Secrets of São Paulo

0904_saopauloThe Galeria Melissa shoe store

Unexpected experts share their São Paulo favorites in a new guidebook.

To research her new book, Total São Paulo: A Guide to the Unexpected, Phuong-Cac Nguyen turned to a surprising group of experts—a tattoo artist, a club impresario, a graffiti tagger, a sex worker, and 15 others—to unveil parts of the city usually seen only by the locals. "It's a guidebook for creative types, so I interviewed the very people who would read it," says the L.A. native, who fell for São Paulo on a backpacking trip through South America three years ago and now calls it home. "There's a reason Paulistas choose to live in this eclectic town instead of in Rio de Janeiro. Where else can you find a Brazilian restaurant and bar run by a pair of sumo wrestlers?"

A barbershop with benefits
At Barbearia 9 de Julho, a 1950s-style rockabilly hair salon, patrons can sip cocktails made with Jack Daniel's while getting coiffed. Rua Augusta 1371, 011-55/11-3283-0170, haircuts from $8.75, drinks from $1.

Shoe shopping
If you think the Brazilian-made Havaianas flip-flops have a cult following, wait until you try on the shoes at Galeria Melissa. The plastic footwear (ballet slippers, almost-four-inch pumps, sneakers) is scented like tutti-frutti and comes in a rainbow of colors, including hot pink and bronze. Rua Oscar Freire 827, 011-55/11-3083-3612, from $22.

Faith-based medicine
According to legend, a friar at the Mosteiro da Luz convent cured a man of gallstones by prescribing pills he made from rolled scraps of paper inscribed with prayers. To this day, nuns at the monastery make free "paper miracle tablets" based on his 18th-century formula. Avenida Tiradentes 676, 011-55/11-3311-8745.

São Paulo's choice steak
One dish easily feeds a family of three at Consulado Mineiro, a traditional Brazilian restaurant that makes standout carne do sol, dried beef from the country's Minas Gerais region. Praca Benedito Calixto 74, 011-55/11-3088-6055, entrées from $20.

Street art
Some of Brazil's biggest names in graffiti have left their marks along Beco do Batman, a one-block alleyway off Rua Harmonia that's been transformed into a virtual gallery. The graffitied lane is in the neighborhood of Vila Madalena, up the street from the São Paulo Cemetery.

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