São Paulo can be a pretty inhospitable, intimidating, and densely packed city. But if you look a little further, if you dig a little deeper, you discover an endless supply of good and interesting stuff.Anthony Bourdain, The Layover
As Tony Bourdain points out during one of his trips, São Paulo is the kind of city where you need to have friends to have a good time… but he doesn’t have any specific advice for how to make those friends before your first visit (Having a local fixer probably helps!). Even if you don’t have friends though, visiting and eating your way through São Paulo can still be worth it, and Uncle Tony can be your guide!
Anthony Bourdain visited São Paulo three times – twice on screen, to film season 3 (episode 9, “Brazil”) of No Reservations and season 2 (episode 4) of The Layover. During these trips, he fell more in love with the city and what it has to offer, and explored many other parts of Brazil too.
If you’re planning a first (or return) trip to São Paulo, you might be feeling intimidated: home to almost 12 million people, it’s the largest city in Brazil – by both population and footprint – and in fact the largest city in the southern hemisphere! Exploring the city can be intimidating, but if you use this guide to the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in São Paulo, you can at least rest assured you’ll eat well along the way.
In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Tekohá (Guarani) and Mbya peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present peoples of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
No Reservations (2007)
During this No Reservations, Tony confines his trip to São Paulo, a city he’s visiting for the second time (though as far as I can tell, this trip wasn’t on-screen). His decision to focus on São Paulo is perhaps rooted in his desire to change his mind about the Brazilian city.
You see, when he first visited São Paulo, Tony thought it was horrible and ugly. That’s about to change though: with the help of local friends, he grows fond of the city and appreciates its cultural richness as well as all the culinary delights it has to offer.
Bar do Mané (Mercado Municipal)
First up, Tony meets with his friend Gabriella for lunch, who takes him to the Mercado Municipal for Tony’s favorite Brazilian snack. They stop at Bar do Mané to try the famous Mortadella sandwich – this is the essential must-do first experience, in Tony’s words. The sandwich is made with thinly sliced mortadella, melted cheese, and gooey bread.
Unnamed Street Joint
After a night visiting the samba schools that open their doors for people to watch them rehearse before the Carnaval, Tony and his friends, Joanna and Renata, make a brief stop. The two girls take Tony to try a hot dog. It’s no ordinary hot dog. This one has two sausages, ham, mashed potatoes, peas, corn, lots of coriander, mayonnaise, and garlic sauce.
After a long night of samba, Tony meets fellow chefs, Rosa Moraes and her niece, Marina, at Boteco Bar.
Boteco Bar is a “typical after-work snack-and-a-beer joint where the offerings are simple, straightforward, and largely crunchy-fried delicious”. They order the bull testicles and eat them with a little bit of salt and pepper. The two ladies pair the dish with a side of potatoes fried with garlic, manioc flour, and beer. Next, the trio enjoys fried codfish and frogs, and fried rooster testicles.
Again, Anthony, Rosa, and Marina share another meal. This time at Manacá Restaurant. The place is famous for its mash-up of Amazonian ingredients and fresh coastal seafood.
They start with the quintessential must-have drink in Brazil, caipirinhas. Next, they have sweet potato puree, leaks, and bacalhau, a fish Brazilians love. Moving on, the trio enjoys a banana fish – fish wrapped in a banana leaf with spices and cooked. To wrap up, they indulge in a dish made of cauliflower puree, scallops, and truffle butter, followed by another dish made of shrimp, flambé de cassava, coconut rice, and cashew sauce.
Bar de Santa
It’s time for a proper typical Paulista breakfast. To do that, Tony meets with Renato and Pricilla at Bar de Santa. They order a pingado e pão na chapa – a freshly baked baguette, smothered in butter squashed on a hot grill, served with a large coffee.
The Layover (2012)
On his final trip to São Paulo, Anthony Bourdain digs deep into some of his favorites in an attempt to convince others to make the most of their time in the city, however long that may be.
Bar do Mané (Mercado Municipal)
Tony starts his trip at the central market, which – in many countries – is the perfect place to kick off any trip since it gives you the chance to sample a lot in a short time. He makes this particular choice to return to Bar do Mané for a Mortadella sandwich – and he treats his taxi driver to one as well.
Feira Livre da Rua Oscar Freire
Next, Bourdain meets up with Brazilian chef Alex Atala, who is known for helping promote the unique flavors and dishes of the country – instead of relying on European sources and influences as past generations have done.
They head to Oscar Freire Market (the “Free Street on Oscar Freire Road”) to stroll the stalls, doing a little seafood/shellfish shopping, as well as to try the bounty of the land: fresh fruits like avocado, acerola, mangoes, tropical pine nuts, and others.
Feijoada de Lana
Looking for a hearty midday meal, Tony next seeks out a quintessential Brazilian dish: feijoada. While most places only serve this on Saturdays (and it’s so hearty you need all of Sunday to digest it!), Feijoada de Lana serves it seven days a week, so it’s perfect for travelers.
Bourdain loves this dish, which includes rice, kale, beans, linguica, carne seca, some internal organs, hot sauce, and farofa. Along with a caipirinha, it fuels him up for the rest of his Layover, and fires him up about the great foods of the world:
Any self respecting good cook should of course value good ingredients, but to say that cooking is all about good ingredients – that is dead wrong. Most of the people of the world do not live in the Napa Valley. Real cooking and where good cooks come from has always been times and situations like slave-era brazil… where people had very little to work with.Anthony Bourdain
If feijoada is poor people’s food priced for everyone, D.O.M. Restaurant elevates everything: it focuses on using Brazilian ingredients in a fine dining setting, and Alex Atala is the head chef.
Here, Bourdain sits down with some local friends to try some high-end dishes with Brazilian ingredients: cajuína (caju juice with shrimp and chives), fried oysters with tapioca pearls and fish roe (tapioca is one of Brazil’s top products!), sous vide wild boar neck with farofa and toasted banana puree, and minas padrao (mashed potatoes and cheese in a beautiful plated presentation).
All of the dishes look amazing, especially with ingredients not commonly featured in these kinds of dining settings.
Next, the whole group heads to Ici Bistro for digestifs; this restaurant is great for French food if you’re looking for a meal inspired by the colonizing influences during your trip.
At his hotel – the Hotel Unique – the next morning after all those indulgences, Bourdain enjoys another Brazilian tradition: pingado, which Paulistas (people from São Paulo) claim is the ideal way to start the day. This drink is hot milk brewed with coffee – emphasis on the milk over the coffee – served with bread and butter.
Bourdain’s final meal is on his way out of town – literally and figuratively – as he heads to the spot he claims everyone recommended he must try: Mocotó.
Named for the cow’s foot stew with carne seca, salt pork, and bacon that he tries during his visit, this restaurant focuses on northeastern Brazilian food, which is the region that many chefs and restaurant service workers in São Paulo call home.
In addition to the namesake dish (mocotó), he tries house-made chicharrones (which are marinated, smoked, blanched, and then fried – yum!), dadinhos de tapioca ( tapioca cubes with cualho cheese and bittersweet chili sauce), sarapatel (offal stew), and pork ribs with pig’s feet and backbone sauce. It’s not a fine dining setting, but the food is definitely great!
Other Places Tony Recommends in Sao Paulo
As was common during episodes of The Layover, Bourdain recommended a number of other spots that he doesn’t visit on screen:
- Bar do Luiz Fernandes for fried feijuada balls, deep-fried quail eggs and sausage (think Scotch Eggs), and sorpresa de dona delina with lots of beer to help the fried goodies settle.
- Carlinhos Restaurante for the Arais sandwich of pita with beef kafta and parsley.
- Castelões for awesome pizza; opt for the tomato, mozzarella, and calabrese sausage pizza – and be sure to eat it with a knife and fork as Paulistas do!
- Frangó for local favorites, including galeto (young chicken with polenta cubes) and coxinha (fried dough balls with chicken and cheese).
- Hocca Bar at Mercado Municipal for pastéis de bacalhau (salt cod pastries).
- Izakaya Issa for far-flung flavors: sake and Japanese-style food (katsu, udon, takuyaki, and more).
- Lá da Venda (CLOSED) for sweet cakes, fresh fruit, pao de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread) for breakfast.
- Love Story is the late-night club – for everyone.
- Z Carneceria (CLOSED) which was a popular spot for cocktails and dancing and… more.
São Paulo Food Tours to Try
While there are certainly enough spots to be getting on with already in this post, especially if you’re only in São Paulo for a short time, food tours can be a great way to try even more. Here are a few that look to be in the spirit of adventurous eating and discovering more of what the city has to offer:
Have any questions about the places visited by Anthony Bourdain in São Paulo? Let me know in the comments below!