I am a fan of history and modern day living museums are particularly inspiring. I love to walk the streets of Ouro Preto, Mariana, and other Brazilian historical cities, to let my eyes pan the insides of the amazing old churches of Brazil, or even step back in time with a visit to a Fazenda. But imagine my surprise when I found a place in Rio which took me back in time with a glimpse at my own country's history.
It's not a museum but it is clever marketing - an experience restaurant in Botafogo in Cobal do Humaitá, a shopping and dining area with many cross cultural dining experiences.
Restaurante Rota 66 (Route 66) is a theme restaurant founded in 2001 which features great Tex-Mex food and an interior decorated to pay tribute to the United State's first coast-to-coast highway, founded in 1926, Route 66.
Okay, so it actually only stretches from Los Angeles to Chicago (not really coast to coast) but that is how it is recorded in history.
Certainly Route 66 is an indelible part of American cultural history. People make treks to follow its remains, visiting popular sites along the route. Restaurants and stores along its route use it in their marketing. Considering that it passes by blocks from where I live in Saint Louis, finding such a place in Rio intrigued me.
Bianca and I found it when I was looking for a place where she could experience Mexican cuisine - a personal favorite native to the area where we will be living after our marriage next year. Our original destination was another Mexican place at Cobal do Humaitá, which was closed the day we went, so we wandered through and found Rota 66. Being a current resident of the Route, we just had to stop.
The interior of the restaurant, surrounding the large bar, is decorated with Route 66 memorabilia from Road Signs to Lady Biker signs to neon signs and various other items connected to the Route 66 theme. There is seating at the bar or at tables on two levels. Service was fast and efficient and the owner herself stopped by numerous times to be assured we were well taken care of.
Open from 11:30 to 4 daily for lunch and nightly for dinner, the restaurant is located on Rua Voluntários da Pátria, number 448. While it is priced for tourists, rather than Brazilians, the food was worth the price.
Appetizers include nachos with guacamole or various salsas or melted cheese, flautas, quesadillas and batata apimentada. They offer a variety of combinations for main courses ranging from tacos to burritos to enchiladas, to salads and sandwiches. They even have ribs and T-bone steaks as well as Picanha Texana.
Bianca and I went for a combination featuring flautas, tacos, burritos and enchiladas with an appetizer of fried potato balls and quesadillas so she could sample as much food as possible. It was a little more expensive than a simpler combo but perfect for two people and there wasn't a single item that didn't exceed expectations.
Drinks include pretty good margaritas, including strawberry and frozen, as well as soft drinks and a variety of beers and mixed drinks. And the desserts are impressive as well. But then who has any room left for dessert after the delicious food. Certainly this is among the best Tex-Mex available outside of the U.S. Southwest.
Our combination with margaritas, bottled water, sodas, and appetizers ran around US$ 38, which is not bad for two people. Quantities were sizable too and we both left feeling as if we could not eat again for days. In fact, we even took leftovers with us.
I do recommend one caution: for Brazilian palates unused to the spices common to Tex Mex, having plenty of water on hand is a must. Bianca had a few anxious moments waiting for the water to arrive to relieve newly discovered sensations about which she was still forming an opinion.
It was interesting to watch her reaction to the various differences between Brazilian cuisine and Mexican cuisine. It was certainly a surprise for her to note how different it was from her own culture.
Her reaction was favorable for everything but the burrito which I found mild, but she found too spicy. Given that her friend who lives in Mexico City had told her Mexican food was abhorrent, it was a rich experience to see her enjoying it so much.
For an American in the world of Rio, despite having visited Rio three times, it was fun to be in a place that seemed less unfamiliar and more like what I was used to. So often you find foreign cuisines represented differently than we are used to in our own culture when visiting representative restaurants in other countries, but that was definitely not an issue here. Everything tasted the way I expected it to taste and they even got the details right from guacamole to the choice of cheeses to their salsa.
Additionally, I enjoyed discovering Tex Mex cuisine of such quality in place I never expected and sharing it with someone who had never experienced it. So often you find foreign cuisines represented differently than we are used to in our own culture when visiting representative restaurants in other countries, but that was definitely not an issue here. You will too.
Restaurante Rota 66 - www.restauranterota66.com.br/
Bryan Thomas Schmidt, M.A. is the Founder and Executive Director of Anchored Music Ministries, Inc., St. Louis, Missouri, USA, which provides leadership development training in the worship arts around the world. He has traveled four times to Ghana, West Africa, four times to Brazil, and also worked in Mexico and the U.S. Anchored Music teams have also worked in Bulgaria, and Italy. His articles have been published in newspapers and magazines around the U.S. He has also served as guest lecturer and instructor in Missions at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He can be reached at www.anchoredmusic.com.