Rio de Janeiro: Superb Sandwiches at Cervantes

At Cervantes, a genuine Rio institution, waiters wear black ties and serve some of the city's best b i i

At Cervantes, a genuine Rio institution, waiters wear black ties and serve some of the city's best basic food, day and night. Julie McCarthy, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Julie McCarthy, NPR
At Cervantes, a genuine Rio institution, waiters wear black ties and serve some of the city's best b

At Cervantes, a genuine Rio institution, waiters wear black ties and serve some of the city's best basic food, day and night.

Julie McCarthy, NPR

You don't often hear the words "superb" and "all-night" in the same sentence, especially when you're talking about a sandwich shop. But Cervantes, located in Copacabana, is exactly that: open all night with some of the best basic food in Rio de Janeiro.

On weekends, the city springs to life after midnight, and Cervantes caters to that late-night crowd with at least 29 different sandwiches, all of them garnished with the house specialty: abacaxi, or pineapple. You can order a sandwich without abacaxi, but a note on the menu cautions that "taking it off will NOT change the price."

Cervantes is unadorned, save for the few oil paintings of — who else? — Don Quixote. But this unassuming spot is an institution: Most of the waiters have been at Cervantes since Richard Nixon was president. They sport black ties, a professional air and a sense of pride when they talk about the customers they have served over the years who have grown up to be senators, governors and celebrities — and who still stop in.

When I stopped in during Carnival late one night, Cervantes was loaded with parade goers fresh from the Sambadrome, their harlequin costumes draped over the seats.

But Cervantes doesn't just draw night owls: It's busy day and night. This popular eatery sells 800 sandwiches on a weekday, 1,200 on a Saturday or Sunday, and it only seats 75. The customer turnover is tremendous.

Clean, fast and scrumptious, the restaurant that calls itself the "king of sandwiches and cold cuts" is arguably one of the best bargains in Rio, a town not known for bargains. A steak sandwich (vegans beware) will set you back a whopping 10 Brazilian reals, or about $5. Add fries and you're up to $5.75.

You can either sit down inside or stand up at the bar outside, like a true Carioca, as Rio residents are known. There is draft beer as well as sports and politics on tap, dished out by the locals in-the-know, politicians, journalists and artists.

Cervantes Restaurante — Avenida Prado Junio, 335-B (sit-down dining) or Barata Ribeiro, 07-B (bar, no seating), Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Telephone: 55-21-2275-6147.

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