When he chose his best restaurants in SP for my Wall Street Journal piece, top chef Paulo Barroso de Barros said he used just one criteria: the quality of the food.

And sure enough the food in each of the restaurants we went to was absolutely first class. The carne seca in Dalva e Dito (see photo right) was the best carne seca I’ve ever tasted and the duck with truffled-flavoured mashed potatoes in Ici Bistro was amazing.

Unfortunately, I can’t afford to eat in most of the places he chose. And not being such a foodie, I also rate ambience and location high when choosing a place to eat.

So, as an alternative to Paulo’s choices, here are three of my favourite restaurants in Sampa.

La Frontera is top of my list for many reasons. It’s spacious and airy and classy, with a beautiful but understated décor. The food is good but not too expensive and it’s an equally appropriate spot for lunch and dinner. It’s also within walking distance of my home (it’s close to both Av Paulista and the Centro).

There are many reasons not to like Fuad Grill. The bar-restaurant in Santa Cecilia is a glorified pavement, with plastic tables, tacky pictures of owner Fuad embracing local politicians and a posse of slow and charmless waiters. The meat, though, is fantastic from the sizzling chops to the wild boar to the sliced picanha in herbs.

Rascal is sometimes described as a fast food joint but it is a million miles away from McDonalds. It’s a real restaurant but with a salad bar and pizza and pasta always ready to serve. The salad bar does it for me, with loads of grilled vegetables and seafood (including salmon). The lunch offer is 42 reais for unlimited salad and a pizza or pasta. Get the salad and order a pizza to go.