In our modern lives, there will always be nights when the plan falls through. Did your friend cancel dinner at the last minute because they booked hip-hop yoga for 6pm? Classic. You could always fill the time with a stroll or a good book, but that would be like ditching Formula 1 tickets to watch a snail race. Keep the momentum going and head to Barra Santos. Few restaurants in LA are as effortlessly fun as this walk-in Portuguese spot from the Found Oyster team, which makes it the ideal choice when you need a memorable night out but have nowhere else to turn.
Dining at Barra Santos requires spontaneity and maybe a little patience. The restaurant doesn't offer reservations, and you'll probably have to wait for a seat if you arrive after 7pm. There's a good chance these facts will annoy you—ask almost anyone in our city to travel over 10 minutes for dinner and they'll ask whether or not you made a reservation. But the Cypress Park sidewalk acts as a waiting room where people order drinks before their tables are ready. And couples giggle into their wine glasses while second-hand garlic smoke fills the entire outside space. If you're the kind of Angeleno who doesn't care about clubstaurant gimmicks and wants to pick at delicious lemon-drenched things on a whim, the nonchalance of Barra Santos feels delightful.
It's not instinctually a restaurant. Barra Santos operates more as a bar-restaurant hybrid where you eat a bowl of olives or order the entire (very short) menu. Dishes skew simple, sticking to the bones of Portuguese classics you'd find on a family's Saturday lunch table, and almost uniformly relying on garlic, white wine, and lemon. Vinegary heat from piri-piri sauce tickles your throat like a goose feather, jamón melts on your tongue, and a cinnamon-heavy almond cake softens up under a dollop of cream. If you manage to corral a friend for a go-with-the-flow kind of night at Barra Santos, split a gorgeous seared dorade, and chase sweet sherry with a pork sandwich dribbling herb sauce out of the sides.
By the time you leave, you'll realize your original plans never stood a chance against Barra Santos's cod fritters, great wine, and bar filled with happy Eastsiders who are separated from Haim by two degrees. That's worth a 30-minute wait any day of the week.
The Lisbon Special
This is a dream spread for those who often crave little salty somethings. The kitchen uses an old-school deli slicer to cut razor-thin pieces of jamón iberico, each of which will last three seconds before melting away on your tongue. Pair these with briny, coriander-marinated olives, and wedges of soft Portuguese cheese (which changes daily), and you’ve got the perfect snack.
Crudo has become a buzzword in this town. Even still, we’ll eat this one happily. Cracked pepper and lemon zest broadcast the tuna’s delicate flavors in high definition, and there’s a pool of olive oil for extra peppery bite.
Fried and crispy on the outside, soft and creamy on the inside. The salt cod filling on its own would have you reaching for your drink, but a little lemon juice balances each bite. We’ll take a dozen.
The smell of these garlicky prawns wafts like you're at a seafood-themed Macy’s perfume counter. We don’t mind at all. Big sweet prawns soak up garlic, white wine, and chopped parsley for some needed freshness. The chili flakes are physically there but the heat isn’t.
This pork sandwich is intended to be shared (it’s sliced into four pieces) but we understand if you'd rather not. The pork comes marinated in a spicy-tangy coriander and chili powder blend. You may not associate sandwiches with juiciness. That just means you haven't had this bifana's herb sauce dripping down your forearm.
Piri Piri Chicken
Oh, so you like hot chicken? Think of this chicken leg confit as a Hulk-ified version of the hot chicken of your past. It has crackly skin and tender meat, all of which is slathered in an acidic piri-piri sauce. The spice is intense enough to tickle the back of your throat, but you won’t get blown away.
Seared Whole Fish
Sometimes it's dorade, sometimes it’s branzino, but it’s always flaky, lemony, and charred to perfection. The real star of the dish, though, is the bright, salty sauce that tastes like a jar of capers got blitzed into a green juice. (We’d drink that.)
Spiced Almond Cake
Normally, we don't choose where to eat dinner based on a single slice of cake. But Barra Santos's not-too-sweet almond cake is exceptional in every way—it typically sells out by 7pm. The cinnamon flavor is present without resembling an “Autumn Breeze” candle, and there’s a big dollop of creme fraîche for tang.