The food in Rio is very good, you can't go wrong. Some inexpensive suggestions in Ipanema and Leblon:
Degrau - traditional carioca place, Brazilian food, inexpensive and really big portions for family style meal.
Artigiano - Italian, cash only, moderate price
Stravaganza - really good pizzaria. Brazilian pizza is delicious, you should definetely tried it.
Fellini - it's a kilo, you pay by the weight like in a NCY deli, but it's much better. You have waiter service and a great selection of entrees and salads. There are many great kilos in Rio. There is one near by the General Osorio Square (where the hippie fair is located) that is really great, but I can’t recall the name now.
Go for sandwiches and juices in a juice bar, Polis Sucos, at Maria Quiteria Street on the corner of Visconde de Pirajá in Ipanema is quite good. Brazil has amazing fruit juices, don’t miss it.
Have a tapioca (yuca flour crepe) at a street cart.
Go for ice cream at Mil Frutas (A thousand fruits) at Garcia D'Avila (Ipanema). As the name says, you will find many different fruit flavors there.
Go to a botequim for salgadinhos (savory Brazilian snacks) and beer after the beach. Manoel e Joaquim in Copacabana is quite good, they also serve food. Another very traditional botequim in Rio is Bracarense in Leblon.
Alessandro e Frederico – great for lunch. They also have a pizzeria that serves a great antipasto. Both at Rua Garcia D’Avila, Ipanema
Gula-Gula - great for lunch after the beach, if you can get in... Great for salads, quiches, desserts - Ipanema
Celeiro - for lunch, great salads - Leblon
The above are all inexpensive suggestions.
Some more upscale (and more expensive):
Gero – Italian (great food and people watching). I had a wonderful risotto there - Ipanema
Fasano al Mare – Seafood, Italian. Really expensive and I am sure really good. I have only been at the one in Sao Paulo. Same owner as Gero - Ipanema
Careme Bistro – great food, very creative chef, new-Brazilian. I went there only once and it was really great, expensive, but worth it. The chef, Flavia Quaresma, is very hands on and she is in general there talking to people. At least she used to be, she is getting quite famous. - Botafogo
Carlota – also new Brazilian, the chef uses traditional Brazilian ingredients with nouvelle cuisine techniques. Try the soufflé de goiabada (guava paste) or petit-gateau de doce-de-leite for desserts. - Leblon
Roberta Sudbrack – I heard it’s great, very expensive, she only does pre-fix menus for a small group of people. She was the former president’s chef. – Jardim Botanico
Olympe – French, expensive and supposed to be very good, I haven’t been there yet. – Jardim Botanico
Aprazivel – I heard good things about the place but I haven’t been there yet. It’s suppose to have a beautiful view and very good food. - Santa Teresa
Antiquarius - Portuguese/Brazilian - very traditional and old school. Expensive but very good food and good service. - Leblon
I hope you enjoy my home town. It's a great place to eat.
This is a great list and addresses all the OP's interests.These restaurants will give you the carioca experience.
Hey Toot, I went to Aprazivel in March, still trying to catch up on my posts, and will be doing a Rio report soon.Apravizel is breathtakingly beautiful, a true rainforest setting.The food is simple, yet elegant.It rained will we were there and the waiters brought our food covered by umbrellas.The thatch roof provides adequect cover from the rain.It was beautiful and I can't think of a more romantic setting.
I will also second Bracarense, Degrau, Mil Frutas, Manoel e Joaquim, Gula Gula, and Fellini.
If you're lucky, some excellent bolinho de bacalhau on the beach or a roving shrimp with lime on skewers vendor will cross your path.Go to Devassa in Copa for a Shoppe(beer from a tap).And, anothe shout out for Confeiteria Colombo for desserts and salgados.
Mea culpa . . .
I was wrong on both counts:
-- The quilo near the Hippie Fair is Fronteira, on Visconde de Pirajá. There is a quilo called Fazendola also, and it's not bad, but Fronteira is newer and better.
-- Caremê Bistrô did not move, they're still in Botafogo
That'll teach me to think that I can clarify anything from Toot!
Sorry to be posting so late but I would also throw in D'Amici in Leme. It is definitely on the pricier side but it is great food. Mio and Terzetto in Ipanema are also good. All three are better than Gero in my opinion, but everyone seems to love that place but me.
I second Polis Sucos, and, FYI, right down the street on Maria Quiteria is a Koni store, and the handrolls there are a perfect and cheap snack when you come off the beach.
We live in the US but have an apt. in Copa. Because of the economy we haven't been down in almost two years :( But just booked our flights for a three week holiday starting 9/20. This is a great thread and I'm looking forward to checking these places out. Maybe some of us can get together for a meal while we're there. Thanks for all the recs.