Cariocas don’t give much love to Niterói, joking that the only reason to go to this city across Guanabara Bay is for its spectacular view of Rio de Janeiro. But while less busy and far less popular than Rio, Niterói is full of lovely beaches, great museums, excellent restaurants and hundreds of bars.
Among the many reasons to visit is Salve Simpatia, a botequim – or small, family-run bar serving snacks to go with drinks – where traditional bar gastronomy mixes perfectly with delicious artisanal burgers, specialty beers and remarkably good music, especially samba.
Salve Simpatia (which means something like “Hello, my brother” in Portuguese) opened in 2012 and was known only to locals in the Icaraí area for a while. Then six months ago, owners Beto and Eduardo opened a downtown branch, within walking distance to the ferry port, where thousands of people travel to and from Rio de Janeiro every day. They also decided to make the new place into a temple of samba music and “MPB,” traditional Brazilian popular music. Both of those factors surely contributed to the bar’s success. But the real secret to Salve Simpatia’s winning formula is the food.
It’s rare to find a bar in Niterói that serves authentic and delicious botequim snacks. Salve Simpatia offers delicacies like chips made of jiló, a kind of African eggplant fried with manioc flour, commonly served in old Brazilian bars; caldo de feijoada, a special bean broth that offers all the delicious flavors of a real feijoada; and torresminho, pieces of fried pork belly, generously sauced here with cachaça, the Brazilian national spirit.
Those three tidbits alone make the bar worth a visit. But then there are the burgers, which must rank amongst the top three in not just Niterói, but Rio as well. Enormous, perfectly seasoned and satisfyingly beefy, these burgers have each been given a unique Brazilian spin. Our favorite is the Salve, made with rib meat and Canastra, a rare Brazilian goat cheese similar to Portugal’s renowned Serra da Estrela.
What better to go with burgers and jiló chips than beer? Salve Simpatia serves more than 40 different brews from all over the world. And on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, there’s samba and MPB on tap too. Definitely worth a ferry ride across the bay.