This article is adapted from AQ’s print issue on transparency and the 2018 elections
“When people say they are envious of my job, I always respond that I eat worse than all my friends,” chuckled Josimar Melo. Whenever the esteemed restaurant critic for Folha de S. Paulo has a less-than-stellar restaurant experience, he tries the fare repeatedly before he writes a review. “I’m the only person I know in the world who goes to a bad restaurant three times, to eat poorly.”
It’s a playful exaggeration, of course. Born in Recife and raised in São Paulo, Melo now travels the world as host of the National Geographic food and culture show The Guide, and presides over the Brazil jury for the annual World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. In 25 years as Folha’s restaurant critic, he has also become an advocate for Brazil’s burgeoning farm-to-table movement.
“We must show that it’s possible to have high-quality food in large quantities,” he said.
AQ asked Melo to design his perfect food Saturday in São Paulo. Overflowing with ideas, he suggested we narrow the conversation to restaurants specializing in Brazilian cuisine.
Breakfast: Lá da Venda
On weekends, this colorful Vila Madalena café offers an abundant buffet with homemade breads, cakes and sweets that are traditional to the São Paulo countryside.
—Rua Harmonia, 161
This São Paulo fixture offers cheap yet sophisticated food, said Melo. Be sure to try the mocofava — a traditional cow’s-foot soup with favada (butter beans with sausage, bacon and jerked beef).
—Avs. Ns. do Lorêto, 1100
Afternoon Snack: A Casa do Porco
Located in the historic center, this bar and butcher’s shop offers popular street food made from gourmet meats. Melo suggests ordering from the window on the street, where they sell traditional sandwiches like “hot pork” (think hot dog, without the mystery meat).
—R. Araújo, 124
Finish the day with the best of contemporary Brazilian food. Chef Helena Rizzo is “reinterpreting the flavors, recipes and ingredients of Brazil,” said Melo. He recommends the arrowroot and arracacha gnocchi served in a Japanese-inspired broth. “It’s a small masterpiece!”
—R. Joaquim Antunes, 210