There are of course many restaurants in Rio de Janeiro, it’s a big city. What I will try to explain to you here is how they work and where is good to go. I have also created some pages with more detailed information on some areas, there are links to them in the text. Lets start with some general information.
To start with I’d like to say that you will benefit from arriving at a restaurant in Rio with a lot of patience at hand. The waiters are many times slow, they may give you the wrong dish and may have a very indifferent attitude to their job than you are used to. There are some brilliant exceptions but in general you have to put up with a pretty low standard. Being nice helps a lot, Rio de Janeiro is a very personal place and with a smile you can get far; a grumpy attitude works against you.
Normally you don’t have to tip, a so called service charge of 10% is added to your bill, those 10% end up on the waiter salaries. Additional tipping is customary if you are more than satisfied with the service. If you have had bad service in any way you can actually ask not to pay the 10% – note that this is if the waiters have given you bad service – if you are unhappy with the food you should complain to the manager and try to obtain a discount. Some restaurants have a practice of not adding the 10% service charge, then it’s up to you, normally the waiter will keenly make this clear.
As much as I’d want to I can’t say that the restaurants in Rio de Janeiro are particularly good – I give them ok. You do get great BBQ houses, the pay-by-weight restaurants are good and some expensive establishments are not too bad. I can see two big reasons to this. The first is the quality of ingredients; you do get good red meat and nice fruits. Unfortunately it’s very hard to come by really good vegetables, staple foods, high quality spices – dairy products are down right bad (you can’t get real fresh cream for instance…), in general the selection is also very limited. The second reason I guess is that the Carioca palate is for oily, sweet and salty food – not many spices are used. In the more expensive establishments influences from abroad have made their mark, the contemporary cross-over food is very popular. The Rio Asian food, aside from some Japanese Sushi restaurants, is in my view lacking the genuine touch though (again probably a result from not having the right ingredients?). Read more about this in my International Food in Rio section. There you will also find some restaurants I recommend in the category. I do think that Rios culinary standard will rise quite a lot in the near future, the interest is there. It is already one of the better places for food on the South American continent.
The lunch options are quite good. You can have an açaí or a fruit juice with a natural sandwich in most corners around town. The beans-rice-fries-meat options are also plenty, for a cheap price you can fill your stomach. For lunch I myself prefer to visit one of the many pay-by-weight restaurants. Here you can compose your own meal and it doesn’t turn out too expensive. Read more about this in my Lunch in Rio section. Here you also get some tips for restaurant in Rio.
You’ll be spending a more money on dinner than on lunch, cheap options are a lot more scarce. There are in my view some restaurants in Rio that are really worthwhile. On my page Dinner in Rio you can find some of my recommendations listed under the categories price and neighbourhood. If you are interested in trying out the traditional Rio food go to Brazilian Barbeque where you can read about that and also get some addresses to restaurants I recommend.
Although the traditional way to drink coffee in Rio is standing up at your local corner bar today you can find quite a few cafés. Most of these have opened the last 10 years and it seems like the trend is growing. You find many in more affluent neighbourhoods but it is slowly spreading to other parts of the city. Check out Cafés in Rio and you’ll find recommendations with addresses, all listed by neighbourhood.
Vegetarian Restaurants in Rio
There are quite a few good options if you don’t eat meat. Check out this list of Organic & Vegetarian Restaurants in Rio.