams should be enough to keep gluttony at bay.
You’ll find Amarelinho at Ladeira da Gloria 8, across the road from the metro station. Per kilo food is served from 11am-4pm weekdays, 11-6pm at weekends