Photograph by Bill Esparza
Tucked in the back of the pan-Latino Camaguey Meat Market in Culver City, there once stood a little restaurant called Cocina del Camaguey, run by Dominican chef Ilonka Garcia. Ever since the restaurant’s much-lamented departure, I’d still check in to the market from time to time while shopping for dende (palm) oil, Catupiry (Brazilian cheese spread), and picanha (sirloin cap) to see who might fill the void where the cocina once stood. Needless to say, it made perfect sense when news came that Cantinho Brasileiro (“little Brazilian place”) would emerge at a market that already caters so well to L.A.’s Brazilian community.
Partners Cristiano Ferrari and Edu Moreira with their Carioca cook—Deise Nulim–have brought us a much-needed Brazilian take-out lanchonete, serving up prato feito (complete meals) which consist of a protein, with rice, garlicky beans, potato salad, and a vinegary tomato salsa. A favorite plate is the Milanesa Napolitana—a thin, fork-tender version of beef Milanese that comes covered in melted cheese, tomato sauce, and green olives. (The Italian influence in Brazil is huge, especially when it comes to food.)
And while these full meals are quite nice, the salgados (savory appetizers) here are on a whole other level. Coxinha de frango (chicken croquettes shaped like a chicken leg) are habit-forming treats devoured at corner breakfast and lunch spots in every neighborhood of Brazil; Cantinho Brasileiro’s are the absolute closest you’ll get to having the real deal without hopping on a plane from LAX to São Paulo. They’re wonderfully weighty, filled with yellowish-orange chicken—its color comes from colorau (ground annatto seeds)—that’s surrounded by dense dough, chewy on the inside and crispy on the outside. Go street food VIP and order it with creamy, luxurious Catupiry cheese.
The pastéis (savory pastries) here are the best in town, and generous when compared to other Brazilian restaurants. Their light flaky shells are full of seasoned beef in every bite, and you can have it with a tomato salad, or the preferred condiment of Brasileiros everywhere: ketchup. Their large pastéis are $2.50 a piece, and having just a few will definitely fill you up. (I was really starting to get tired of the smaller party size ones usually found in town.)
Thanks to this team of friendly Brazilians, El Camaguey Meat Market is once again an exciting place to grab a bite take in the sights, smells, and sounds of L.A.’s Little Brazil.
Cantinho Brasileiro, inside of El Camaguey Meat Market, 10925 Venice Blvd., Culver City