When my parents dropped me off at my freshman dorm at UCLA in 2014, my Brazilian father made sure to research every Brazilian restaurant in my immediate area. Luckily, there was a great little spot in Westwood at the time and the nearest Brazilian market was only a few miles away in Culver City. So all in all, it looked like I had some solid options for satisfying my homesick cravings.
I would still argue, however, that Brazilian food is largely underrepresented in LA, or at least apart from its world-famous barbecue. South America’s largest country is an enormous melting pot of so many cultures, and the food is an equally diverse mix of delicious things. You’ll catch glimpses of Italian, Lebanese, Portuguese, and African influences on every Brazilian menu, but all of it melts together to make Brazilian food unique. These nine great spots show off a bit of what makes Brazilian food so deliciously varied, with everything from feijoada and moqueca to plenty of meat.
‘Kilo’ restaurants bring back such vivid memories of my childhood trips to Brazil, so naturally, I was very excited to find one inside The Farmers Market next to the Grove. Here you pay by the weight of your plate, rather than a set price. The concept sounds pretty economic at first, but I usually get carried away with their impressive display of Brazilian classics. First and foremost, the feijoada. Recognized as Brazil’s national dish, this hearty pork, beef, and black bean stew comes with white rice, toasted cassava flour, and collard greens sauteed with garlic. From there, make your way over to the churrasco-style meats. Everything here is cooked to perfection, but my personal favorites are the linguiça (Brazilian pork sausage) and the picanha (top sirloin cap). The linguiça at Pampas has just the right kick of spice, and the picanha’s fatty cap melts with each bite. Down it all with a Guarana soda and you’ve just finished a tour of Brazil’s greatest hits.
Brazil’s vibrant social culture usually leads to gathering around a table for either coffee or beers and a selection of finger foods to munch on. This is where the famed salgados come into play. These savory snacks exist in a variety of shapes, are either baked or fried, and can be filled with meat, seafood, vegetables, or cheese. Culver City’s Cantinho Brasileiro has been preserving the Brazilian community’s love for salgados since opening in 2012. The small window is located in the back corner of El Camaguey Meat Market on Venice Blvd, and while the menu is relatively small, it’s filled with familiar favorites from Brazilian luncheonettes, starting with the coxinha with catupiry. This savory choux dough dumpling is stuffed with creamy cheese and shredded chicken before being breaded, fried, and topped with hot sauce. They also sell kibe, a Brazilian take on the Lebanese kibbeh. These beef and bulgur wheat croquettes are perfectly crispy on the outside and satisfyingly dense on the inside, making them a great choice for an afternoon snack.
Minas Gerais is often referred to as Brazil’s heartland - a place known for its mountains, fertile farmland, and being home to the country’s best cooks. WoodSpoon has been serving delicious Mineiro dishes since opening its doors 10 years ago with a menu that showcases strong African, European, and Indigenous influences. You’ll smell the empadão de frango (chicken pot pie) as soon as you walk in and you should order one to share immediately - it has a buttery, flaky crust and comes filled with hearts of palm, corn, and olives. Another Mineiro classic is their frango com quiabo, a delicious chicken and okra stew that pairs well with white rice and black beans. The stew’s base is its great tempero mineiro, a traditional blend of salt, herbs, onions, and garlic that gives this regional cuisine its signature taste.
Churrasco-style BBQ has garnered worldwide attention, but rarely do you find it curbside as you do in Brazil. Conveniently named Brazilian BBQ, this food stand (located in a Rite-Aid parking lot) has a variety of cuts to choose from, including picanha, linguiça, pork belly, and bacon-wrapped chicken. The grill’s standard picanha plate is the thing to get, and comes with rice, beans, toasted cassava flour (farofa), and vinaigrette, but their picanha sandwich on ciabatta bread with vinaigrette and mozzarella cheese is another barbecue masterpiece that I’d (happily) battle the summer heat for. Order a chicken heart skewer too - it’s a grill-out staple in Brazil and perfect for snacking on while you wait for the rest of your food to arrive. They also serve cheese skewers, which are my childhood favorite and the ideal first course before some tender picanha. These aren’t on the menu, but trust me, the squeaky, cheese curd-y skewers are there and waiting for you. In true Brazilian fashion, Brazilian BBQ is only open on the weekends starting on Friday at 4pm, so plan accordingly.
The one thing to know about Brazilian pizza is that it’s always thin-crust and always eaten with a fork and knife. No one will police you if you use your hands, but when at Roma Specialty Pizza, do as the regulars do. Located in a Culver City strip mall between some other Brazilian shops, here you’ll find pies topped with things like Portuguese calabresa sausage, shredded dried beef, hearts of palm, and creamy catupiry cheese. Where things get really interesting is Roma’s rodizio-style menu, which is Brazilian Portuguese for all-you-can-eat pizza. You can mix and match slices from different pies, but my favorite is the classic Portuguesa pizza that comes with diced ham, green peas, black olives, and sliced hard-boiled egg. I also recommend the shop’s best-seller: catupiry chicken. It’s topped with tender shredded chicken mixed with creamy catupiry cheese that creates a mousse-like consistency that’s then generously spread on fresh pizza dough and baked until golden brown on top.
Pedroca’s Burguer originally started as an Instagram account where founder Pedro shared his homemade take on Brazilian burgers and hotdogs. After it started generating interest within the community, he went into business with the owners of Roma Specialty Pizza where he now shares a kitchen and communal dining space. The standard burger here starts off with lettuce, tomato, and the usual condiments before adding corn and fried potato sticks, but the burgers only get more stacked from there. My go-to is the X-Bacon, which is a bacon cheeseburger with mayo, lettuce, tomato, corn, and crispy potato sticks. Add catupiry cheese if you want to upgrade this super modest and totally not intimidating creation. Brazilian hotdogs are available on Wednesdays and also range from simple to a mountainous display of food with toppings like mashed potatoes, ground beef, and shredded chicken. And for any plant-based people in your life, Pedroca’s will happily grill up vegetarian and vegan alternatives as well.
Labeled as half-Brazilian, half-Italian, this newish Los Feliz restaurant’s menu is a great example of how Italian cuisine has influenced Brazilian cooking after waves of Italian migrants arrived in the late 19th century. For example, their fantastic roasted chicken dons a crispy golden skin after being brined for 24 hours and marinated in garlic, thyme, parsley, oregano, margerum, and sage. It’s then served with a side of rice, beans, plantains, farofa, vinaigrette, and chimichurri for a South American twist. If you’re looking for something unmistakably Brazilian, Nossa also serves a wonderful moqueca - an Afro-Brazilian fish stew cooked in coconut milk. This dish is a vibrant combination of acidic, earthy, and sweet that to me represents what makes Brazilian cooking so great. The sweetness of the coconut milk perfectly cuts through the dish’s bright citrus and seafood flavors, while the flakey white fish is tender and shines as the stew’s centerpiece. I see Brazil’s history and culinary fusion every time I eat moqueca, and the one at Nossa definitely does not disappoint.
Maya Zellman grew up in Los Angeles with Brazilian parents and decided to open up her own brigadeiro shop after seeing how popular they were with her American friends. These sweet, bite-sized truffles are made from a base of condensed milk and butter, and are usually served at family gatherings or consumed late-night if there are leftovers from a birthday party. The Sherman Oaks shop currently sells classic variations like chocolate rolled in chocolate sprinkles, sweet milk, and coconut along with some seasonal items too. Her passion fruit white chocolate is one of the best I’ve ever had and I’m always tempted to order a dozen or two before they go out of rotation. Her chocolate honey-almond truffle also packs a ton of flavor and texture into a super small bite. They come in boxes by the dozen, two dozen, or more if you’re looking to cater an event. I, on the other hand, made eye contact with a jar of brigadeiro spread the last time I visited, which will be enjoyed with a spoon at my next movie night for one. No further questions asked.
When you walk into Café Brasil, chances are you’ll see Fatima proudly running the kitchen of her 30-year-old restaurant. For generations, Brazilian families have found a slice of home in her food. Whether it’s the restaurant’s all-day breakfast or delicious feijoada, Fatima ensures that everything is as freshly homemade as possible. Late mornings at Café Brasil usually involve scrambled eggs with collard greens, fried plantains, pão de queijo, and freshly squeezed passion fruit juice. And if you come for lunch, expect some great pasteis, which are fried empanadas stuffed with ground beef, cheese, or hearts of palm. These crispy pockets pair well with a glass of freshly squeezed sugar cane juice or a plate of steaming feijoada for a big afternoon meal. What makes Café Brasil so special though is the significance it holds for Brazilians either passing through LA or who now call it home. It’s a spot to enjoy a Guarana soda and a small bite, watch a soccer match, or meet up with friends for a strong cafézinho.