Our Favorite Dishes of the Year | Culinary Backstreets
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Editor’s note: This post is the third installment of “Best Bites of 2013,” a roundup of our top culinary experiences over the last year. Stay tuned for “Best Bites” from all of the cities Culinary Backstreets covers.

Bar do Adão
There are so many good fillings – 65, in fact – for the pastéis, or fried turnovers, at Bar do Adão that we appreciate their diminutive size, which allows us to eat a greater variety in one sitting. Their modest appearance belies the great care that the Ferreira da Costa family takes in making these fresh, crispy stuffed pockets. The pastel italiano, with bitter, pungent gorgonzola cheese, bright and tangy sundried tomatoes and punchy arugula, is our favorite.

Botero, photo by Lianne MiltonBotero
Bruno Magalhães, the founder and chef of the inventive Botero, in Mercado São José, takes his culinary cues from the Colombian artist Fernando Botero, who is famous for his paintings of roly-poly people. Bruno’s pudgy French fries, the batatas rústicas, are a worthy tribute to such a namesake. These thick wedges served with rosemary and pots of mango chutney and peppery mayonnaise are, according to knowledgeable sources, the best fries in Rio.

Capricciosa
This eatery serves pricey pizza in Rio’s most touristy neighborhoods, and we wholeheartedly recommend it. For date night, a carioca goes out to classy Capricciosa, with its fine wines, quality pizzas and locations in the upscale neighborhoods of Ipanema, Jardim Botânico, Copacabana and Barra. Our favorite among the pizzas is the pesto with mozzarella, juicy tomato slices and pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese).

Espírito Santa
This eatery in Rio’s bohemian-charm Santa Teresa neighborhood specializes in Amazonian – and Amazonian-inspired – dishes. While we won’t turn down a moqueca (fish stew made with coconut milk) and certainly not a dessert like the Céu na Terra (Heaven on Earth) – chocolate cake with Brazil nuts and mango sauce – we think the bolinho crocante, or battered and fried balls filled with queijo coalho (white cheese) and açaí chutney, is not to be missed.

Tapioca vendors
Tapioca vendors, like their churro or hot dog colleagues, seem to appear out of nowhere as soon as work hours are nearing to a close and cariocas in transit blanket the streets. The tapioca looks like a styrofoam pancake and is pretty tasty once filled. Carts have a variety of sweet and salty fillings, and our favorite is a bit of both – banana, queijo (cheese) and canela (cinnamon).

Fat Choi
The richly spiced and flavorful cooking of Macao combines Chinese, Portuguese, Indian and other influences, and in Rio, Fat Choi is the only place the cuisine can be found. The Assumpção family serves up a wonderfully refreshing salada de tofu com gengibre (tofu salad with ginger and scallions), a relief from the carbs, cheese and meat, all battered and fried, that make up so much of the carioca diet.

Açaí at Tacacá do Norte, photo by Lianne MiltonTacacá do Norte
The tiny snack bar, which serves the food of Pará, the state to the north, on the other side of Brazil, is often crowded with customers waiting for chilled bowls of authentic açaí. Here, the Amazonian berry is turned into a smooth, cold, creamy, purple velvet slush. It’s one of the highlights of Rio’s gastronomical scene, matched only by the real stuff served a country away in the Amazon.

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Jimmy Chalk and Lianne Milton

Published on December 18, 2013

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