Tacos have long dominated L.A.’s street food scene, but other global flavors are always making inroads. For the past five months, a compelling pair of vendors cooking up Brazilian favorites have set up adjacent tents in Rite Aid parking lot in the Sawtelle neighborhood. At night, this same spot hosts a popular taco stand—but that’s another story.
Brazilian BBQ co-owner Fernanda Martins relocated after a stint in Palms, and serves plates ($7.50-$15) starring charcoal-grilled meats like garlicky picanha (top sirloin), bacon-wrapped Angus and Brazilian sausage, plus specials such as feijoada, the earthy Brazilian black bean and meat stew.
Fernanda, husband Watson, and their daughter Ana Clara come from Belo Horizonte, capital of the Brazilian state Minas Gerais. Back home, the family ran a restaurant and gym. They spent two years in New Jersey, cooking food out of their home for the local Brazilian community before moving to L.A., motivated by warmer weather and new opportunities.
They initially took jobs in L.A. ranging from cleaning to delivery and babysitting, “but always with the desire to open our own business,” Fernanda says.
After they moved to Culver City and spotted several taco stands, they decided to set up a food stall focusing on Brazilian barbecue, which is prevalent on streets back home; people often eat grilled meat and grab a beer after work. In October 2019, they launched on Sepulveda in front of Trader Joe’s, with Fernanda cutting meats and plating, Watson on the grill, and Ana Clara handling customer service.
They suffered two setbacks: rainy season hit, followed by COVID-19. The family started cooking out of their home and delivering food until the pandemic forced them to reevaluate. They reemerged at the current address next to new neighbors the Brazilian Taste, where Brazilian flags honor their mutual heritage.
Bruno Oliveira was a loyal Brazilian BBQ customer and fellow Minas Gerais native who also longed to serve family recipes. According to Fernanda, “We became friends, and we encouraged him to open his tent.”
Bruno and wife Vanessa opened the Brazilian Taste next door, featuring savory Brazilian pastries from Minas Gerais, which he calls “the food capital of Brazil.” In Brazil, he worked construction and Vanessa was a nutritionist. They relocated to L.A. on a “journey to learn new ways of cooking and new tastes that I can combine with our local Brazilian food.” Bruno adds, “I would like bring new food cultures back home with me one day.”
In the meantime, Bruno and Vanessa both cook at the Brazilian Taste, specializing in different dishes since they’re from different cities in Minas Gerais.
“I decided to sell food on the street because I wanted to be more visible for many people from different cultures to taste my food,” Bruno says. “I was afraid that if I sold food in a restaurant only Brazilians would visit us.”
The couple tops crimped flatbreads called esfihas ($4.50) with either tangy ground beef or molten cow’s milk cheese from Minas Gerais. Brazilians found inspiration for these supple discs in cooking traditions from Lebanese immigrants who make sfihas, which are often thinner and crispier around the edges. The glutinous cheese bread called pão de queijo ($3), made with tapioca flour, sports thin, crackly crusts that contain dense chewy cores. Flaky slabs of chicken pie ($5) feature shredded breast meat folded with a creamy pink sauce. The couple also deep fries teardrop-shaped coxinhas filled with ingredients like chicken, cheese, and dulce de leche.
As Bruno says, “It’s not just food; it is tradition.”
Brazilian BBQ, 2949 Sawtelle Blvd., Sawtelle, Friday-Sunday, noon-5:30 p.m.
The Brazilian Taste, 2949 Sawtelle Blvd., Sawtelle, 747-235-0651, Sundays, noon-7 p.m.