From the excitement of the famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, to streets just bursting with delicious family run restaurants, you’ll find an abundance of amazing food to eat the entire time you’re in Rio de Janeiro.
This city is truly incredible.
One of the most deliciously memorable meals I had in Rio de Janeiro was at a small, morning-hours only restaurant, ‘Bar Café Rex.’
I want to share the details and juicy photos from this gem of a restaurant near Praça da Bandeira, in Rio de Janeiro.
Bar Café Rex
If food is your reason to travel, then a place like Bar Café Rex should be your first destination in Rio.
Describing themselves as both a ‘bar,’ and a ‘lanchonete,’ Bar Café Rex has a menu for everyone.
Whether its a snack, an appetizer, or a mid-day meat feast you’re after, this is a great place to sample ‘pratos típicos,’ examples of Brazil’s typical meals.
Sampling pretty much everything they have, we find the things most exciting are usually something to do with giant portions of perfectly fatty meats.
Perfectly fatty meat is something Bar Café Rex does very well.
The Chickens Draw You In…
Grab a table directly in front of the restaurant at the street side (but also counter-side) seating.
Rio de Janeiro is a massive city, but on smaller side streets like this, the atmosphere is very much one of a calming yet attractive, delicious work-day energy.
If their beautiful display of rotating chickens doesn’t make you sit down immediately, then just wait until you see the monster main-course plates of sizzling and steaming beef.
This is one of those restaurants where visiting for a working lunch means you’re looking for every opportunity to extend your lunch break hours, or just not go back to work at all.
How to Eat ‘Bar Café Rex’ Style
Family style eating works wonderfully here, where everyone gets at least one good taste of each dish.
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Each of the main-course plates will be a great lunch for one, but in my opinion all of this food is even more delicious when you’re sharing each plate together.
The menu at Bar Cafe Rex is quite large, and this is a place where you can go wonderfully overboard with any lunch order.
They offer a ton of meat, with or without vegetables, there are appetizers both for snacking and for filling your stomach. They even have some quite unique drink recipes as well.
I recommend that you start with at least a few different types of meat – their delicious sausage, tender beef, or the simply stunning rotisserie chicken. More info on each if you scroll down below.
Apertifs and Digestifs
In Rio de Janeiro, you can visit many restaurants where the meal includes an apertif, a digestif (or both, especially if the manager takes a liking to you ordering so many meat-dishes).
At Bar Cafe Rex, the manager might start you off with a quick snack of crunchy bread and a shot of their coconut cachaça. The bread is fresh each morning, and the alcohol is almost always made in-house at each Brazilian restaurant of this style.
The alcohol is not very strong, but it definitely has a higher percentage by volume than a beer or a wine. Whether its cachaça in Brazil, pizco in Peru, or lao toh in Laos, home recipes for alcohol like this makes them a great pairing with any local meal.
The one which impresses me most is the one they make with ginger. Its flavor, even more so just this full-mouth vibration (quite intense), the combination of that ginger bite coming over the sugar cane alcohol sweetness is incredible.
The drinks will be in a large bottle, usually communal, and usually ‘on the house’ (just up to the wait staff how much they pour for you, or they might even allow you to pour it for yourself).
If you’re not sure about the quality (or cleanliness) of any of these, then of course its totally fine to decline – and hey, why not just get straight to ordering the meal? But I will tell you that this is the culture (its a way to honor their hospitality as well), and the owners will be very happy if you join them in a small cup and a cheers!
Fatty, Tasty Sausage
Incredibly fatty and tasty sausage shouldn’t ever be too far from your mind, during the entire time you are traveling in Rio de Janeiro.
Linguiça (sausage) are a wonderful Brazilian snack, and they are great with a squeeze of lime, and a dab of chili oil for good measure.
The texture is what I like the most, it is almost gummy there’s so much tasty fat in the middle of each one. If only we could end every morning with a visit to someone grilling such wonderful sausage.
A Stick of Grilling Cheese for Everyone
Literally an entire stick of cheese, nicely browning from just a few moments on the grill. Notice the lines, the indentations from the hot grill, the cheese is warm throughout, the chef lifting it off the grill just moments before it begins to lose shape.
Cheeses are also a very traditional and important part of mealtimes throughout Brazil, and each province or state will have its own favorite types of cheese.
This is some influence from European cuisines which Brazil openly embraces, and you could order at least one large chunk of cheese to go with any midday meal (I recommend this especially in Salvador).
Pro Tips – Chili Oil on Everything
Grab a small plate, and just fill it with chili oil. The cheese is great on its own, but dipping it into that oil (and even stacking on a few chilis on top of your bite for good measure) will take the flavor to unbelievable heights.
Main Courses – What to Order
I can almost guarantee this will be a fun and memorable lunch, especially if your idea of ‘fun’ includes 16-inch long platters of ultra tender beef oxtail, and a juicy rotisserie chicken.
Both of these would be great for your main course order, as well as the house sirloin (not on the menu, but the chef will make it on request).
All of the food here is outstanding, and the owners are just so friendly – you could easily find yourself wanting to stay here long after the closing hours are done.
Rotisserie Roasting Chickens
You can smell these smoking aromas from a long way away.
At Bar Cafe Rex, the rotisserie chicken is the famous meat item. If you’re like me, this is what draws you in from the street. It is wonderful to just sit back and watch the chefs work, spinning their chickens in a multi-level spit-type roasting rack.
You can’t go wrong adding an entire chicken to any order.
These are pre-cut, and almost juicing even as they sit – the size of each chicken chunk is perfectly ready for those meals where your fork or knife are only optional.
The Oxtail – The Award Winner
For literally a trip-worthy, ultimately satisfying hunk of Brazilian beef, each bit of this oxtail is a treat.
The one thing I think you simply have to order at Bar Café Rex is a plate of beef oxtail, which comes with potatoes, and a huge portion of watercress vegetable on top.
This is Where Time Slows Down…
As this approaches your table, time may somehow seem to slow down. You may find yourself here in a strange internal battle, deciding whether to devour the entire plate ferociously, or sit there and slowly savor each gentle, fatty bite.
Portion sizes here are quite large, and this might be an ‘all-day lunch’ for many travelers. Basically a complete and perfect blend of fatty, meaty oils from the oxtail, covering the other items which are otherwise a nice mix of healthy ingredients.
A Combo of Happiness
The starchy potatoes are creamy, and steaming, mashing nicely together as you drip on your own portions of oil (I recommend both the olive oil and their in-house recipe of chili oil).
Whenever I think of Brazil, this oxtail, potato, and watercress combination of happiness is something that I will always think back on with both fondness and hunger. The tenderness of Bar Cafe Rex oxtail… it is almost beyond belief.
Lunchtime in Rio de Janeiro
Work throughout the week starts a bit later in the morning, but winds down later as well. What I found most common was to see that most people in Rio grab their breakfast to go, but then take a full hour’s break at lunch.
It would be hard to find a better lunchtime restaurant than Bar Cafe Rex. The perfect place to sit for awhile, and enjoy the lunchtime break time with your coworkers or friends.
Get there before noon though, or the available items may quickly come in short supply.
The chef treated us to an amazing meal, and then gave it to us as complimentary. I cannot express my thanks enough.
For the special treatment, the care and kindness, and of course, the delicious, home-style platters of food – I would absolutely love to visit Bar Café Rex again. It is among the many restaurants we will miss from our delicious and fun-filled time spent in Rio de Janeiro.
Address: Google Maps (link)
Open hours: 7 am – 12 pm from Tuesday – Saturday, 7 am – 11 am on Sunday, Closed on Monday
Prices: The chef made some special plates for us (in photos above), but you can expect to pay about R$20-25 per person (UA$5-6) for a big lunch at Bar Cafe Rex.