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In Trancoso, a bohemian beach village south of Porto Seguro in the Brazilian state of Bahia, how one eats changes rather drastically between the night and the day. During the day, when the sweltering sun is high, the entire town is beside the ocean, where they order from beach bars and barracas or snack from a never-ending parade of roving vendors. The town, on cliff above the sea, is quiet until the sun drops into the Atlantic. It’s then that life returns to the restaurants surrounding the quadrado, Trancoso’s UNESCO-protected town square, and its surrounding streets.
During the day you can find an acarajé (bean patties fried in dendê stuffed with shrimp and other fillings) cart, Acarajé da Dona Nén, on the beach at Praia dos Coqueiros. There is another acarajé cart that is open in the afternoons until the evenings at the plaza at the start of the quadrado, which is sided by two tapioca stalls, Tapioca A Colina and Tapioca da Elma.
-Pineapples: A mule powered cart, Manoel da Abacaxi, is loaded up with pineapples and roams up and down the beach.
-Queijo Coalho Grelhado: Kebabed coalho cheese grilled it over buckets filled with hot charcoal.
-Lagosta and Camarão Grelhado: Grilled lobster and shrimp.
–Pasteis: fried hand pies studded with shrimp or fish.
While Uxua, a collection of beautifully restored fishing houses surrounding the quadrado, is Trancoso’s most luxurious place to stay, their two forward-thinking dining options (see Uxua Beach Bar below for the other) are quite reasonably priced. Their dining service begins with homemade ice creams (jenipapo/ jabuticaba, açaí/guarana, or cocada/mango) that utilize the fruits that grow on the property. Blossoming into one of Trancoso’s most creative restaurants with former Mandioca cook Ju Pedrosa’s eclectic menu driven by Bahian ingredients, don’t miss Wednesday evenings when Pedrosa serves a set menu based around a different international cuisine. Uxua.com.
Set in antique wooden fishing boat beneath a thatched roof on Barra do Rio Trancoso, a 500-meter beach beside the Trancoso River, this chilled out beach bar serves the best food and drinks near the ocean. You can get your Netuno or caipirinha fix there while snacking on skewers, dadinhos de tapioca (fried tapioca cubes), and ceviche. Uxua.com.
After cooking at Alex Atala’s famed restaurant DOM in São Paulo, Paulo Sitolini opened up a fine dining restaurant on the quadrado for several seasons that focused on Bahian ingredients. That closed and he opened up this gourmet burger spot with big, meaty burgers and hot dogs, plus fries slathered in cheese and bacon. Facebook page.
The best traditional Bahian food comes from owner Donna Janete’s restaurant Vitoria on the quadrado. Their two-person moqueca (seafood stew) is one of Trancoso’s can’t miss dishes, though all of her hearty Bahian specialties – casquinha de siri (stuffed crab shells), escondidinho de carne seca (salt cured meat and yuca), bobó de camarão (shrimp stew) – are worth a meal. Additionally, Janete’s family members also run several of the other Bahian restaurants on the quadrado, such as Silvana e Cia beside Uxua, and the menus are pretty much the same. Facebook page.
At one time the beachy chic interiors of Jacare do Brasil was the setting for a partnership with celebrated Argentinean chef Francis Mallmann for a branch of his restaurant Los Negros. It only lasted a few summers, but the fish and classic Argentine cuts of beef (ojo de bife, bife de chorizo, etc) grilled over a wood fire are still there, plus there’s a long list of comfort foods like pastas, ribs, and burgers. jacaredobrasil.com.br.
Chef and cookbook author Tatiana Cardoso, who has run São Paulo restaurant Moinho de Pedra for decades alongside her mother, opened this vegetarian restaurant in Trancoso in 2017. The menu – often with Brazilian, Bahian, Mediterranean, Arabic and Indian flavors –adapts daily to what Cardoso is able to source from small Bahian farmers, and recreates dishes like casquinha de siri with legumes and stuffs cannelloni with heart of palm. The restored quadrado house, decorated in the colors and flowers of the namesake Jasmine Manga tree, features art and woodwork from local craftsmen. Facebook page.
A Trancoso institution, the high-ceiling Maritaca’s wood burning ovens pump out the town’s best thin crust pizzas for 15 years. Everything is made from scratch, including pastas. There’s also a grilled octopus with heart of palm that’s easily one of the best dishes in Trancoso. They recently opened a small gourmet shop, Empório Maritaca, with imported and hard to find items.
Trancoso’s first restaurant started off as a macrobiotic café when hippies started moving into town in 1985. Now Capim Santo is an elegant restaurant with live music on most evenings, has its own hotel, and Cordon Bleu trained chef Morena Leíte has expanded the concept to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. The food is a sort of contemporary tropical Brazilian mixed with Mediterranean with dishes like tapioca millefeuilles with aratu crab, seafood risotto, and straightforward grilled fish, lobster, and meat dishes. capimsanto.com.br.
Also, a 12-room hotel, El Gordo is perched on cliff top at the edge of the quadrado and offers one of Trancoso’s most spectacular views from the pool side dining area. A mix of Brazilian, Portuguese, and Asian influences, there’s octopus rice and grouper in cupuaçu sauce, and plantain and cashew nut risotto, as well as a dozen or so meats grilled on their new Argentine style parrilla. Their cachaça list is 50 deep. elgordotrancoso.com.br.
Off the quadrado, this Peruvian restaurant and pisco bar with a vaulted thatched ceilings and a pool table is one of just a few non-Brazilian dining options in Trancoso. The menu is comprised of Peruvian standards like a handful of different ceviches, causas, lomo saltado, and tacu tacu. Facebook page.
For the real flavors of Bahia, head to the Saturday morning market near the intersection of Rua Tancredo Neves & Rua Dom Pedro 1. At this vibrant, colorful marketplace are truckloads of oranges and pineapples, rainbows of fresh cacao, bright blue crabs on wooden tables, men removing the scales from yellowtail snappers, chilies in plastic bottles with vinegar, and countless types of manioc flour.
Owned by an Australian and his Trancoso born wife, this narrow coffeehouse on the plaza has artisan Brazilian coffees and a menu of light far like açaí bowls, apple strudel, and juices from Bahian fruits. They also have tastings of Brazilian cheeses. Facebook page.
This cutesy pastry shop near the plaza specializes in brigadeiros, Brazilian bon-bons made with sweetened condensed milk, butter, and chocolate that get filled and covered in ingredients like pistachio, tapioca, coconut, and even churros. Facebook page.
The street level bar and eatery below a hostel of the same name on Praça da Independencia, a 15-minute walk from the quadrado, is a local hangout with some of the best vibes in town. It’s only open a few nights a week, but serves cheap beer and Netuno, has a menu of sandwiches and bar snacks, and occasionally has live music. Facebook page.