Where To Eat Brazilian Food In LA Right Now
In the United States, Brazil is probably best known for its fútbol (aka soccer), its fabulously beautiful people and Carnival, the annual festival that marks the last speck of revelry before the start of Lent. This year, Carnival begins on Friday, March 1, and you have plenty of opportunities to celebrate by digging into Brazilian food in Southern California.
The cuisine is a melting pot of cultures, mostly African and Native American, but with a little bit of everything thrown in. As a Brazilian living in Los Angeles for almost two decades, I get homesick for the food I know and love. Here's where I go to eat the food that connects me to my roots.
Moqueca Brazilian Cuisine
Located in a mini-mall off of busy Thousand Oaks Blvd., Moqueca (pronounced "moo-kek-ah") takes its name from a a saltwater fish stew that originates in Espírito Santo, a state in southeastern Brazil. Seasoned with onions, tomatoes, garlic, cilantro, malagueta peppers and urucum (a native condiment high in protein that gives the dish its reddish/orange color), moqueca is cooked slowly and then served in a terracotta casserole dish with white rice and pirao, a sauce made by adding yucca flour to the broth. I'm a fan of the shrimp stew (bobo de camarão), cooked in coconut milk with fresh tomatoes, cilantro and onions. Get it with a side of plantains and farofa (toasted yucca flour). The paella capixaba, which combines your choice of shrimp, octopus and other seafood, is delicious. (Capixaba means "hard working people" in the local Native American language.) On Saturdays, Moqueca serves feijoada, a pork and bean stew. If you have a sweet tooth, get the pavê de amendoim, a peanut tiramisu that layers creamy and sweet peanut custard on a bed of ladyfingers. The restaurant is on the pricey side — entrees cost $24 to $74 — but the huge portions easily feed two people. It gets busy on Friday and Saturday nights so reservations are recommended. If you have trouble getting a table, sidle up to the bar and order a caipirinha. When you're in Ventura County, you can stop by the original Moqueca, in Oxnard, where there are dancers and live music on weekends.
1610 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. 805-230-3585.
A colorful, laid-back juice bar and sandwich joint with its "always on vacation" vibe, Natureba is perfect for Redondo Beach. The small, family-operated business prides itself on serving healthy food that doesn't cost a fortune, and it tries to please vegans along with meat-eaters. If you're in a rush, call in your order because it takes a while to get your food. My favorites are the Veggie Beirute, a pita bread sandwich filled with heart of palms, spinach, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, and the savory tapioca cheese bread pastry. Both pair well with the Lazy Daze, a passion fruit, mango and banana smoothie, or a freshly squeezed acerola juice for a vitamin C boost.
2415 Artesia Blvd., Redondo Beach. 310-597-4517.
Brasil Kiss, this hipster coffee joint in the heart of downtown L.A.'s financial district, is phenomenal, and you can't get any more Brazilian than ordering a pingado (a double espresso cut with steamed half-and-half and sweet, condensed milk) and a pão-de-queijo (cheese bread). Their coffee beans are grown in Minas Gerais in southeastern Brazil and roasted here in L.A. Brasil Kiss also serves tea, açaí bowls, salads, hot press sandwiches and savory Brazilian bites like coxinhas (chicken croquettes) and empadas (bite size pot pies).
1010 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. 213-785-5131.
If you want to experience Gaucho cuisine, food from the border of Brazil and Argentina, Panelas is your best bet. The South Bay restaurant is known for its picanha plate, a heap of sliced top sirloin served on a bed of rice, beans, potato salad, farofa and vinaigrette (which Americans know as sals). Gaucho cuisine is all about the meat, which is prepared simply, by rubbing rock salt on it. Another dish that brings out the flavor of the south is carne de panela, aka pot roast, prepared with tomatoes and potatoes. Panelas also has a lot of great appetizers. Amid the chicken croquettes, cod fish balls and fried chicken, don't overlook the mini chicken pot pies known as empadinhas de frango. This cross-cultural comfort food originated in Greece with an assist from the Romans, who added the top crust. Brazilians put their spin on it by including corn, oregano and cilantro in the filling. Panelas also makes a "maravilhoso" hot dog, an entirely different species than the American version. Even the dragged-through-the-garden Chicago dog looks minimalist compared to the typical Brazilian dog, which is topped with a heap of stuff like lettuce, tomato, corn, peas, parmesan cheese, potato strings and parsley. Once a month, on Fridays, the restaurant hosts a Brazilian Happy Hour with live music and an appetizer-only menu.
2808 Phelan Lane, Redondo Beach. 310-214-4143.
A relative newbie to Manhattan Beach, Brazuca brings a taste of Goiás, a central Brazilian state known for its country cooking. The understated restaurant offers feijão-tropero, a Goiana stew of pinto beans, bacon, sausage, collard greens, eggs and cassava flour. It's usually accompanied by an espetinho, a skewered meat of your choice served with a side of garlic rice and vinaigrette. Brazuca also makes a fantastic corn soup with shredded chicken. This is a great place to watch sports or listen to Brazilian country music as you wait for your order. Parking is limited.
3001 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Manhattan Beach. 310-546-1414.
Café Brasil is one of the oldest Brazilian restaurants in town. Sports fans come here to watch soccer matches and root for their favorite teams. It's famous for its affordable lunch specials. You get your choice of top sirloin, dark meat chicken, fish, pork or vegetables with rice, black beans, fried plantains and salsa for only $10.50. In addition to pasta and sandwiches, Café Brasil offers fresh-from-the-grill items like rancheira skirt steak, salmon or New Zealand lamb chops. The side dishes here are fantastic, especially the fried yucca and the pastels, Brazilian-style empanadas filled with ground beef, cheese, hearts of palms or tomato and oregano. For those with a sweet tooth, a glass of caldo-de-cana (sugarcane juice), rounds out a meal. If you're here on the weekend, try the feijoada. The restaurant is partners with the Brasil Hotel, where you'll find ample parking in their lot.
11736 Washington Blvd., Los Angeles. 310-391-1216.
Located in BLVD Kitchen, a open commercial kitchen and boutique in Sherman Oaks, Maya's Brigadeiro specializes in brigadeiros (pronounced bree-gah-DAY-roos), a delicacy that tastes like the offspring of a chocolate truffle and a melted caramel. The brigadeiro also has a history as rich as its center. It first appeared in the 1940s during World War II, when it was named after Eduardo Gomes, a handsome military general (or "brigadeiro" in Portuguese) who stole hearts with his good looks and charm. Alongside the traditional chocolate brigadeiro, this sweet shop offers coconut, sweet milk, black & white and chocolate salted pistachio. As the season changes, a selection of exotic flavors hits the shelves such as Maple Pecan , Salted Caramel and Pumpkin Spice.
13545 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks. 818-400-8990.
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Kravings Brazilian Fusion Steakhouse and Lounge
Kravings is best known for its all-you-can-eat barbecued meats. It also lays out a fantastic Brazilian brunch that includes endless barbecued meats, more than a dozen side dishes like roasted beets and seaweed salad, and a bar with unlimited champagne, juice or soda. The happy hour is one of the best in the San Fernando Valley and features handcrafted cocktails, savory hors d' oeuvres like chimichurri fries and baby back ribs, salads and entrees, all at great prices. When it comes to meats, order the succulent lamb chops with a side salad and wash them down with a caipirinha. Kravings makes four versions of Brazil's national cocktail.
Happy Hour: 4-7 p.m. every day and 9 p.m. - close, Wed. - Sat.
18663 Ventura Blvd., Tarzana. 818- 881-7111.
RioZonas in the Noho Arts District is the newest outpost of a popular açaí joint. The chill and vibrant shop serves açaí bowls, smoothies and Brazilian empanadas. Not familiar with açaí? Native Brazilians consider it to be the fountain of youth because it's packed with antioxidants and nutrients. The Hawaiian açaí bowl, made with papaya, pineapple, granola and bananas is my favorite, but you can create a combo that's perfect for your palate. As for juices, try the Carmen Miranda, with pineapple and banana.
5233 Vineland Ave, North Hollywood. 818-747-2300.
12215 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. 818-853-7585.
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Tender Grill Gourmet Brazilian Kitchen
Tender Grill is a food truck that specializes in the meat-centric cuisine of "Paulista country," the rural areas of São Paulo state. Ask for the picanha, a top sirloin flank steak, or the homemade Brazilian pork sausage, served with black beans and white rice dusted with farofa. The truck is also vegan-friendly and offers gluten-free options thanks to dishes like the veggie bowl, a heap of organic quinoa, black beans, broccoli, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and red onions.
Check their website or Instagram for their daily location; 310-868-1828
Roma Specialty Pizza
Now under new management, this all-you-can-eat pizzeria has long been popular with West L.A.'s Brazilian community. The crusts at Roma are super thin, and you can choose from 44 different combinations such as Calabresa sausage and fried garlic. For a flat fee of $17.99, you can go "rodizio," eating all the pizza you want. Let the waiter know your preferences (no meat, extra spicy or gluten-free, for example) and slices will keep arriving until you call it quits. The slices are smaller than they'd be in a typical American pizza, so you can try many flavors. I love frango com catupiry, creamy catupiry cheese with shredded chicken and corn. They even have dessert pizzas topped with bananas, cinnamon or brigadeiros. The atmosphere is super casual. Kids up to 5 years old eat free and kids ages 6 to 12 pay half price. There is limited parking in the back.
10826 Venice Blvd., Culver City. 310-558-2374.
This tiny, bohemian restaurant makes top notch food heavily influenced by the country's African roots. WoodSpoon's two standout dishes recall 19th century life in the state of Minas Gerais. Frango com quiabo (chicken stew with okra) is served with polenta and black beans while costelinha com canjiquinha (pork short ribs with corn grit) is a classic. The sangria is refreshing and even the water is original, infused with cinnamon, mint or thyme. The DTLA location makes parking is a major challenge so bring quarters and don't let the two-hour street meters expire because enforcement is brutal.
107 W. 9th St., downtown L.A. 213-629-1765.
Brazilian Plate House
Despite its name, Brazilian Plate House isn't really about massive platters of meat. The restaurant likes to offer off-the-menu specials like panquecas, savory Brazilian pancakes that resemble crepes and are served in marinara sauce and topped with parmesan cheese. Like other Brazilian eateries, they offer feijoada on weekends. Once you're there, make sure to ask for farofa, which tastes great sprinkled onto beans, rice, eggs, meat and just about everything else. This is an outdoor place only. You order at the window and they bring out your food. It can be a little loud due to traffic, but the food is worth it.
4509 Torrance Blvd., Torrance. 310-370-9077.