Bela Vista (Bixiga): The Little Italy Of São Paulo

First and foremost, I want to say welcome to the inaugural post of São Paulo 360, a mini blog series that will feature various neighborhoods in this amazing Brazilian city! There’s no better place to start than the area I happen to be residing in right now: Bela Vista (Bixiga). It’s a beautiful part of town with a distinctly bohemian vibe. Before jumping into everything that Bela Vista has to offer, I want to answer one question you might have…

Why São Paulo 360?

I’ll be based here for six months, and I’ve noticed a distinct lack of coverage of São Paulo by many popular travel blogs. To fill the void, this series will serve as a comprehensive guide for visitors to the city. I also want to convince all serious travelers that São Paulo is worthy of a space on your bucket list! Not only is it the biggest city in South America, but it’s also much safer than you might think. If you want to learn some more general info, check out my initial impressions post that I wrote after being here for two weeks!

Where is Bela Vista?

Let’s first define the two areas that have been mentioned so far. Bela Vista is a large district which is bordered by the famous Avenida Paulista to the south, the Avenida 23 de Maio and Corredor Norte-Sul highway to the east, the district of Sé to the north, and the neighborhood of Consolação to the west. A map of Bela Vista is shown below.

Bixiga (pronounced ‘bih-she-guh’ and located here) is the town center of Bela Vista. It’s a neighborhood that spans a few streets in the northern half of the district. In my opinion, Bixiga is defined by two things: a ton of delicious Italian restaurants and an abundance of beautiful street art. These two attractions will be the main focus of this post. At the end, I’ll mention some other points of interest.

Street art in Bixiga

What makes Bela Vista unique?

Along the southern edge of Bela Vista is Avenida Paulista, the most famous and significant street in all of São Paulo. I’ll probably cover Avenida Paulista and its most important cross streets in a future post dedicated specifically to them since they’re more or less the center of the city. Suffice it to know that this part of Bela Vista is filled with skyscrapers, shopping malls, and a lot of traffic (except when it becomes a walking street on Sunday afternoons).

Bixiga is about a fifteen minute walk northeast of Avenida Paulista. It’s got a much more cozy vibe with colorful buildings, street art, and a dozens of Italian restaurants, as mentioned above. There are few if any skyscrapers in the area, and while it may look a little run down, it’s generally safe (although you should always exercise normal safety precautions in Brazil). Let’s first explore a few of the restaurants that can be found in Bixiga.

A colorful building in Bixiga

Italian Restaurants

São Paulo is home to a very sizeable Italian population, and many of these people settled in Bixiga. While you may not necessarily hear Italian spoken on the streets today, the most obvious sign of Bixiga’s history is its huge number of family-owned Italian restaurants. I’ve only been to a handful so far, but they’ve all been really good and are worth a try if you’re in the area. Here are some of my favorites.

Cantina Mamma Celeste

The first Italian restaurant I tried in Bixiga was Cantina Mamma Celeste, which is located here. (As an aside, if you’re wondering why all the restaurants pictured below are empty, I think I just went for an early dinner whenever I was hungry enough to get Italian food! Most restaurants in Brazil actually close during the afternoon and may not open until 6:00 or 7:00 p.m., which makes me think that Brazilians tend to eat a later dinner.) Upon entering, I first noticed the colorful decor as well as the checkerboard tablecloths.

I ordered a spaghetti puttanesca which was salty (due to the ingredients) but quite good. I also ordered a taça de vinho (glass of wine). If you choose to do the same, be prepared to answer the question, “Seco ou suave?” which basically means “dry or smooth?” Most menus don’t actually offer different bottles by the glass, so I think these restaurants typically have a ‘dry’ house red wine and a ‘smooth’ one. I personally recommend the ‘seco’ (dry). The ‘suave’ is a bit too sweet for my taste.

Cantina Gran Roma

Cantina Gran Roma was another good restaurant I found in Bixiga (located here). Gran Roma was the most expensive of the places I tried. In general, Italian restaurants in the neighborhood will cost between 50 and 100 BRL per person, depending on if you get wine and an appetizer.

The other phrase to know if you try one of these places is “couvert.” It basically refers to a small platter of appetizers that usually includes bread, olives, tapenade, and pickled vegetables. It typically costs around 10 BRL per person, and your waiter will likely ask if you want it as soon as you sit down. You can see what was included as part of the couvert on the small plates pictured below.

I also tried a spaghetti alla puttanesca at Cantina Gran Roma. I think it was slightly better at Mamma Celeste, but the dish was still satisfying here too. (If you’re wondering what puttanesca means, feel free to read more about it here).

Lazzarella

Located on Rua Treze de Maio, Lazzarella was the third Italian restaurant I tried in Bixiga. Like Mamma Celeste, they had quite a few Italy-themed decorations in their long and narrow dining room.

The baked cheese lasagna I ordered at Lazzarella was delicious, and I couldn’t turn down their couvert before the meal. If you’re going to try any Italian food in Bixiga, be sure to arrive hungry! Portions are guaranteed to be big no matter where you go.

Cantina Roperto

So far, my favorite restaurant in the area is Cantina Roperto (located here). The couvert as well as the ravioli I got there were top notch. If you only have time to check out one restaurant, this is the one I recommend!

You might be wondering why I got pasta at all of the restaurants and never pizza. The answer is that I think these high-end restaurants (50 to 100 BRL is fairly expensive for a meal in Brazil) tend to specialize in authentic pasta dishes. I did try pizza from a more casual restaurant in Bixiga, but it was nothing special enough to write about here. If I find good, authentic pizza, I’ll definitely update this post!

Street Art

In addition to great Italian cuisine, the other major attraction in Bixiga is the impressive collection of art proudly displayed on its streets. There is such a variety of styles that go so far beyond vandalism or graffiti. A lot of it is very personal and emotional work.

You’ll notice that practically every surface in Bixiga is treated as a canvas. Sometimes, art on the outside of multiple-story buildings will leave you wondering how the artist possibly even got up there to paint. Every time I go for a walk, I find a new mural or painting in an unexpected place.

It’s worth mentioning that street art exists almost everywhere in São Paulo. However, some neighborhoods have more than others, and Bixiga is definitely one where it’s a defining feature. Another area that’s famous for its art is Vila Madalena, which I’ll write about in a future post.

Other Highlights of Bixiga

Bixiga and Bela Vista have more than just Italian food and street art. Here are a few other things you can find in the vicinity.

The Area's Most Photogenic Church

Bixiga’s most noteworthy church, Paróquia Nossa Senhora Achiropita, is located right in the center of the neighborhood. It’s not necessarily the most gorgeous building you’ve ever seen, but it’s nice enough to snap a pic or two.

My Favorite Cafe

Unfortunately, São Paulo doesn’t seem to have a ton of cafes. Coffee can be ordered at almost any restaurant, but I miss the cafe culture of a place like Vietnam, where there are truly too many to choose from. Luckily, a good coffee shop is located in the center of Bixiga called Nano Cafés Especiais.

It’s definitely small, but I’ve never seen it packed to capacity. I recommend their vanilla iced coffee, which is infinitely better than anything you could ever get at Starbucks.

A Nice Bakery

Right down the street from Nano Cafés Especiais is a bakery called Padaria Camões. In addition to a large selection of baked goods, they also have a sit-down area where you can order a full meal.

My Favorite Brazilian Restaurant in Bela Vista

To be honest, traditional Brazilian restaurants can start to feel the same after a while. They all seem to have very similar designs, similar prices, and similar atmospheres. That’s why a good one will really stand out! My favorite so far is Café Bistro Feijão de Corda, located here (a little walk away from Bixiga but still in Bela Vista). It’s got all the standard dishes you’d find on any restaurant menu in the city. But every time I’ve been, it’s been just a little better than your average lanchonete.

A Word About Safety

I know most readers are probably wondering about safety in the area. Let me try to address it here. Parts of Bela Vista and Bixiga look rough around the edges. It’s not a gentrified part of town. Homeless people do live here, although that can be said of most of São Paulo.

Here’s my advice. Keep track of your belongings closely. Don’t wear anything too flashy, especially expensive jewelry or watches. The biggest risk by far is pickpocketing. Violent crime is highly unlikely because there are always a lot of people around no matter where you go. If in doubt, explore the city on foot during the daytime and take an Uber if you need to travel at night. With that said, Bixiga is certainly not a favela and I’ve never had any safety issues here (or anywhere in the city, actually).

As a final note, I’ll say that all the attractions mentioned in this post are located around the intersection of Rua Treze de Maio and Rua Conselheiro Carrão, which is busy both during the day and in the evening. There’s not much for visitors to see north of Viaduto Júlio de Mesquita Filho, the highway bordering Bixiga to the north. If you have any specific questions, leave a comment below and I’ll try to help out!

What's up next for São Paulo 360?

If you liked this post and are curious about other parts of São Paulo, then keep an eye out for my next post in the series! No promises yet, but I think I’ll be writing about Liberdade, the largest Japanese community in the world outside Japan. If there’s a neighborhood you’d like me to cover as a part of São Paulo 360, let me know! I’m definitely open to suggestions!

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This Post Has 29 Comments

  1. Is Bela Vista really this beautiful or you have made this so beautiful with your incredible pictures of the roads, street art, food and more. I am already in love with the place and one day I am surely visiting this place and going to have food at your favorite restaurant. Keeping your “how to stay safe” tips, I don’t think it will be much difficult.

  2. This sounds like such a fun place! Soa Paolo is definitely going on my wishlist for when I finally get to South America. This Italian neighborhood looks especially nice. I love colorful buildings, street art and colonial architecture, so it’s right up my alley! From the look of it, it reminds me a bit of George Town in Malaysia. I’m also a huge fan of Italian food (who isn’t) so this sounds like a great place to eat.

  3. I have never heard of this place, but it looks really amazing! I really like street art but this is just one of the reasons I would visit Bela Vista. I see a lot of cool photography spots there. These colorful houses are really picture-perfect!

  4. Must be a real thrill walking around this neighborhood. Every corner is bustling with colors! Oh, and the food looks mouthwatering!!!

  5. Love this idea of introducing “less popular” destinations! Bela Vista is absolutely stunning and I love how vibrant the area is. I’m also a sucker for Italian cuisine so it’s good to hear that they have some delicious options available there. And street art! Another one of my faves too. Seems like I need to plan a trip over sometime 🙂

  6. I havent been to Sao Paulo or Brazil before but its on the books. I can see myself wanting to walk in Bela Vista as I do love my street art and beautiful buildings. Looks like this is the area to go for the food scene which does appeal to me as I make sure I spend a bit of time in cities checking out the local cuisine. Is it safe to walk around this neighbourhood? That is my main concern.

    1. I’ve had no issues walking around Sao Paulo. People keep to themselves, and another thing is that the city is extremely diverse, so there’s no way to tell if someone is a local or a foreigner (unless you hear them speaking a language other than Portuguese). It’s generally a good idea to use Uber at night, but especially during the day, most of the neighborhoods in the center of the city are quite safe. Thanks for your question, Danik!

  7. Omg how cute is this place!! Sounds like a place I could spend so much time in!

  8. It looks like a fantastic community to spend a few hours in. Nothing better than some Italian food, drink, bakeries and some awesome looking street art!

  9. I will follow this because we have timeshare in Sao Paolo. I kept on wondering why it was Sao Paolo and not Rio de Janeiro on our inventory. I like the street art in Bixiga. I would like to read about the Japanese part of town, too. But most of all, I would like to know about the unique landmarks and the safety situation.

  10. I’ve never been to Sao Paulo but this is a great guide! It’s definitely on my list

  11. Looking at the colorful houses, I first thought it was Argentina! We really like places like this that have unique architecture, great atmosphere, and of course, yummy food like at the Cantino Roberto. We will make sure to add São Paulo when we visit Brazil again. We usually avoid cities but we would surely make an exception here.

  12. Absolutely loved all the pictures of the buildings and of course the food. Great post!

  13. São Paulo looks like a really exotic place to visit – so colourful! Thanks for sharing!

  14. This neighborhood looks like a great place to live! I would love to live close to so much authentic Italian food. Can’t wait to hear about more Brazilian neighborhoods in future posts!

  15. I’m always a big fan of highlighting underrated places. Between the Italian food and the street art, this place sounds worth a visit. Do you recommend more than one day in this neighborhood?

  16. There is definitely beautiful street art. I am planning a 2 week Brazil trip in a few years from now. Can you comment on many days you think we should you spend in Sao Paulo and if Bela Vista is a must-see?

    1. I would say three to four days in Sao Paulo would be a perfect amount of time here. If you have a really tight schedule, you could do two days. Bela Vista isn’t necessarily a must-see, but I would recommend checking out Avenida Paulista, Beco do Batman, the Catedral Metropolitana de Sao Paulo in Sé, and Liberdade (the Japanese and Chinese neighborhood). I’ll be writing about all of those places in the coming months. I’m excited for your trip; you’re going to love Brazil!

  17. I love it! The street art is amazing and the colors are awesome! The food looks delicious as well!

  18. Fabulous! I have to admit, I didn’t expect you to find so much tasty looking pasta in Sao Paulo, but you found so many good spots in Bela Vista.

    p.s. I am looking forward to your post about Liberdade. I met quite a few Japanese Brazilian people that moved back to Japan. Some of them had such culture shock in Japan. It will be interesting to see where they come from. 🙂

    1. You are so right, Josy! There is a long and fascinating history of migration between Brazil and Japan, and it hasn’t always been the easiest for those who move. Liberdade is a very cool neighborhood and it’s been great exploring and ‘researching’ the area 🙂

      1. Hehehe I hope researching involves a whole lot of Brazilian sushi. 😉

  19. Great post!
    I am amazed by the most nice street art!
    And, your pictures of the local delicacies look so yummy!

  20. I would never think of traveling to Brazil and finding great Italian food, but I’m clearly wrong! That puttanesca sounds delicious. The “dry” vs. “smooth” wine option sounds so odd to, thanks for the heads up! I wouldn’t think of red wine being anything other than dry unless it was a dessert wine.

  21. Love that you are going to focus on different areas in São Paulo! My husband used to live there many years ago and I would love to visit myself someday. I had no idea there was a huge Italian population there. I always hear of the large Japanese population so reading about Little Italy was a nice surprise. The Italian food looks fantastic and the vibe of the restaurants had that mom and pop type of vibe to it.

  22. I will begin my South American trip shortly. I have already bookmarked your post. I don’t want to miss out on visiting this part of Sao Paulo. Food looks delicious.

  23. Brazil is a destination thats intrigued me but haven’t gone yet. Bela vista Boxiga looks like a place I for sure would like to my itinerary whenever I plan my visit. The street art and bakery is calling my name. Can’t wait to check this out some day!

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