Food, caipirinhas and fun in Sao Paulo

Where to stay: one of the top hotels in Sao Paulo, Unique Hotel, is THE place to stay. With rooftop lap pool, two pools (and a slide) in the downstairs gym that also boots underwater speakers, it is time well spent at a luxury hotel. The staff are very helpful and even guided our taxi driver, who got completely lost driving around in circles, to our destination. The hotel is also home to one of the top bars in the city (Skye bar) which is lively on Friday and Saturday evenings and also home to a well known sushi restaurant. The last point is that the hotel is conveniently located amongst the middle of most things and is right next to Ibirapuera Park which is like New York’s Central Park.

What we did: so we spoke with a bunch of locals, as well as friends who have travelled through Sao Paulo and did quite a bit of research before heading there. The conclusion seemed to be that, in one of the biggest cities in the world, there’s not a whole lot of “sight-seeing”. In fact, the best parts of Sao Paulo are the nightlife – food, bars, clubs and music. So here goes a list of things that we did and recommend.

Day 1 – you should start the trip with some homey Brasilian cuisine at Brasil A Gosto. We were told that this is not a touristy joint and is rather a location more frequented by locals. In fact, no one at the restaurant spoke English except for the Chef who greeted us warmly and the maître d. There’s the standard menu and also a seasonal menu which changes as the Chef likes to switch things up. The food was tasty and rich and had the home-cooked essence to it. The Mineira dish was delicious with the pork being crispy on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside with the sides adding rich flavor. Next stop is walking down Rua Oscar Freire which is the shopping district filled with high-end designer stores… be warned though, it is cheaper to fly to New York and back to purchase those items than to buy them from Rua Oscar Freire. Dinner at Kinoshita is a must (this Japanese restaurant was so fantastic that it deserves its own review, which is to come).  Our friends actually recommended we go to Mori Sushi, but our concierge strongly suggested Kinoshita; since we succumb to peer pressure easily, we went and it was worth every single reais (Brazilian currency).  Then you can burn off all the calories by going clubbing; we went to Museum. Here’s the thing you need to know (because we had no idea how to communicate in Portuguese), the way that clubs work in Sao Paulo is that the guys get a card upon entering the club which requires them to make a minimum spend. At the end of the night, you pay for the card in order to leave the club. Girls, well they get in for free. On other thing to note is that, perhaps because it was a holiday weekend and most people leave the city during the holiday weekend, but we were not impressed with the club scene – at least not the one at Museum.

Day 2 – Brazil is home to one of the largest Japanese communities outside of Japan. Therefore, a great place to visit is area called Liberdade (a kind of Japan-town). There, we managed to stumble upon Lamen Kazu, which serves up ramen that is soaked in a well balanced broth that was neither salty nor sweet and left us wanting more. From here, you can then head over to the Havaianas‘ store where you can pick up the renowned flip-flops (super comfortable) on the cheap ($10-$15 cheap as opposed to $35-$40 everywhere else). After this, stop by one of the coffee shops on Rua Oscar Freire (such as Dulca which has been around since 1951) for a cup of Brazilian grown coffee (or try Miscelania which is a concoction of hot chocolate, honey and hazelnut liquor). In the evening, you should enjoy drinks at the Jockey Club (where the race track is), then head to dinner at Dalva & Dito where the aroma of food will get you salivating before you even start ordering food. The fun thing about this restaurant is that the kitchen is separated from the dining area by a floor-to-ceiling glass wall that allows you to peek at your food while it’s being prepared. To top off the evening, head out to Skye bar where you should consume all flavors of caipirinhas for the rest of the night with the city lights in the background (just don’t fall into the roofdeck pool). The bar actually closes at 2am and most of the locals then head off to other places where you can follow them.

Day 3 – You can work off your hangover by spending the day lounging around the rooftop pool where you can enjoy the sunshine and also order fresh sushi from Skye restaurant. If you are still hung-over, then knock back a few more caiprinhas, because nothing helps a hangover better than more alcohol (make sure you try the caiprinhas made from cachaca which are the original kind as opposed to vodka). After a day of lying around and enjoying the pools at the hotel, head to Fogo de Chao. It is one of the city’s best churrasco joints where the meat is juicy, succulent and flavorful.

Other to dos: the locals say that, for the ladies, shopping at Daslu is a must. It is a paradise for women with a fat wallet or for women with boyfriends/husbands with fat wallets. Apparently, there’s also a closed off section where women strip down and try on the clothes off the rack while shopping maids (literally, in French maid outfits) push the cart around for them. Also, on the list is walking through Ibirapuera Park, though we were told not to go on Sundays as it is absolutely packed and if you look like a tourist, you will probably be pickpocketed. Finally, there’s a place called Grazie Dio, which on Sunday evenings has fantastic live Brazilian music.

Tidbit 1: some locals will tell you it’s ok to wave a cab down in Sao Paulo on the street, while other more protective husbands will tell you to ask the hotel or restaurant to call a cab on your behalf.  Generally, we found Sao Paulo to be relatively safe (unlike Rio de Janeiro), and we did wave a cab down on the street once.  Better be safe than sorry on this one.

Tidbit 2: certain restaurants will automatically add a 10% tip onto your bill, so check to make sure you don’t double tip.  Otherwise, it is customary to tip 10% at a nicer restaurant or if you thought the service was good.

Tidbit 3: the public transportation in Brazil is convenient and clean, but if you don’t speak Portugese, spare yourself the hassle and just call for a cab (they are fairly cheap).

Tidbit 4: US’ summer is Brazil’s winter, but not the winter you’d imagine; it’s 80+ degree farenheit most of the time.  We actually didn’t mind the “winter”, and actually even prefer it because it’s less crowded and less touristy.  Plus, we practically had the entire hotel and its amenities to ourselves.


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