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Aug 11, 2009 08:14 PM

"Little Brazil", Culver City,CA-A gastronomic tour through a yet unnamed Brazilian enclave in LA

If you've spent any time in the Culver City traveling on Venice Bl. from where the Camaguey Market is located on Veteran Ave. heading east to just past Clarington Ave. where Brasa Brasil Grill is located, you've probably heard Portuguese spoken on the streets. The number of Brazilian restaurants and businesses has grown in recent years.There's even a Brazilian Mall across the street from Cafe Brazil, one of the older Brazilian restaurants in Culver City.

I say it's time for a "Little Brazil". Many already have referred to this area at a Brazilian enclave, or community.Here you can eat a variety of Brazilian cuisines, shop for sexy Brazilian bikinis, stock up on authentic ingredients Brazilian recipes, buy an Ivete Sangalo DVD, and send money to your family in Rio.

Some of the best Brazilian cooking is found spread all over the greater Los Angeles area.Natalaia Pereira hails from Minas Gerais and brings elegant home cooking to her downtown Woodspoon.Moqueca, a newcomer in far away Oxnard, brings the cuisine of Espiritu Santo, home of the original moqueca capixaba. It has a full menu of moqueca(seafood stews) and rare regional dishes. The cooking of Sao Paulo is well represented at El Sereno's Taste of Brazil, where a fine feijoada is available every day, among other sold plates. There are churrascarias all over Los Angeles, the best being Fogo de Chao, a chain from Brazil. But, recent events in "Little Brazil" with the arrival of Luciene Peck at Rio Brasil Cafe, the discovery of Sabor da Bahia's Brazilian street food, and Nalva at Zabumba have raised the stakes for substantial regional cooking.

Brasa Brasil Grill
Still a great value for churrasco at around $18 for salad bar plus continuous meat service. Lately the quality have been inconsistent at the salad bar, though. Be selective and look for the freshest looking items. The maminha(tri tip)and picanha were tatsy when I was there a couple months ago, and the other cuts that came were enjoyable. I find the staff very pleasant and always enjoy my experience here.

Cafe Brasil
It always feels like summer here, and is the ideal setting to enjoay an afternoon in LA. It feels like Brazil. The juices here are the real deal, passionfruit sweetened with real sugar cane juice tastes as good as the juice stands in Rio.They also have a sugar cane juice make from fresh stalks, surprisingly mild in flavor. Best bets here are the prato feito(complete meals), a protein with all the Brazilian sides, rice, beans, greens, and farofa(manioc meal).The pasteis(pastries) are nice too, they're very light on filling, but still are enjoyable.Try the hearts of palm pastel.

Pampas Grill
This is the second branch opened by this excellent por kilo(by the kilo)restaurant. The food is weighed, a very popular type of service in Brazil, and then you pay for what you eat. The salad bar is immaculate, the pratos quentes(hot plates) are textbook versions of Brazilian classics like stroganafe and abobara(pumpkin).They have 7 cuts of churrasco, 2 more than their Farmer's Market location, and beer and wine.This is an authentic por kilo, well received in the Brazilian community for its flavor,authenticity and quality.Por kilo is a great way to go when you don't want the full churrascaria experience.

Rio Brasil Cafe, (formerly, Brazilian Exotic Foods)
This restaurant opened in the former location of Cafe Toros followed by Delicias do Brasil, was closed for a minute, and has reopened as Rio Brasil Cafe. I went before it closed, was excited to try more of their plates, then was saddened by the sign saying they were closed. I received word that they were back, a tough time to open a specialty restaurant, but had a chance to dine there the other day. This cooking is from Rio De Janeiro's Luciene Peck. Try bobo de camarao(shrimp in a yuca cream),kibe de forno(baked kibe),casquinha de siri(Bahia's crab au gratin),or her awesome feijoada, when available.This restaurant is a shoestring operation, but the cooking here is top notch.It will be formidible when they can bring a full menu.They make brilliant salgados(savories) and will have these available when they get a hood for their deep fryer.I tried the bobo de camarao the other day and was brought to tears.It's worth a trip for this dish alone.

Sabor da Bahia
Reni an Ilma make acaraje and abara from their apartment near Overland and Venice. They bring authentic Bahia street food to "Little Brazil."One of the best kept secrets in LA.

Always a great place to check out a variety of local live music acts,but was never a food destination. That's until Nalva arrived. Nalva is another talented Baiana that recently took over the kitchen. Zabumba is open thursday through sunday evenings for a number of music themed nights. Everything here is delicious and filled with love. Salgados fried perfectly, devastating feijoada, addicting Brazilian pizzas, and home cooked moqueca de peixe(fish stew bahia style)She makes the best pao de queijo(cheese bread) in town. Try the peixe com molho de maracuja(fish in passionfruit sauce), or just a plain misto quente( the ubiquitous ham and cheese sandwich from Brazil).

The Mall
The Brazilian Mall has a great store called Supermercado Brazil. They have frozen salgados and other foods to go, everything you need to make traditional Brazilian foods, music and DVD's, beverages like Guaranana, Brazilian coffees and sweets, and yes they have Havaiana's and bikinis. There is a Brazilian beauty salon next door, and coming soon, a Brazilian pizzeria.The courtyard of the small Brazilian Mall has the same pattern of the floor as the beach walk on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro.Brazil Explore magazine has an office here too.

The Markets
El Camaguey
This place has a full spectrum of latin american products, but a strong emphasis on Brazilian foods due to the needs of the local community. You can get picanha cut by the butcher for your backyard churrasco, carne seca(cured beef), bacalhau(salt cod), and all the condiments necessary to spice the Brazilian way.

Palms Super Market
I've never been here, but they are known to carry Brazilian products as well.

There are places to send money back to loved ones in Brazil. The restaurants are frequented by Brazilians and there is a real Brazilian community living here as well. You hear Globo blasting on TV sets as you walk around the residential streets around here. One of the oddest experiences I had here was watching the Brazil vs. France World Cup match back in '04 at Cafe Brazil along with Brazilians and Brazilian soccer fans. When Brazil lost, all of us wearing our green and yellow were taunted and heckled by several cars driving by proudly flying the flag of France.I couldn't believe my eyes.The French knew where to go, Little Brazil.

Come to "Little Brazil".Try the exciting cooking of Rio Brasil Cafe, Nalva at Zabumba, and get some acaraje to go from Sabor da Bahia.Enjoy the diverse restaurants, listen to Axe being played on the patio at Cafe Brazil. Pick up a copy Carnaval 2009 on DVD over at Supermercado Brazil and a cold Guarana. It already exists, so let's make it official.

Brasa Brasil Grill
10022 Venice Blvd
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 558-3287

Cafe Brasil
10831 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90034

Pampas Grill
3857 Overland Ave
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 836-0080

Rio Brasil Cafe(formerly Brazilian Exotic Foods
)3300 Overland Avenue
Suite 103
Los Angeles, CA 90034
United States
ph: 310.558.3338
fax: 310.558.3307

Sabor da Bahia
catering and orders to go(call first
)Fridays-acaraje and abara

Zabumba(Cozinha da Nalva-Nalva's cooking
)10717 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 841-6525
Thursday through Sunday nights
7Pm 'til late

Brazilian Mall
10826 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232

El Camaguey
10925 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
310) 839-4037

Palms Super Market
3568 Motor Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034

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  1. Thanks for the report. Any sign of Brazilian baked goods?

    2 Replies
    1. re: Chandavkl

      Hey Chandavkl. Not really much. There are salgadinhos(savories) at Rio Brasil Cafe and Zabumba, both places are serious. Rio Brasil isn't doing them at the moment unless you order in advance, because their hood for the deep fryer is damaged. They should take care of this soon. They are doing them at home and then reheating in the restuarant, not really a problem for salgados. These are the best salgadinhos in town, along with the acaraje at Sabor.

      The pao de queijo(cheese bread) that nalva does at Zabumba are the best I've had. Better than Fogo de Chao, make sure to get them made to order.She also has the pudim de leite(carmel flan) and the mousse de maracuja(passionfruit mousse) for desserts.

      I don't know what Luci's desserts are but I would trust both of these women in the kitchen. They've both amazed me.

      We still don't have a genuine lanchonete or Brazilian paderia(bakery) with a full menu of baked goods, savories, desserts, and prato feito(complete meals). A brazilian rodizio de pizza(pizza by the slice) is coming to the Brazilian Mall, in "two weeks"(6 months to a year in restaurant time).

      Oh, and try Nalva's pizza for sure. They are Brazilian style, the kind you would find in neighborhoods all over Brazil, which has a tremendous pizza culture.

      1. re: streetgourmetla

        Oh, forgot, Woodspoon also makes killer salgadinhos, but it's not in Little Brazil.

    2. Great info. I'm a HUGE fan of El Camaguey, but haven't tried any of the restaurants you mentioned.

      1 Reply
      1. re: vinosnob

        It covers a lot of territory. Do report back if you make it out to these places. I will be following up with Rio Brasil, and Zabumba, which warrant there own story.

      2. Great Info. Thanks for sharing. I was raised on groceries from El Camaguey, because it used to be the only place to get Cuban and Puerto Rican products. I did all my shopping there when I used to live around the corner in Palms. I also had dinner at Cafe Brazil at least twice a week and would get the feijoada on Sundays. It was wonderful. I miss living in the area, especially during World Cup season...this section of town is WILD. :)

        I'm glad that Zabumba finally has someone respectable in the kitchen. I need to go back there.

        What do you think of Bamboo? It's right next door to Cafe Brazil. I know it's not full-on Brazilian cuisine (it's more Latin-Caribbean), but I remember them having a few Brazilian dishes. This place was always hit or miss for me.

        4 Replies
        1. re: annapurna7

          When I was watching World Cup, when the French won, I was actually seated in Bamboo but had ordered food from Cafe Brazil. I wnat to say I was at Bamboo years ago with friends but can't recall much except that we had a nice evening. What did you like at Bamboo?

          Make sure to try the feijoada at Zabumba or Rio Brasil next time. More likely they have this on the weekends only though, call first.

          I will definitely be out in Little Brazil during the next World Cup, with caipirinha in hand.Thanks Annapurna7.

          1. re: streetgourmetla

            I remember having the Churrasco, which was really good, but that was at least 5 years ago. I can't remember the other dishes I've had, probably because they were pretty meh.

            1. re: streetgourmetla

              sorry to jump in here out of nowhere but i have to come to the rescue of Bamboo. Tho called Caribbean and not fitting into this discussion, I have say that the food is wonderful. I've only been infrequently since it opened and no longer working at Sony, I haven't been for awhile but just thinking about the chicken dish with sweet peppers makes me want to head straight there tomorrow. I think I will as they provide a great plate of food!

              1. re: deadre

                No problem deadre.I just looked at Bamboo's menu, and I wouldn't exactly call them caribbean either.They are more pan-Latin with Mexican inspired dishes, spanish, a cajun dish, caribbean, and even a Bahia shrimp plate to give a little brazilian flavor, not to mention Guarana soda.

          2. Thanks for breaking this all down. I've tried a lot of these, but you've got some smaller gems in here too.

            Anyone know of a real Brazilian juice bar around?
            I would be in heaven with some salgadinhos and fresh acai (not from frozen) a la Baby Lanches in Rio.

            7 Replies
            1. re: TracyS

              Muito gostozo Baby Lanches! Cafe Brazil only has passionfruit, mango, and sugar cane, but they sweeten with real sugar cane, and tastes like the stuff you get in Brazil.

              For more selection I would try Rio Juice in Brentwood. I've never been, but they should have some more selections.

              The salgadinhos at Cafe Brazil aren't very good, their pasteis are nice, yet they are skimpy on the filling. If Zabumba has good juice, their salgodos are beautiful,so there you go. Acai like you get in the street in Brazil? Hmmm, haven't come across it yet.

              1. re: streetgourmetla

                Rio Juice looks promising and their imported exotic juices at $5 for 16 oz is not bad at all. Had no idea there was such a thing in my hood. Will definitely check it out and report back - thanks for the tip!

                1. re: TracyS

                  Hey TracyS, please do. I peeked at their website and it does look promising. They use imported pulp for the acai and caju, but so do many lanchonetes in Brazil when they are out of fresh fruit or the fruit is out of season. Tastes great, too.

                  1. re: streetgourmetla

                    Oooh, I am definitely checking this place out. I loved the juices when I was in Brazil. Thanks.

                    1. re: mdpilam

                      Juice in Brazil is out of this world. If in Little Brazil, the suco de maracuja(passionfruit) at Cafe Brazil will bring you back to that lanchonete in Leblon.

                    2. re: streetgourmetla

                      Ok, has anyone been to Rio Juice? I tried going there this past weekend, but I couldn't find it. Google Maps lists it at 150 S. Barrington Ave, and I drove down Barrington and even parked on Barrington Pl and walked around looking for it, but couldn't find it. I even asked a local couple and they had never heard of it :(

                      Does this place exist?! And where!

                      1. re: mdpilam

                        Did you check this page out or try calling? It appears to be in a tricky spot on Barrington behind Sunset. From the pictures on the website it looks like it's hard to miss. Hope you find it.

              2. Great information. I live in the area and have only tried maybe half of what you mentioned. One of those I tried and liked was Brasa Brasil Grill. Unfortunately it closed as of the end of July. I heard the new place will serve Mexican food.

                1 Reply
                1. re: foodfoodfood

                  Wow. I thought they were on there last leg when I was there a short time ago with such a weak salad bar. Pampas probably wiped them out with better food and steady local clients. Are they really closed? The economy has been hard on all, but Brazilian restaurants and businesses have hit very hard this last year all over LA.

                  Thanks for the information.Too bad.