If you are trying to understand the unexpected melange of cuisines – indigenous, West African, European – that strikes at the very heart of Brazilian cooking, the northern Brazilian city of Salvador da Bahia should be your first destination. The capital of Brazil at its founding and for more than 200 years after, the UNESCO World Heritage city is home to some of the country’s richest culinary traditions. There are few trendsetting restaurants here like the ones you will find in São Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, but in their place are stalls selling mashed bean fritters sold by woman in flowing white dresses, seaside eateries selling spicy seafood stews sweetened with coconut milk, and countless hidden gems serving soulful regional dishes spiced with dendê oil and malagueta peppers. Here are our picks for where to eat in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil:
Restaurante Casa de Tereza
French trained chef Tereza Paim is one of the biggest names in Bahian food and her Rio Vermelho flagship is this exposed brick walled colonial building with an attached art gallery. The menu is quite classic but Paim’s sourcing and execution is superior to just about any other restaurant in the city. Try the moquecas, bobó de camarão, and xinxim de galinha, but don’t go without tasting the maniçoba, a dish made from finely ground, boiled, and slow cooked yuca leaves with smoked meats, which can difficult to find elsewhere. Rua Odilon Santos 45, Rio Vermelho; casadetereza.com.br.
Restaurante Escola No Pelourinho
Typically, I wouldn’t recommend a buffet, but this restaurant run by the SENAC culinary school and attached to a small (free!) culinary museum is an exception. The selection, which changes daily, gives you the chance to sample a lot of different, very straightforward Bahian dishes at once. Largo do Pelourinho 13, Centro.
Introduced to Brazil by West African slaves, acarajé are mashed black-eyed peas fried in dendê oil, then stuffed with shrimp and spicy pastes like vatapá or caruru. The selling of acarajé was once a way for enslaved women to buy their freedom and today several thousand vendors, called Baianas, carry on that legacy around the region. Stands are tightly regulated, ensuring all vendors follow a specific set of cultural guidelines, so acarajé don’t vary that drastically wherever you find them. However, some vendors have grown cult followings and others also sell accompanying dishes like abará (mashed black-eyed peas steamed in banana leaves) and cocadas (coconut sweets).
- Acarajé da Regina: Rua Guedes Cabral 81, Rio Vermelho
- Acarajé da Dinha: Largo de Santana, Rio Vermelho
- Acarajé da Cira: Largo da Mariquita, Rio Vermelho
Fabrício Lemos was born in Salvador but spent most of career working in restaurants at Ritz Carlton hotels in the United States. He returned home and, after stints at a few restaurants, opened Origem in 2017. It has quickly become the city’s preeminent fine dining restaurant. Lemos, alongside pastry chef Lisiane Arouca, re-imagines Bahian ingredients and recipes through a 13-course tasting menu that changes daily. Recently, Lemos opened an attached bar with food, called Gem Bar. Alameda das Algarobas 74, Pituba. restauranteorigem.com.br.
The casual sister restsurant to fine dining restaurant Origem opened in mid 2018. The a la carte menu is more eclectic than Origem, with laid back lunches and more of a gastropub vibe with snacking foods and global influences at night to pair with their original cocktails and craft beer. Avenida Santa Luzia 656, Horto Florestal; orirestaurante.com.br.
Ré Restaurante Dona Suzana
Just a few tables on the ocean facing patio of Suzana de Almeida Sapucaial’s house hidden in the car free maze of winding steps in the Solar do Unhão neighborhood, this might be the best dining experience in Salvador. Almeida does everything from cooking, to waiting tables, to cleaning, to buying ingredients. The menu for the lunch-only restaurant is short, just a few traditional Bahian dishes like fried fish or moqueca de guaricema (big-eye jack), arraia (ray), or camarão (shrimp) that are served alongside pirao, rice, and beans. There are few signs in the neighborhood, so it’s easiest to just to ask for Dona Suzana, who everyone knows. Solar do Unhão.
The ultra chic Brazilian brand Fasano opened their first hotel in Salvador in 2018 inside the 1930s former art deco headquarters of newspaper A Tarde. The restaurant is a satellite of their namesake Italian fine dining eatery in São Paulo, which has earned a Michelin star and is routinely ranked up the city’s best dining experiences. The Salvador location has the same spectacular service, but decorations that are uniquely Bahian like walls covered in banana tree fibers and chandeliers made from old sugar making equipment. The menu that differs little from the original, with the exception of a few Bahian plates contributed by Tereza Paim. There’s a climate-controlled wine cellar and the wine list is the city’s best. Praça Castro Alves 5, Centro; fasano.com.br/gastronomia/fasano-salvador.
A caranguejo is a kind Bahian crab house found in many parts of the city, especially in beach areas. The emblematic plate is crab, usually just boiled with with onion, lime, and cilantro. Elsewhere on the menus include seafood snacks like bolinho de bacalhau (cod balls) and pastel de camarão (shrimp empanadas), steamed mussels, and different variations of moqueca.
- Cabana da Cely: Rua Marque de Queluz, Pituaçu
- Boteco do Caranguejo: Avenida Octávio Mangabeira 2323, Pituba (also other locations)
- Caranguejo do Farol: Avenida Oceânica 235, Barra
Feira de São Joaquim
Many of the markets around Salvador have been formalized, like the Mercado do Rio Vermelho, losing some of their gritty charm. The waterfront Feira de São Joaquim, the city’s largest, remains in its original, sprawling glory. The maze of stalls sell native fruits, chile peppers, dried shrimp, live crabs, woven baskets, medicinal plants, clay pots, and crafts related to Candomblé. There are a food stalls scattered throughout selling typical foods, most of them crowded together near the waterfront. Calçada.
Inside the Fera Palace Hotel, an art deco building that was abandoned for two decades before reopening in 2017, the restaurant Lina is an homage to Bahian architect Lina Bo Bardi. While a buffet is served for breakfast and lunch, aimed primarily at hotel guests, the evening and weekend menu is a la carte with Brazilian dishes like yuca gnocchi, carne de sol, and their own style of Baião De Dois, a rice and beans dish from northeastern Brazil. Rua Chile 20, Centro; ferapalacehotel.com.br/gastroplaces.